By Rick Drennan
In the 1970s a nostalgia jag was sweeping North America.
Happy Days ruled the TV airwaves. And in 1978, Liberty Mutual Insurance sponsored the first-ever ‘Legends of Golf’ event.
The two-man, best-ball format, was a stirring call to yesteryear, as greybeards from a bygone era returned to competitive golf for one last shot at glory. As it turned out, its wasn’t a last shot, but an opening salvo, because by 1980, the 50+ set had formed the Senior PGA Tour.
The rest is business and sports history.
The Senior Tour morphed into the Champions Tour and is now called the PGA Tour Champions, a 27-stop giant that is a sport and business juggernaut with yearly prize money topping $55 million.
It’s the most popular spin off since, well, Happy Days (1974) gave us Leverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and yes, even Joanie Loves Chachi.
Left out of the celebration, however, are the former stars from the LPGA Tour, players like Julie Inkster, Pat Bradley, Laura Davies, Jan Blalock, Michelle McGann and the tour’s former pin-up gal, Australia’s Jan Stephenson.
Many of the stars from the 1970s and 80s now play on The Legends Tour, the women’s answer to the Senior PGA Tour.
Unfortunately, it has a light dusting of stops (seven), little national press coverage, and no rich TV package. But that’s about to change.
Last month at the Pete Dye championship layout at the French Lick Resort in southern Indiana, the LPGA Tour, along with sponsors, the host club and resort, and some former greats of the game, gathered before a large contingent of golf media from the U.S. and Canada to announce plans for the first-ever Senior LPGA Championship (July 10-12) presented by Old National Bank in support of Riley’s Hospital for Children.
A field of 81 players over the age of 45 will battle for a purse of $600,000.
The LPGA Tour has signed a multi-year hosting deal with the 3,000-acre French Lick Resort and Pete Dye course, and perhaps best of all, it gets three days of coverage on the Golf Channel.
“I’m proud that the LPGA has taken the lead to host the Senior LPGA Championship,” said four-time LPGA Legends Tour winner and Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member Lorie Kane. “We’re heading into a new chapter for senior women’s golf.”
One of the PEI native’s wins was at the 2013 Legends Tour stop on the Dye course at French Lick.
Steve Ferguson, chairman of the board of the Cook Group, responsible for a $600 million renovation of the resort and the hiring of the legendary Dye to build the course, said Hoosier country is looking forward “to a great relationship with the LPGA.”
He’s also a huge Kane fan, and loved the way she interacted with fans at her victory in ‘13. “She’s a real fan favorite around this place,” he said.
In fact, Kane is such a draw, her picture is front and center in marketing material promoting the event, including posters, brochures, and online coverage.
The United States Golf Association recently doubled down on the French Lick news when it announced the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be held at the Chicago golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois in 2018.
With two major stops on its Legends Tour, the senior ladies are inching ever-closer to the men.
Stephenson attended the press gathering and said the prospect of big crowds, full TV coverage, a healthy purse, and world-wide TV coverage will further enhance the Legends Tour.
The Dye course, which opened in 2009, was named best new course in America by Golf Digest, and recently added another laurel. The National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) named it 2017 Golf Course of the Year.
It’s the first time a Dye course has received such an honor.
The vistas on the course that sits atop Mount Airy, are stunning, and the course with its tight, twisting fairways and contoured greens ranks with Dye’s best.
With 120+ members and growing, The Legends Tour roster has combined for nearly 750 wins on the LPGA Tour, including 80+ major championships. Fourteen LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famers play the tour; nine have served as Solheim Cup captains and dozens more have played in the U.S. versus Europe answer to the men’s Ryder Cup. The tour has helped raise over $18 million for charity.
Mike Nicols, chief business officer, of the LPGA, also announced a $200,000 Symetra Tour stop (the development tour of the LPGA) will be held at the nearby Donald Ross course in French Lick. The three-day event will lead into the LPGA Senior Open. The Ross course is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Nichols called the LPGA Senior announcement “historic,” and said a whole week of golf including past and future stars will be great for the women’s game.
The $600 million historic restoration and casino development at French Lick is spread out over 3,000 bucolic areas, and centres around its two hotels, French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs. A giant casino is attached to the former, while West Baden Springs has been dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” It leaves most visitors’ heads spinning upon entry. Its massive 200-foot interior dome covering the atrium is a national historic landmark, and from 1902 to 1913, it was the largest indoor structure in the world until the completeion of the Houston Astrodome. To get a sense of the resort’s breadth and beauty, visit:
For more information visit:
Senior LPGA at French Lick: https://www.frenchlick.com/golf/events/seniorlpga/home
The Legends Tour: www.thelegendstour.com