When the 2020 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions spilled over to Monday before Gaby Lopez won in a scintillating seven-hole playoff, anticipation for the new LPGA Tour season was off the charts. Who knew a global pandemic would socially distance that enthusiasm? But the best way to put memories in the rearview mirror is with a celebration and the Diamond Resorts is just the ticket to kick off 2021.
The year ahead has more tournaments, more prize money, more great venues, more TV exposure, the Olympics and the Solheim Cup. The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions Presented by Insurance Office of America at the Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club in Orlando with its select field of 25 professionals and star power of 50 celebrities starts things off with appropriate sizzle.
The LPGA winners-only field plays for a $1.2 million purse over 72 holes with no cut. The sports and entertainment celebrities compete for a $500,000 purse of their own using a modified Stableford format. And all of the fun can be seen on Golf Channel Thursday and Friday then NBC on Saturday and Sunday.
Lopez is back to defend her title against a talented field that includes Danielle Kang, Brooke Henderson, Nelly and Jessica Korda, Lexi Thompson, Sophia Popov, Stacy Lewis and Brittany Lincicome. On the celebrity side are baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz, going for his third win in a row, and a familiar face in Annika Sorenstam, the Hall of Famer with 72 LPGA wins, including 10 major championships.
“The LPGA brings diversity to our event which coincides with our core values of gender diversity,” says Diamond Resorts CEO Mike Flaskey. “The winners-only field coincides with our quest to hire the very best in the hospitality industry. And the professional golf element fits perfectly with the very successful celebrity model that we built. The two together are magic as the celebrities love the LPGA ladies.”
Diamond Resorts brought bright hope for the new year and beyond even before 2021 when the company, one of the global leaders in the hospitality, vacation ownership and entertainment industries, announced last October a three-year contract extension with the LPGA Tour to host the Tournament of Champions through 2024.
“The interaction of Hall of Farmers, MVP’s, Grammy winners and more paired with the world’s best winners only makes for must-see TV,” Flaskey says. “It makes golf fun and attracts both serious golf fans as well as fans that like the celebrity angle and are being introduced to the game of golf. This year, with Annika playing you can imagine the fun comparisons that TV will have.”
That the LPGA Tour managed to stage 18 tournaments, including four of its five major championships and the CME Group Tour Championship during Covid-19 made 2020 a highly successful year given all the obstacles. The new year offers 34 official events, $75 million in prize money, the Solheim Cup and Olympic golf.
In February, the LPGA Tour will play the Gainbridge Championship at Lake Nona, also in Orlando, then hold its third consecutive Florida tournament with the Drive On Championship at Golden Ocala presented by JTBC in Ocala, Fla. Beginning March 25 with the Kia Classic at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif., the Tour plays virtually non-stop until the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship back in Florida in November.
Along the way are major championships at the ANA Inspiration in the California desert, the U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, the KPGA Women’s PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, the Evian Championship in France at the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie Golf in Scotland.
There is also women’s golf at the Tokyo Olympics Aug. 4-7 and the Solheim Cup at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, Sept 4-6. It was at Inverness late last July that the LPGA Tour returned to action after more than five months with the first Drive On Championship.
There were no spectators in Toledo in 2020 but crowds wearing USA red, white and blue as well as the blue and gold of Europe should be back at inverness come September. Certainly, the tournaments are back. And the excitement never went away. Diamond Resorts is a tribute to that.
“In the end, we have caught lighting in a bottle,” says Flaskey. “Our TV ratings continue to blow up and the players have a blast introducing golf to potential new fans, while entertaining the true golf enthusiasts.”
The Tournament of Champions is a winner’s-only event That produces multiple winners; An LPGA professional, a celebrity and the fans. What better way to start a new season than with a celebration? Let the party begin.