Merely 230 miles from where it all started – and nearly 70 years to the day – the LPGA Tour’s first full-field event of 2020 takes place this week with the inaugural Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. A new tournament seems like the perfect way to commemorate the birth week of a pioneering Tour.
And while the LPGA may not have traveled all that far in terms of miles – sliding from the west coast of Florida for its first-ever event to the east coast for its newest addition – by every other metric the Tour has moved mountains. What began as a uniquely American phenomenon has grown into golf’s global tour with three dozen nations among its membership.
On Jan. 19, 1950, a handful of women teed it up in the Tampa Open at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club. On Jan. 22, amateur Polly Riley took home the trophy with a five-stroke victory over future Hall of Famer Louise Suggs, one of the 13 women who founded the LPGA.
Tampa was the first of 15 events in the first of 70 seasons for the oldest continuous women’s professional sports organization, a journey that has seen total prize money climb from barely $40,000 to more than $75 million. And TV, which barely existed in 1950, will bring more than 500 hours of women’s golf to viewers this year.
The inaugural Gainbridge LPGA has a star-studded field of 108 players, including six of the Rolex Rankings top-10 and 22 of the 24 players from the Solheim Cup teams of the United States and Europe. Beginning Thursday, they chase a $2 million purse, a mere $1,996,500 more than what was on the line in Tampa 70 years ago.
In May, the LPGA returns to Florida for another new event in Florida, the Pelican Women’s Championship presented by DEX Imaging at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, just 25 miles from Tampa. The twin additions in the Sunshine State reflect the relentless growth of women’s golf and the LPGA.
“I'm really excited to show off Boca Rio and the Pelican Club,” said LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan. “It's great to have two more events in Florida. Even if you live in Boca, you may not have been inside Boca Rio, and Boca Rio is a gem.”
For Whan, doubling the number of LPGA events in Florida is a win-win proposition.
“It's not just two more events in Florida,” Whan said. “It's two events in Florida that I think are really going to be great for the players but even for the Floridians and fans of our Tour that probably haven't seen these two incredible venues.”
The 2020 season kicked off last week with the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, which has an exclusive field of 26 winners from the past two seasons. This week, the whole gang gets back together.
Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang, Sei Young Kim, Nasa Hataoka, Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson are the top-10 Rolex Rankings players in the field at Gainbridge.
And memories of the best Solheim Cup ever – in fact, one of the best team events of all time involving either women or men – will be revived virtually everywhere you look at Boca Rio Golf Club.
Nelly Korda, Kang and Thompson all played for the U.S side, as did Jessica Korda, Megan Khang, Marina Alex, Brittany Altomare, Ally McDonald, Annie Park, Morgan Pressel and Angel Yin. The only one missing in Boca Raton from the American team is Lizette Salas.
Team Europe has Celine Boutier, Carlota Ciganda, Anne van Dam, Georgia Hall, Caroline Hedwall, Charley Hull, Bronte Law, Caroline Masson, Azahara Munoz, Anna Nordqvist and Jodi Ewart Shadoff. Missing is Suzann Pettersen, who made the dramatic winning putt at Gleneagles and then retired.
“We are honored to host the world’s best female golfers at our course and thank honorary Boca Rio member Morgan Pressel for urging us to take this step,” said Paul Shapiro, president of Boca Rio Golf Club.
“We are also very impressed with Group1001 and the work they do in promoting STEM education among young women, which is yet another reason why this event will be an exciting opportunity for this community.”
Accepting sponsor exemptions to Gainbridge are Natalie Gulbis and Madison Pressel. That means three sets of sisters will be in the field: the Pressels and the Kordas as well as Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn.
The LPGA starts and ends 2020 in Florida. Diamond Resorts got things going followed by Gainbridge with Pelican in May and the CME Group Tour Championship capping the season in Naples the week before Thanksgiving.
What better way to celebrate the birth week of the LPGA Tour than with a new tournament? For 70 years, the LPGA has been all about growth. And Gainbridge at Boca Rio is another impressive step on a well-traveled road of success.