FRENCH LICK, Indiana – This may surprise you. One of America’s professional tours still has one of its major championships remaining in 2019.
The climax to The Legends Tour season is the third annual Senior LPGA Championship, to be played on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort from Oct. 14-16. It tends to get lost in the shuffle, and not just because it’s so late in the season. The Monday through Wednesday scheduling isn’t the norm, either, but it has enabled the circuit for women 45 and over to gain live TV coverage on The Golf Channel.
LPGA stars of the past had trouble finding tournaments until Jane Blalock created The Legends Tour in 2000. It grew slowly, but in the last few years these senior women received some long overdue signs of respect.
The Legends Championship became their premier event when French Lick’s hierarchy created it – along with a Legends Hall of Fame – in 2014. That championship is no longer held, having been replaced with a bigger and better version when the LPGA finally got involved directly with its senior circuit.
England’s Trish Johnson became the first champion of a senior women’s major when she won the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2017.
The U.S. Golf Association, after three years of deliberation following an initial announcement, staged its first major tournament for senior women last year – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, IL. England’s Laura Davies won that one by a whopping 10-stroke margin to conclude an emotional week that was more important for the creation of the event than it was for who won.
Since then things have been quiet on the senior women’s front. The most notable development was Blalock’s departure as executive director of The Legends Tour and the hiring of Jane Geddes as the circuit’s chief executive officer. This could be significant down the road, but Geddes has been on the job only three months and hasn’t put her plans into effect yet. In fact, she hasn’t announced even announced any of them but says she has some significant things in the works for 2020 and beyond.
The big difference is that Blalock was both the head of The Legends Tour as well as its tournament promoter.
“Janie wore two hats,’’ said Geddes, who was asked by LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to take the job. “There was no governing body. I am the governing body, with no conflicts.’’
Blalock may still create tournaments for The Legends, but Geddes takes a broader approach for the circuit.
“I look on it as the Legends experience more than the Legends Tour,’’ she said. “We’ll have camps, travel trips. We don’t play (tournaments) week in and week out, but we can have pro-ams or challenge events, excursions or clinics. We’re a great group of women who bring great value. It’s fun to watch us play, and we have the ability to interact. That’s what my era does best.’’
Like Blalock, Geddes was a top LPGA player who has competed in both the Senior LPGA Championship and U.S. Senior Women’s Open. She took a different path after her full-time playing career wound down. Geddes spent time working for the LPGA, then – armed with a law degree — she left to become chief of staff in professional wrestling.
“It was very fun,’’ she said. “The wrestlers are sports actors. I was there four years, and it was a 24-hour job. I wanted to get back into golf.’’
So now she’s back, and how she transforms The Legends Tour next year will largely determine the circuit’s future.
For now, though, the show is all about the estimable Laura Davies and her supporting cast in the third Senior LPGA. The purse will be $650,000 with the champion receiving $100,000.
Davies won the second Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick last October and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson took the second U.S. Senior Women’s Open, played at Pine Needles in North Carolina in May, by beating Juli Inkster and Johnson by two strokes.
The Senior Women’s Open drew a crowd at Pine Needles that was comparable to the one it enjoyed at Chicago Golf Club, and a similar event is expected for a third run at French Lick. Hollis Stacy will be added to the Legends Hall of Fame before the tournament tees off and the field will undergo only minor changes from a year ago. Karen Stupples and Laura Baugh will compete for the first time with Stupples preferring to compete rather than stay in The Golf Channel broadcast booth.
Dave Harner, director of golf at French Lick, has added two special exemptions — Lori Atsedes and Clarissa Child — after the scrapping of the on-site qualifying round. The starting field will be 78 players as opposed to the 81 scheduled to play last year. Only 80 eventually teed off.