For more than 10 years, France has welcomed the LPGA Tour with open arms to play at one of the oldest and most breathtaking golf courses in Europe, the Evian Masters Golf Club. A favorite stop among LPGA players and fans alike not only for its spectacular views and its glamorous façade, it holds an international reputation as one of the most exceptional golf tournaments on the schedule.
But despite its global popularity, women’s golf has not quite taken off in France like most would think, according to LPGA Tour’s long-standing French member Karine Icher.
“Unfortunately, golf in France remains a sport for old and rich people,” Icher says of the golf demographic in France. “When I was young in school I said I would never play golf. But that mentality changed slowly and here I am now trying to represent my country and bring more awareness to young players.”
At its peak, France had a total of five members on the LPGA Tour in 2003, which was Icher’s rookie season. Ever since then Icher has taken on the role of being the face of the LPGA in France, being the only player who has consistently played on the Tour and hails from the dainty country. Icher says she enjoys the spotlight but is eager for more players to join.
“I am so proud to have been the only one French on Tour but on the other hand it's quite sad to be alone,” Icher said. “I wish to have more and more French girls on Tour, mostly just to speak French more often.”
Icher’s request was granted this year, as the LPGA Tour welcomed a new face from France in the 2013 rookie class, Perrine Delacour. The 18-year-old earned her LPGA Tour card when she finished with a tie for 32nd at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament in Daytona Beach last December. Icher says she is beyond thrilled to see a tiny spark in young French women.
“It definitely shows that golf in France growing up,” said Icher. “More and more young players are interested to play over here, that's good. We need more ambition, more dream about golf in France. We are a small country with not a lot of golf courses. Golf in France is small. So more players we have on tour, more chances we have to win tournaments.
“Perrine is only 18 years old, and if other girls can follow her, that would be great. I will try to help Perrine as much as I can!”
This year, the two French women have a whole new reason to have pride in their country as it plays host to the LPGA’s fifth major, The Evian. The Evian Masters Presented by Société Générale reached major-status and has further enhanced the LPGA’s ever-increasing upsurge with its revamped golf course, steep purse and widespread exposure.
LPGA Tour pros will play on a re-designed Evian Golf Club that will feature a unique “Fantastic Finish,” which will provide spectators ample opportunity to see LPGA stars while seated in a large amphitheater surrounding the final four holes.
Needless to say, Icher has an enormous sense of pride in her country.
“It's going to be amazing,” Icher says of the event. “The golf course will be wonderful, and again, for women's golf in France, it means a lot! Thanks so much to Franck Riboud (Evian Masters Chairman) to have done that. I'm so proud of my country to host to biggest purse of the LPGA.”
Entering her 10th season on the LPGA Tour, Icher has tallied 26 top-10 finishes and touched the leaderboard on numerous occasions. A five-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, Icher says she’s more than ready for a victory to come as an LPGA member.
“I have a good confidence in my game since last year was a good year,” says Icher. “I worked on my physical condition his winter to be more fit and more physically ready to do four good rounds. I really miss winning. The difference between LET and LPGA is huge, so my hope is good for 2013. ”