LPGA Tour returns to L.A. at Wilshire CC

The LPGA Tour returns to the Greater Los Angeles Area this week after a 13-year absence for the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC Open at Wilshire Country Club, which is located six miles from downtown L.A. near Hollywood.

The LPGA’s Office Depot Championship was played in the L.A. area from 2001-05, with Annika Sorenstam of Sweden claiming the title in 2001 at Wilshire. Sorenstam also won the tournament twice at nearby El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana.

“This is a perfect course for the LPGA,” said Natalie Gulbis, lives not far away in Newport Beach and is playing in the tournament, which begins Thursday, on a sponsor exemption.

“As soon as I turned pro (17 years ago), I wanted to play this course. It has a very intimate feel with small greens and parallel fairways and so much tradition.”

The tournament will feature a battle for the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, with second-ranked Lexi Thompson and third-ranked Inbee Park of South Korea in position to unseat top-ranked Shanshan Feng of China.

In fact 21 of the top 25 players in the rankings are in the field, including No. 4 Sung Hyun Park of South Korea, No. 5 So Yeon Ryu of South Korea, No. 6 Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, No. 8 Cristie Kerr and No. 9 Anna Nordqvist of Sweden.

“We’re very excited to take the LPGA back to Los Angeles and historic Wilshire Country Club, adding to the Tour’s already prominent presence in Southern California,” LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said.

“We want to thank our good friends at HUGEL, JTBC and Eiger Marketing Group for providing us the opportunity to bring the stars of golf’s global tour to the heart of Hollywood and put on a show in one of the largest broadcast markets in the world.”

HUGEL is a South Korea-based maker of beauty products, and that its tournament wound up in Los Angeles shouldn’t be a surprise, given the success South Korean players have had on the LPGA Tour.

The Korean-American population in Los Angeles is more than 100,000 people, the most of any city in the United States, and Wilshire is located not far from the Koreatown area of L.A.

“ … The venue plays a critical role in where we wanted to come back in the Los Angeles market,” said Sean Pyun, vice president of marketing for LPGA Asia. “This was a natural fit in the flow of the schedule. “I feel this represents more than just a typical LPGA stop.”

Wilshire Country Club was founded in 1919 and the course was designed by Norman MacBeth of Ireland, with the front and back nines separated by Beverly Boulevard, and Kyle Phillips oversaw a restoration project in 2010.

The Los Angeles Open was played at Wilshire in 1928, 1931, 1933 and 1944, and the Senior PGA Tour, now the Champions Tour, held a event on the course from 1995 to 2000.

The course plays to 6,506 yards, with a par of 71, and the par-4, 428-yard ninth hole plays right toward the iconic Hollywood sign located above the 101 Freeway.

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