A decade ago, the LPGA schedule was an act of expediency, a hodgepodge of events cobbled together to fill in blank weeks on the calendar. With only 24 tournaments, the LPGA was beginning the long road to where it is today – a robust tour that continues to DriveOn with one of those at the wheel the Kia Classic, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.
In 2010, there were no tournaments in Arizona or Hawaii and, without Kia, would have had just two in California, separated by six months. Now, the LPGA returns from Australia and Asia to the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix, the Kia Classic and ANA Inspiration in California, the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii and then back to California for the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open and MEDIHEAL Championship in San Francisco.
That the LPGA has such a strong West Coast Swing speaks well of its overall vitality. But a decade ago, the ANA Inspiration, which has existed under several names since 1972 and has been a major championship since 1983, needed help in holding down the fort in Southern California. That’s when Kia stepped in and helped anchor the swing.
This year, 73 of the top 80 in the Rolex Rankings will be among the 144 players competing for the $1.8 million purse on the Aviara Golf Club at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort. Among them will be defending champion Eun-Hee Ji, who picked up her fifth LPGA win at the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
“The Kia Classic has brought the best female golfers to Carlsbad year after year and we’ve really been able to create a family friendly event for the community to enjoy,” says tournament director Lindsay Allen, noting that the decade-long alliance between the LPGA and Kia has helped charitable work benefitting military families and cancer research among other worthy causes.
“Over the last ten years, the Kia Classic has become a premier stop on the LPGA tour, and it has been our honor to share the competition and sportsmanship inherent in women’s professional golf with generations of fans across Southern California,” says Saad Chehab, vice president, marketing communications, Kia Motors America.
“The LPGA and its talented players share Kia’s ‘Give It Everything’ philosophy, and our relationship with the game of golf has undoubtedly helped raise the profile of the Kia brand and our world-class vehicles,” says Chehab.
This year’s Kia has a special touch that demonstrates how the LPGA has impacted the area. Alana Uriell, a graduate of Carlsbad High School who played college golf at Arkansas, will compete for the first time in the tournament where, as a teenager, she watched the big kids play.
Uriell’s Kia debut comes after winning in her first tournament as a professional on March 10 when she eagled the first playoff hole in the Symetra Tour’s season-opening SKYiGOLF Championship. Last week, Uriell made her debut as an LPGA member at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, where she easily made the cut.
“I have very fond memories of watching the Kia as a kid and looking up to these girls and thinking ‘oh my gosh, these people are amazing celebrities,’” she said at Kia Classic media day. “To be here on the 10th anniversary in my hometown on my home course and to have the support of my family and friends is just an amazing opportunity.”
And it will probably help Uriell that she got her feet on the ground at Founders Cup and won’t have to carry the burden of making her LPGA debut back home to the Kia, as will the fact that she has that Symetra Tour win.
“It's given me a lot of confidence coming into the LPGA having a win under my belt,” she said about her SKYiGOLF victory after opening with a 65 at Founders Cup. “I feel a little more at home out here so I don't mind letting loose and seeing what I'm capable of.”
Because she grew up watching the LPGA in her backyard at the Kia Classic, Uriell is uniquely positioned to appreciate the LPGA’s new DriveOn marketing campaign. Ten years ago, when the Kia Classic began, Uriell was exactly the kind of kid the LPGA is trying to reach.
“I think the DriveOn campaign is a really good step in the right direction,” she says. “I mean, inspiring young girls is kind of like what we're all about here. Just focusing on what we've had and how we can grow is a really great thing.”
The Kia Classic couldn’t have a better alignment of the stars under which to celebrate its anniversary. It has a hometown hero playing great golf as she cruises back to Carlsbad to make her Kia debut and it has the LPGA roaring into town on the wheels of its newly-launched DriveOn campaign. What more could a carmaker ask for?