The Prodigal Daughter: LPGA Returns to LA
The LPGA Tour and its players won’t find themselves singing “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” this week.
Rather, they’ll bask in the starlight of Hollywood, the sunshine of Southern California and the warm welcoming reception they’re sure to receive at LA’s Wilshire Country Club, host of the Tour’s new event this year (one of three), the HUGEL/ JTBC LA Open.
The tournament marks the first time since 2004 that the LPGA Tour has returned to the City of Angels. In that year, Annika Sorenstam won The Office Depot Championship hosted by Amy Alcott and played at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana. Though located in the San Fernando Valley, Tarzana falls within the L.A. City’s limits.
Sorenstam won that same event, played in 2001 at Wilshire Country Club making her regardless of the venue the de facto defending champion of this year’s tournament. With that quality of pedigree in the history books, the future of this event already looks very promising.
“Our club…meaning our members… really wanted this tournament this year,” says Wilshire Country Club President David Damus, “and after competing with a few other courses and clubs for it, we were very pleased to get it.”
He goes on to point out that “Wilshire Country Club has a storied tradition of holding and hosting tournaments of all of the professional Tours here, including past LA Open’s on the PGA Tour.
“Ben Hogan won the LA Open here in 1942” Damus says, “and during the 1990’s through the early 2000’s we also hosted PGA Tour Champions and LPGA tournaments as well. What’s more, next year will be our club’s 100th anniversary, and together it all contributed to the very strong feeling and desire among our members to host this LPGA event this year and to try to make it an annual presence here going forward.”
Once the actual competition begins on Thursday April 19th, the golf fans attending the event or watching it on TV will find themselves treated to one of the strongest fields so far this year on the LPGA Tour. They’ll also no doubt enjoy multiple shots of the Hollywood sign, visible from many spots on the course, as well those of a little replica of it built and installed by the tournament right next to the club’s practice putting green.
LPGA’s Chief Commercial Officer Jon Podany points out with pride that “this is a tremendous field not just for a first year event but for any tournament, as we have the top twenty ranked players in the world here and I think 85 of the top 90 as well.” He adds that the presence of the best players in the world has indeed contributed to the buzz he feels amongst these players about competing at Wilshire Country Club this week.
Both Damus and Podany express satisfaction at how quickly the Wednesday (celebrity laced) Pro-Am sold out, as well as the strong sales to the club’s membership (and others) of the available on-course VIP boxes for the week.
LPGA stalwart and nearby Altadena’s own Mo Martin is from six generations of Californians. She graduated from UCLA, joined the LPGA Tour in 2012, won the 2014 Ricoh British Open Champion and has become one of the most popular players in all of professional golf. Martin adds her voice to the many who hope the event stays in LA for a long, long time.
“We’re the the country’s second largest city and market and a truly great golf center…” Martin begins.
“With LA now having two NFL teams, with the men’s US Open golf tournament coming to LA Country Club in 2023 and with the Summer Olympics returning here in 2028, sustaining this tournament long term here would be great for the Tour, great for Los Angeles and great for golf in Southern California in general.”
Hall of Famer Inbee Park from South Korea, the winner of 19 LPGA tournaments including 7 majors (and one tournament so far this year), remains well-know-cool as a cucumber under the most intense pressure of a golf tournament. Yet she talks with joyful excitement about playing in LA for the first time as a pro this year.
“It’s great being in this very exciting city,” Park begins, “with so much to do, and so many great restaurants, including Korean restaurants really nearby where I’m staying. Korea Town is so close to Wilshire, Country Club too, which makes me feel like I’m playing back home in Korea.”
Park becomes more measured when discussing the course itself.
“It’s an ‘old school’ course, not a long one, but a tough course, with maybe the smallest greens we play all year. If you miss the greens and especially if you short side yourself around them, it will be very difficult getting the ball up and down for a par.”
LPGA winner Danielle Kang, who grew up in Thousand Oaks just north of LA, but who never played Wilshire C.C. until this tournament week agrees with Park that the course is tough. “It’s a real shot maker’s course that rewards great ball striking, and I love that,” Kang says.
“There’s a lot of fairway and greenside bunkers out here on this course,” adds Alison Curdt, the 2015 LPGA National Teacher of the Year, the 2016 SoCal PGA Teacher of the Year, who teaches golf at Wood Ranch Golf Club in nearby Simi Valley. A tremendous player in her own right, Curdt also holds a Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Sports Psychology from Pepperdine University.
“I think the course will challenge these pros and I don’t think the winner will shoot something like 20 under,” she predicts.
Tim Erensen of Eiger Marketing Group, the event’s owner and operator discusses the chronology of this tournament’s procurement and development into a compressed and impressive time frame perspective.
“We finalized having the event here at Wilshire only in late January of this year,” begins Erensen.
He adds that normally a Tour event like this one requires and/or takes 9 months to a year…at least… for all of it’s parts and participants to come together.
“Even within this short time period,” he adds, “the corporate support and sales for the tournament have been very promising, and we’re hoping for a strong turn out of fans during tournament week as well.
“Certainly we’re looking forward to 2019 when we’ll be able to learn from this year’s event and have a full year to make next year’s tournament here at Wilshire Country Club even better.”