SBD/September 11, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

LPGA Hoping Evian Championship Fits In As Season's Fifth Major

The tourney measures up to other majors when it comes to its $3.25M purse
The LPGA Evian Championship has "built a reputation among pros for its first-class presentation and amenities, but now there’s a whole new standard to measure up to in its first year as an officially designated major," according to Randall Mell of GOLFCHANNEL.com. For a "number of years now, this event has felt like a major for the Europeans in the LPGA ranks," but there still is "scrutiny over whether this starlet will be a supreme enough examination to be worthy of its new status." The event, founded in '94, became a co-sanctioned LPGA event in '00 with the LPGA "announcing two years ago that it would be a major." The purse is "impressive" at $3.25M, equaling the U.S. Women’s Open as the "richest on tour." The largest "question looming over Evian’s worthiness as a major is the redesign of the Evian Resort Golf Club." It was an $8M "undertaking over the last year," and now is a "different and more substantial test that architect Steve Smyers and European Golf Design created in their collaborative effort." Early reviews are that the course is "another year from being what Evian and the architects imagined." The event's elevation to major championship status is the result of Groupe Danone CEO Franck Riboud -- whose company owns Evian -- and his "ambitious vision," as well as LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan’s "bold leadership." Whan said, "I grinded over this a long time. If you asked me before I became commissioner how I would stand on designating a fifth major, I probably wouldn’t have been in favor of it." He added, "There was a list of 10 things I really thought kept this tournament from being a legitimate major. ... To Evian’s credit, we knocked all 10 off the list" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 9/10).

RISK & REWARD: GOLF DIGEST's Ron Sirak wrote if there is "one thing Riboud has proven over the years ... it's that money is no object." Smyers and his crew from European Golf Design "literally worked under the snow and in a little more than 13 months." One thing Smyers has done is "open up the sightlines for the fans," as trees were removed, spectator mounds "were created and bleachers have been eliminated." But Sirak wrote, "Make no mistake about it, there is a lot of risk involved in the Evian Championship. Not everyone liked the idea of a fifth major, saying it messes with the history books." Some felt that with the Ricoh Women's British Open "already in Europe, a new major -- if there were to be one -- should go to Asia" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 9/9).

MAJOR IMPLICATIONS: GOLFCHANNEL.com's Mell noted to accommodate Evian as a major, the LPGA "moved the event to September, spreading out its biggest events with the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April, the Wegmans LPGA Championship in early June, the U.S. Women’s Open in late June and both the Ricoh Women’s British Open and Solheim Cup in August." Golfer Angela Stanford said of it being the fifth major, “I’m OK with it. But you’re talking to someone who hasn’t won a major. It just gives me another chance" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 9/10). Whan said, “If you look at our history of tournaments becoming majors, they didn’t just show up with a check and a golf course. They built something special and proved they could take their event to the next level.” Whan said that discussions about Evian becoming a major championship "began during Ty Votaw’s tenure as LPGA commissioner" from '99-'05. Whan: "My job is to create the most exposure and opportunities for the best women golfers in the world, so this was the right thing to do.” Whan added that “'the next frontier' is to stage a major championship in Asia ... but that such a step would come with numerous logistical considerations." Whan: "Our Asian events draw huge crowds, huge purses, and have unbelievable TV coverage. Currently, there’s no need for a major there" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/11).

FIFTH ELEMENTS: ESPNW's Mechelle Voepel wrote it "probably didn't seem like a complicated decision" when the LPGA opted to elevate the Evian to major status for '13. But no one "could have guessed then what Inbee Park was going to do in 2013 -- win the first three majors of this LPGA season." If Park, who "won the Evian last year, repeats as champion, is that a Grand Slam?" It would mean she "holds four majors in a calendar year." Golfer Meg Mallon said, "I think we should just call it an exceptional year." Golf HOFer Annika Sorenstam said, "I think a Grand Slam is four in a row, so it's just an odd scenario. I think we all could agree that five would be a Super Slam" (ESPNW.com, 9/10).

WHY FIVE? In California, Larry Bohannan wrote there are "those who question whether the Evian Championship truly deserves the status of a major," or if the LPGA "truly needs five majors." LPGA players have "always loved the Evian and its location on Lake Geneva." Bohannan: "But hey, the LPGA players used to adore the Corning Classic, and where is that tournament now?" Evian’s elevation "certainly smacks a bit of a sponsor with a lot of money throwing its weight around and getting major status." Bohannan: "Whatever the outcome, the Evian is a major this year, and that means [the] LPGA needs to pay attention, even if the major status is more corporate-based than tradition-based for the time being" (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 9/10).
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