Oakmont Will Roll Out the Green Carpet for Top Women Pros

Three significant achievements in 1948 indirectly broke ground for the major sporting event Glendale will host in three weeks.

Patty Berg and Babe Didrikson-Zaharias won their first professional golf tournaments that year en route to the Hall of Fame, and golfing legend Ben Hogan captured the one and only Glendale Open by two strokes over Lloyd Mangrum at the Oakmont Country Club.

That same golf course will roll out its lush green carpet and its picturesque mountain scenery for the world's best women golfers March 18 when the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour makes its eighth stop of 1985 and its first ever in Glendale.

The 72-hole tournament, christened the GNA Classic, is one of two new events on this year's 38-tournament LPGA schedule, joining the Mazda Hall of Fame Championship in Sugar Land, Tex. It is sponsored by Great Northern Insured Annuity Corp. of Seattle, and championship play will begin on March 21.

Hogan Won $2,450

It also will feature Glendale's first rounds of professional golf since Oct. 17, 1948, when Hogan pocketed $2,450 from a total purse of $15,000 after capping his 275-shot score card with a final-round 64.

"We're glad to have it in Glendale," Mayor Carroll Parcher said. "It's a prestigious tournament and it means a lot to the city because it brings a large number of golf enthusiasts here. I'd be very pleased to have (the LPGA) come to Glendale as often as it could."

The tournament falls between the Kemper Open in Maui and the Nabisco Dinah Shore in nearby Rancho Mirage, so GNA was confident of drawing most of the game's top players. Tournament officials said that, as of Monday, 30 of last year's top 34 money winners had committed to the 144-player field that will compete for the $36,000 first prize.

Among them are JoAnne Carner and Pat Bradley, Nos. 1 and 3 in all-time LPGA earnings; Betsy King, 1984 Player of the Year and top money winner; 1984 Rookie of the Year Juli Inkster; Uniden Invitational defending champion Nancy Lopez, and glamorous Jan Stephenson, who is just $42,725 shy of the $1-million mark in career earnings.

Former Effort Failed

The last attempt to establish the Los Angeles Basin as a regular stop on the women's tour fizzled after two years. It was called the Olympia Gold Classic and was held in the City of Industry in 1982 and 1983. When Olympia Beer walked away from its contract after sale of the company, another sponsor came in but backed out at the last minute. That left the LPGA with an opening on its tour schedule.

Enter Don Andersen, sports information director at USC from 1967 through 1974 and later an official with the Seattle Seahawks professional football club. After launching his own sports marketing company, Andersen Enterprises, two years ago, the 1962 graduate of Cal State Fullerton wanted to try his hand at golf promotion. So he contacted a longtime associate, LPGA director of communications Ted Haracz, former publicity director for the Chicago Bears.

Andersen, the tournament's executive director, had been working on another project for GNA in 1983 when the LPGA gave him authorization to represent it. He took the idea to GNA President Vincent Coviello Jr., who told him that California would be a good location for the event because the company was just starting to market tax-deferred annuities here.

The timing of the March tournament also was favorable because 70% of GNA's business takes place in the first fiscal quarter, right before tax time. By hosting the women golfers, the company has an opportunity to drum up some extra business here before Uncle Sam plays through.

'Great Golf Course'

"The demographics were perfect," Anderson said.

Once he had the green light, Andersen began looking for a suitable venue. The Oakmont layout was an attractive choice.

"We wanted to get a great golf course, preferably a private club, and one that had a great reputation," he explained.

But he wanted it to be far enough, logistically, from the Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa--site of next week's Uniden Invitational, which debuted a year ago.

"We're about 72 miles from there, so that's two different markets," said Andersen, who is not concerned about the possibility of saturation hurting his gate two weeks later.

"I don't think we're competing for the same entertainment dollar. The people in Orange County are going to go to their tournament and the people in Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and the Valley are going to be the people who primarily come to this tournament."

