With the US Women’s Open wrapping on Sunday it would be natural to fret about the fact that the tenth consecutive major will probably be won by a player from Asia. Or perhaps the focus should be on the possibility that Inbee Park will be trying to make it three consecutive major wins with the hope of a Grand Slam performance in 2013.
Fortunately for me the week began with an invitation and my discourse on women’s golf will set aside the worries about the LPGA’s “Asian Invasion” and dwell on a fresher note.
If you follow the NBA you probably know French Lick, Indiana is the hometown of Larry Bird. You may know that there is a resort there as well. If that’s all you know, read on.
Thanks to an investment of more than a half billion dollars the French Lick Resort is a destination in search of an enhanced identity. The original hotel is now partnered with the century old West Baden Springs Hotel and a casino is available for guests with a decidedly indoor recreational preference. West Baden has been restored to its century old grandeur with its trademark atrium dome.
In 1917 renowned architect Donald Ross was lured to French Lick and his work is too restored to the quality that attracted the 1924 PGA Championship. Joining the Ross course in the French Lick golf lineup is the new (2009) Pete Dye course already host to the 2010 PGA National Championship (Club Pro Championship).
To play the Dye course is to meet the 87 year old’s design philosophy in full array, less the railroad ties. In the Dye religion “flat” is heresy. The Indiana native never met a contour he didn’t like and if he thought he could get away with undulations on the teeing ground he might innovate there as well. But even if you hack it around for 18 as I did, you can’t be too distraught because the 30-mile vistas at every point are worth the pain.
All this was the backdrop to a formal announcement of a new golf event coming to French Lick in September. If you didn’t know about French Lick golf you may be even more surprised to learn that there is senior professional golf for many of the veterans of the LPGA Tour.
Created a few years ago to feed the desire of players no longer viable with the younger set, the Legends Tour has been the product of 27 time winner on the LPGA Tour, Jane Blalock, with an assist from professional golf first ‘glamour girl’ Jan Stephenson. With the same relentless grinding style she played the game, Blalock has seen her fledging tour grow to double figures in events. And with Stephenson, who never met an opinion she dare not share, they are giving back to their generation of players a world in which to renew rivalries and give meaning back to playing the game that dominated much of their adult lives.
Listening to Blalock, Stephenson and Nancy Scranton talk about their young Tour I was reminded of conversations I had years ago with people like Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, the founding generation of the LPGA Tour. Like their predecessors, today’s pioneer women are realistic in their ambitions and committed to their concept. Today’s Legends Tour players may be facing a different challenge with multiple national tours, but they are singing from the same sheet music.
They are not trying to clone the men’s Champion Tour. They are not looking to impose their presence where they aren’t wanted. They are building one stop at a time and would be content to cap the schedule at fifteen events. Their stops are varied in length and format. Their prize money is modest but growing. They may even be tapping into an audience who once followed the LPGA Tour but have lost interest in its current international build.
When they first set about to structure the cut off age for the new tour, (45) the standard line was whatever age Nancy Lopez was at the time. As she turns 43 in September, enlisting Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam into some of their fields in a couple of years may give them a chance to break the media embargo that currently limits their exposure.
The new event at French Lick is the Legends Championship presented by Humana. It will be the first 54-hole event on the Legends Tour Schedule. Staged the last full week in September, there is a kind of symmetry that a destination that has set about to restore its legacy is playing host to a group of players trying to revisit theirs.
And if the thought of watching a group of 45+ LPGA Hall of Famers and their other notable rivals compete seems a little to docile for your spectator taste, catch Stephenson after her round and ask her why the USGA doesn’t stage a US Senior Women’s Open.