History: Still The Dinah … For Shore

2014 Kraft Nabisco winner Lexi Thompson made the traditional champion’s plunge into Poppie’s Pond, joined by her somersaulting caddie, friends, and family. PHOTO COURTESY THE ANA INSPIRATION

By Tom LaMarre

It’s time for golf’s first major championship of the year, one of the signature events on the LPGA Tour, so welcome to the good ‘ol ANA Inspiration.

The ANA Inspiration?

In this day of corporate title sponsors, many of our favorite tournaments are no longer recognizable by name, and the event in question will be played for the 44th consecutive year at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, with Lexi Thompson defending her title.

However, just as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the PGA Tour always will be known to purists as “The Crosby,” for many the LPGA Tour’s spring stop in the southern California desert will forever be “The Dinah Shore.”
Entertainer Dinah Shore founded the tournament in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle, with Jane Blalock winning that first year. The tournament was classified as an LPGA Tour major beginning in 1983.

Nabisco came aboard in 1982 for what became the Nabisco Dinah Shore and her name remained on the tournament until 2000, even though she passed away in 1994 at the age of 77, and in 2002 it became the Kraft Nabisco Championship–remaining that way until last year.

”As far as I’m concerned, it has always been the Dinah Shore tournament and always will be,” a tournament marshal said several years ago. “That woman is revered in these parts.”

The iconic Shore remains an omnipresent fixture at Mission Hills, as a life-size statue of her greets players as they cross the bridge to the island 18th green on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.

Amy Alcott, who grew up in Santa Monica and won the Dinah Shore three times, in 1988 began the tradition of the tournament champion jumping into “Champions Lake,” also known as “Poppie’s Pond,” which surrounds the final green.

Betsy King and Annika Sorenstam of Sweden joined Alcott as three-time winners of the tournament, with Juli Inkster of Los Altos and San Jose State, Dottie Pepper, Sandra Post of Canada and Karrie Webb of Australia each winning twice.

Other prominent champions include Mickey Wright, Sandra Palmer, Judy Rankin, Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, Donna Caponi, Sally Little of South Africa, Patty Sheehan, Helen Alfredsson of Sweden, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, Inbee Park of South Africa, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng of Taiwan.

“I think Dinah Shore’s name should come back onto the event just to keep that identity,” Webb said last year, when the LPGA Tour was seeking a new title sponsor for the tournament. “Whoever comes on board as a sponsor, it shouldn’t just be the sponsor’s name.

“Even when we took Dinah’s name off the event, people knew what event it was, because they’d been a part of it for so long. I just feel like, to keep the identity of this event, when people tune in to watch, they’re going to know, ‘That’s the Dinah Shore, the LPGA’s first major of the year.’

“That’s what I’d really like to see for 2015 and beyond.”

When Kraft Nabisco informed tournament officials two years ago that 2014 would be its last as title sponsor, there were concerns that the tournament might be forced to leave Mission Hills if a new title sponsor wanted the event held elsewhere.
LPGA stars, many of whom enjoy high-fiving fans in the bleachers while walking to the final green, were worried.

“We need to stay here,” said Stacy Lewis, who won the tournament in 2011. “When I think of a major, I think of this event. We can’t leave here. This is what our tour is about.”

After several months of uncertainly, All Nippon Airways (ANA) signed on as the new title sponsor and decided to keep the tournament in the Coachella Valley.

Even though it didn’t get the name back, “The Dinah Shore” was saved.

“Relief is probably the right term,” Commissioner Michael Whan of the LPGA Tour said of the new sponsorship. “For me personally and the goals I set for my team, this was at the top of the list for a few years. Now we can talk about building, as opposed to saving.

“This tournament is so much more than a Southern California event. Not just in the women’s golf spectrum, but in the golf spectrum, this is a global event.”

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