One of Andersen's first Southern California contacts was Bob LaBarthe, who used to be a director at Oakmont and was president of the Trojan Club when Andersen worked at USC. LaBarthe made several presentations to a committee appointed by the country club to evaluate GNA's proposal. The directors voted unanimously to allow the LPGA onto their grounds, but the deal was not completed until last December when a majority vote taken by half of the club's membership approved the tournament.

$250,000 Purse

GNA is leasing the course from the club, which has a membership of 450 families and hosts about 300 women golfers year-round. The annuities company also has put up a players' purse of $250,000 and will pay its expenses with three primary sources of revenue--ticket sales, associate sponsorships and sale of playing spots in the celebrity pro-am round.

"For a first-year tournament to do that is unusual," Andersen said of the purse, ninth-largest on the 1985 tour. "But they said, 'Listen. If we're going to do it in Los Angeles, we better do it right.' And we have an excellent date, also."

The organizers studied weather conditions for the third week in March for a 10-year period. Over that stretch they found only four days when the conditions were unfit for golf and a couple of others when there were scattered showers. Although they feel mother nature will not intrude, Andersen said they were investigating rain insurance.

"There are just a jillion details," he noted. "I'm sure it will be easier the second time around."

The Oakmont course, opened in 1923, will provide the women pros with a stiff challenge. It's tight in a lot of areas, with narrow fairways, small greens, trees, bunkers, water and a barranca that runs through the course.

'62 Years of Character'

"A lot of times on the tour they play some of these resort courses that are just big, wide-open courses," Andersen said. "But this course has 62 years worth of character."

The ninth and 18th holes will be flip-flopped and the par-72 layout will measure 6,328 yards--106 yards shorter than the men's distance and 341 longer than the normal women's distance there. Seven of the holes will start from the ladies' tee and the other 11 from the men's tee.

"It's a long and exacting course and a very tough test," Andersen said. "It's a very tricky course to play. The greens have some subtle breaks that the members know about, but it's tough for an outsider to come in and play it."

Proceeds, after expenses, will go to four charities that have been guaranteed a set amount. The beneficiaries are the California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, the Assistance League of Glendale, the Glendale YMCA and the Glendale Symphony Orchestra Women's Committee. All have sold tickets and pro-am spots and have provided the tournament with volunteer workers.

For those who want to do more than watch, there is a $950 package that includes admission to two parties, a pair of guest badges for admission to all seven days of the tournament, including the Monday and Tuesday practice rounds, and one of 208 spots in Wednesday's $5,000 celebrity pro-am. The 52 groups of four amateurs and a professional will be selected by a blind draw to give everyone an equal chance to be teamed with the best players. In other words, Jan Stephenson will not go to the highest bidder.

Actors to Play

"If that were the case," Anderson said with a laugh, "we'd have 142 guys in that foursome."

Among the celebrities playing in the pro-am will be actors Robert Stack, John Agar and Jamie Farr, who hosts his own LPGA tournament Aug. 1 in Toledo. Dinah Shore and television actress Stephanie Zimbalist are the most recognizable names among women invited to play, but tournament officials had not received confirmation from either as of Monday.

The sports celebrities include announcers Charlie Jones and Keith Jackson, KMPC's Jim Lange, Lakers general manager Bill Sharman, Kansas City Chiefs Coach John Mackovic, quarterback Jeff Kemp of the Rams and Seattle Seahawks Coach Chuck Knox, the local radio and television spokesman for GNA in Seattle.

The tournament will not be televised. A few local producers expressed interest, but they wanted GNA to underwrite the cost of the telecast.

"We think it's more important to get the tournament established the first year rather than compete with ourselves," said Andersen, adding that a TV contract for next year is a possibility. That would depend, however, on the success of the inaugural tournament. The one-year agreement between Oakmont, the LPGA and GNA has an option for two more years.

"We all have outs after one year if it doesn't fly, or if the club, the LPGA or the sponsors are unhappy," Andersen explained. "But I'd be very surprised if it didn't work.

"It's in such a great area and in such a good time schedule on the tournament schedule and it's at a great golf course. The intent certainly is on everybody's part to have an ongoing event, to develop it as a prime stop on the tour and to make it become something the pros really look forward to playing in."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°