The LPGA Tour’s first major of the year is changing in just about every aspect it can. New name, new location, new date and a big new purse, thanks to a new partnership with Chevron, which signed a six-year contract that the tour announced on Tuesday.
Starting in 2023, the former ANA Inspiration will be the Chevron Championship and will be played in the Houston area, where roughly 8,000 of the company’s employees live and work. Though the date and course have not been finalized, the event will still be the first major of the year. The tour said it will be played later than the usual date of the last week of March, with the goal being to have the event aired on network television (NBC).
The 2022 tournament will be played next March for the final time at the tournament’s home since its inception in 1972—Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The new name will be in place with the overall purse jumping from $3.1 million to $5 million.
Originally called the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle, named in honor of the Hollywood celebrity who helped create the event along with then Colgate-Palmolive chairman David Foster to help promote women’s golf, the tournament celebrated its 50th anniversary in March. Previously it’s been one of two LPGA majors played at the same course annually. With that history at one venue comes plenty of traditions; among the most memorable is the tournament winner jumping into Poppie’s Pond beside the 18th hole, begun in 1988 by Amy Alcott.
The winners of the event include a large number of LPGA or World Golf Hall of Fame members: Kathy Whitworth, Annika Sorenstam, Mickey Wright, Juli Inkster, Nancy Lopez, Sandra Palmer, Judy Rankin, Donna Caponi, Karrie Webb, Patty Sheehan, Betsy King, Inbee Park, and Lorena Ochoa.
The tradition of the Mission Hills winner jumping into Poppie's Pond, as So Yeon Ryu and family did in 2017, will be repeated one last time in 2022.
It was Alcott who began the tradition of jumping into the lake next to the 18th green to celebrate her 1988 win, the second of her three wins at the event. King and Sorenstam also won the event three times.
Before moving away from the tournament’s long-time home, event organizers enlisted the support of Dinah Shore’s daughter, Melissa Montomgery, and established a Players Advisory Board make the transition as smooth as possible and help promote the championship moving forward.
LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan, in making her the biggest announcement since taking the job in May, says that the decision to move the event was not taken lightly.
“The response that we received so far [from players] has been very positive,” Marcoux Samaan said. “Obviously, the history and the traditions at Mission Hills and the partnership there are very important to all of us and to everyone. So we have talked through that and again, overall, the response has been extremely positive.
“I think people know that this is an opportunity for us to sustain this major moving into the future, build new traditions, still honor the past and honor the great work that's been done. But again, I think everyone realizes that this takes us to a whole different level.”
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Given the big news regarding the LPGA’s first major, we asked Golf Digest staff to give their thoughts on the changes that are being made.
What are your initial reaction to the changes?
Nicole Rae: I'm sad to see the tournament move locations. The LPGA Tour has built such a strong fan base at Mission Hills, and I know it's a huge event for the community. The residents and members really enjoy welcoming players and fans each year.
Hally Leadbetter: When I heard all of the changes being made to the Dinah, it made me really sad, too. I've heard so many of the pros call it "their Masters," and I think a lot of that had to do with coming back to the same iconic venue again and again.
Keely Levins: Leaving Mission Hills after more than half a century is going to be tough, but the timing of this is right. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur occurs now at the same time, and it won’t be moving its date, as it aligns with the Masters. The ANWA gets network coverage, which the LPGA major did not. Moving the event to Houston gives the tournament the ability to shift to a date where it can pursue network coverage, and both the ANWA and the first major of the year can have their own spot on the golf calendar. I think it’ll boost viewership for both events, which is definitely a good thing.
Ariya Jutanugarn trades high fives with the fans during the 2016 ANA Inspiration.
Sean M. Haffey
Does the increase in prize money and exposure on TV outweigh moving the event from its 50-year home?
KL: When I heard another name change was coming, I didn’t think it would necessarily be a good thing for the event. But when you look at what comes with this name change—namely the purse increase of more than 60 percent—I think change in this case is good.
Tod Leonard: Emphatically, no! As Hally mentioned, moving the Dinah (and we’ll call it that because most fans, thankfully, still refer to it as such) is akin to taking the Masters to—oh, let’s pick a random place—Idaho. There is no LPGA event that is more tied to time and place than the tour’s first major of the year. The sunshine in April, the palm trees, the perfectly manicured Mission Hills course—they all have defined the very best in the women’s game. And let’s not forget the scroll of champions, which includes most of the greatest players in each era. Yes, the increased purse and TV exposure are welcomed for a circuit that desperately needs both in the U.S., but this really does smack of a sellout by the LPGA of one of its prized traditions. Chevron could have chosen to gracefully up the purse and keep the venue.
HL: I do think the huge increase in purse and exposure for the event does outweigh the changes, but that doesn't make it any less heart wrenching. I hope they hold another LPGA event at the course so fans in the area will still have an event to rally behind.
What’s the biggest tradition at Mission Hills that you’ll miss?
HL: The biggest tradition I'll miss is the jump into Poppie's Pond and the robes that the players get to put on after. Going back to comparing it to the Masters, it's similar to the green jacket ceremony in that sense. It's sad that tradition will come to an end.
NR: I'll definitely miss the leap into Poppie's Pond! It's disappointing that players who always dreamed of that moment won't be able to see that through anymore. Hopefully they can begin a new tradition with the move in locations!
TL: It’s easy to say Poppie’s Pond, but I’ll remember two things about the 18th hole. First, it was a great par-5 finisher with so many possible outcomes—tremendous or heartbreaking—for the leaders coming down the stretch. And then there was the walk past the packed, cheering grandstands, where the players happily high-fived and connected with their people. Not another scene like it in golf, and that’s soon gone forever. You can try to do the same in Houston, but you can't recreate the vibe at Mission HIlls.