Thanks for the Memories

A beloved tournament makes its final appearance in the Coachella Valley

By Christine Loomis

It’s had many names since its founding in 1972 by legendary entertainer Dinah Shore and Colgate-Palmolive chairman, David Foster. Until 2000, all of them included Shore’s name. Since then, it’s been known as the Nabisco Championship, Kraft Nabisco Championship and ANA Inspiration. It was elevated to major status in 1983.

Through all those years, this tournamenthas been played in the same place and on the same course: The Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. For 50 years the much-loved LPGA tournament has been contested in the Coachella Valley. This year will be the last.

In October 2021, energy company Chevron signed a six-year sponsorship deal with IMG, the global sports, events and talent management company that operates the tournament. That deal changes everything. The newly christened Chevron Championship will be played one final time at Mission Hills before moving to the greater Houston area in 2023, where Chevron is headquartered.There’s no word yet on which Houston-area course the tournament will eventually call home.

The 2022 event is also the last time the tournament will be played during its traditional late March-early April time slot. In Houston, it will be played at a later date in order to allow for network coverage on NBC and so it will no longer conflict with the (relatively recent) Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament.

The purse will also be increased from $3.1 million to $5 million, ensuring that it will no longer be the only LPGA major with a purse under $4 million. The hefty increase will bring it in line with the other LPGA majors and top-tier tournaments.

The move to Texas is a blow to the Coachella Valley and many longtime fans of the tournament, which has traditions born in the valley that make it unique on the LPGA Tour. For one thing, until the Evian Championship became a major in 2013, the Dinah Shore was the only LPGA major played on the same course every year.

Its most beloved tradition, however—the one everyone is asking about since Chevron announced the move—is the winner’s leap into Poppie’s Pond. Will Poppie’s Pond be recreated at whatever venue is chosen for the tournament? There’s talk, but it seems unlikelythat it could ever be the same even if it is recreated. “The leap” started in 1988 when Amy Alcott celebrated her second win by unexpectedly jumping into the pond surrounding the 18th green at Mission Hills. She did the same in 1991 when she won a third time—joined by Dinah Shore herself, who had promised to take the leap with Alcott if she won a third time. It didn’t really catch on until 1994 when Donna Andrews leapt into the pond to celebrate her victory, followed by Nanci Brown the next year. At some point, a white bathrobe—similar to the one Shore donned immediately after jumping in the pond with Alcott—became an indelible part of the tradition.

This all may seem insignificant or silly in the context of a serious tournament contested by the most elite women golfers in the world. But the joyous moment of victory captured by Alcott and all the others who leapt into the pond over the years, including a host of caddies and winners’ relatives, brought humor and humanity to a golf tournament and made it something even non-golfers talked about and wanted to see. It made the tournament stand out from all the others, made it beloved in the Coachella Valley and beyond. Whether the new Chevron Championship can recapture that joyful ethos—or even wants to—remains to be seen.

For this year, the leap and other traditions remain intact. All Nippon Airways (ANA), which sponsored the tournament for seven years, will remain a partner in 2022. For this year, a white bathrobe will still be given to the winner following the leap into Poppie’s Pond. For this year, the Coachella Valley will still be the setting of the first golf major of the year.

The powers that be at IMG and the LPGA are well aware what this tournament has meant to players and fansfor the past 50 years. Mollie Marcoux Samaan, who became commissioner of the LPGA in May, said at the announcement in October that the tradition and history of the tournament would not be lost. “We do not make the move lightly. Since David Foster and Dinah Shore created this competition in 1972, it has held a special place in the hearts of our players and fans around the world. No matter where it is held, Dinah and her influence, along with the history built at Mission Hills, will be an integral part of The Chevron Championship. We thank ANA and Mission Hills for their tremendous support and look forward to celebrating the many years of tradition as we continue to add to its footprint in the history of women’s sports.”

Nostalgia and tradition aside, there’s consensus that Chevron can bring the tournament and women’s golf to new levels. “We could not be more excited to announce our partnership with Chevron,” Samaan said. “Welcoming another leading global company to our portfolio of sponsors that believes in the power of the LPGA to inspire women leaders, to showcase human performance at the highest level and to highlight the importance of diversity and inclusion in all facets of life, is truly game-changing for us. We are so grateful for Chevron’s extraordinary commitment to the LPGA and to the overall player experience and look forward to a long and successful relationship.”

Lydia Ko, who serves as player director on the LPGA Board of Directors and who won the tournament in 2016, echoed those same sentiments. “Having a global company like Chevron to support women’s golf is really exciting for everyone involved with the LPGA. Their aspirations for growing this major together with the LPGA and IMG are amazing for the future of our Tour. We have all made some lovely memories at Mission Hills over the years, which we will enjoy celebrating in 2022 and take with us to The Chevron Championship’s new home, where I know we will make many more.”

IMG, too, has made a commitment to finding ways to honor the tournament’s history and traditions while movingit into a new era. How exactly that will play outremains unknown. But the fact that they’ve established a special Players Advisory Board and enlisted Shore’s daughter, Melissa Montgomery, to help guide the tournament’s transition and shape its future, should be seen as a good sign to golf fans everywhere.