‘A celebration of women’s golf’
LPGA officials and leaders with the ANA Inspiration are taking a wait-and-see approach about whether a change in date is needed for the season’s first women’s major. A move could be in the works because the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which was scheduled to complete its first edition April 6, puts two of the biggest events in women’s golf on the same weekend.
Some in LPGA circles, including players and media, have called for a change in date to the ANA ever since the women’s event at Augusta was announced last April. Many thought the three-day amateur event — which plays its final round at Augusta National Golf Club — would overshadow the ANA in Rancho Mirage, Calif., which has a storied history among LPGA tournaments dating to its founding in 1972 by entertainer Dinah Shore.
ANA Inspiration sees growth
“You’re not human if you don’t first think, ‘How does that affect me?’” LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said recently. “But within 30 seconds, and even in my conversations with [Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley], I saw this is an opportunity to be a heck of a celebration of women’s golf in the weekend leading into the Masters.”
Whan said the LPGA is looking at the possibility of bumping the event up or down on the calendar to move away from the amateur event, but wanted to get more data from this year’s ANA, which was set to conclude April 7.
While moving the ANA a week or two earlier or later in the season might look easy on paper, it would present a serious logistical challenge for the LPGA. Playing the tournament a week earlier would mean going head to head with the PGA Tour’s WGC Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. Both the ANA Inspiration and PGA Tour event are broadcast on NBC, meaning the LPGA would sacrifice precious hours on network television.
“I’m certainly not going to put the ANA Inspiration in a week that can’t give it the same amount of global TV that it has today,” Whan said. “We only have a few weeks a year where we have the ability to have 20-30 hours of live TV.” The LPGA also would have to reschedule the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix or Kia Classic near San Diego, both staples on the circuit’s calendar.
ANA Inspiration tournament director Chris Garrett, who came on board after the 2018 event and was dealing with an almost entirely new staff for this year’s tournament, echoed Whan’s concerns about changing the tournament’s April date. While moving the event up would compete with the WGC Match Play, a move back would put the ANA head to head with the Masters, as well as the Coachella music and arts festival, held in nearby Indio, Calif. It also could pose problems for the golf course, which would have to deal with the increasing heat of the California desert.
“We’re going to do our due diligence to put all the proposals in front of ANA and the LPGA to figure out what the best option is moving forward,” Garrett said. “It may just be that the best option is to stand pat.”
While there may be drawbacks to both women’s tournaments going on during the same weekend, Whan also sees positives. Both events air on NBC, giving the LPGA and ANA opportunities for cross promotion.
“There’s incentive on both ends,” Whan said. “They’ll be walking down the 18th fairway at Augusta on Saturday and then Sunday there we’ll be from 5-10 p.m. in prime time playing the ANA.”
The amateur also could serve as a springboard for women’s golf as a whole, Whan said. Women have long fought for inclusiveness at Augusta National, with the club admitting its first female members in 2012 — former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and investor and philanthropist Darla Moore.
“It sets up to be a pretty impressive weekend, a celebration of women’s golf that the world will watch,” Whan said. “This has the potential to work long term as a weekend that women look forward to no matter what age or what stage you’re at in your golfing career.”