SUSANNE KEMPER – RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA | Champions, locals and old-timers affectionately call the first women’s major of the year “The Dinah.” Globally known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the elite of women’s golf, stars of stage, screen and sports come to play golf and raise money for charity in the sun-drenched Coachella Valley.
The Dinah celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, largely thanks to the foresight of its founders. Dinah Shore was a beloved singer and television personality and she was persuaded to host the initial event in 1972. Shore started with the guidance of David Foster, then CEO of Colgate Palmolive, and they created the Colgate Dinah Shore’s Winner’s Circle. On offer was the unprecedented prize money of $110,000 – five-times the norm of the day – with a first-place check of $20,000. And she gathered her celebrity pals and hosted corporate social events. “The Dinah” was born.
Shore was the “First Lady of Women’s Golf.” Pat Bradley, the 1986 champion, recalls, “I saw Dinah on the other side of the bridge at 18 waiting to greet us all. She hugged me. I cherish and remember it always.”
Helen Alfredsson, who won the event in 1993, said, “Dinah was an incredible person. She had heart, passion, flair. She took me to her home for a party after my win. We really felt a part of the tournament.”
Grabbing huge media and TV coverage, in early years it was a great party. Jack Lemmon, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams entertained at “Dinner with Dinah.” Shore arranged TV commercials with the players for Colgate; she brought the LPGA into the 20th century.
Kathy Whitworth, the 1997 champion, loved “being on her TV shows. I was probably more remembered for that than my win because I had to cook. I made nachos. My claim to fame.”
Tentacles of traditions dig in the desert sands of Mission Hills Country Club with Shore’s legendary hostess activities making sure there was fun always with a charitable aim.
Amy Alcott, a three-time KNC champion, said, “One of the best gifts of winning was to know I would be playing with Dinah in the pro-am the next year.”
Betsy King, who won the event three times, said, “Dinah was the celebrity who did the most for the LPGA. We were all so fortunate to know her. I looked forward to playing the pro-am with her. It was my incentive to win. She was always so gracious with everyone.”
The Dinah Shore Tournament Course is famous for its par-5, 18th hole, which can play up to 531 yards, and is one of the best finishing holes in women’s golf. When Alcott won her second title in 1988, she jumped into the lake surrounding the island green at the 18th. In 1991, Shore joined Alcott and her caddie for the in celebration of her third victory. The leap into the lake is today the most unique celebration in women’s golf.
Shore was the first Honorary Member in the LPGA Hall of Fame and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Her death in 1994 came as a shock to all. In 2000, her bronze statue, standing along the 18th green, was dedicated as the focal point to Dinah’s Walk of Champions.
“The walk onto the 18th green past the stands, fans calling your name, is definitely the most famous walk we, as LPGA players, have in golf,” said King. “I consider this event our Masters. We play the same course every year, our only major that doesn’t move. We have been here for 40 years.”
A bevy of former champions, Hall of Famers and other greats teed it up Saturday in honor of Shore and her great legacy at the Fresh & Easy Dinah Shore Celebrity Pro-Am. Friday, Alcott, Whitworth, Bradley and King held a round table sharing memories of “The Dinah.” Alcott was the force organizing the Fresh & Easy pro-am, with proceeds benefiting Park Century School and LA’s BEST.
With Dinah Shore’s star power plus the celebrity glitter, network TV brought women’s golf into the living rooms of America. In 1982, the KNC was the first LPGA event with all four rounds on network TV. The major networks are no longer present, although Golf Channel is growing to the extent that where the game is concerned, it is a major network.
Getting legends and former champions active to mark the 40th anniversary generates involvement and commitment. It’s a great start. But in order to carry on the 40-year tradition begun by Shore, a new Dinah is needed. If LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan is smart, he will begin the search to find someone to fill that void.