It will be a celebration of the 50th game of ANA Inspiration, but the renewal in April of the first major championship of the year will again be stifled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This means that for the second year in a row, the Major LPGA Championship will be played without fans on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Although the event returns to its traditional first week of April. This makes the ANA Inspiration, once again, the first major championship played at one of the great golf tournaments.
“We will follow what the state imposes on us and guides us to be, which for now is without spectators,” said Alyssa Randolph, ANA Inspiration tournament manager.
After a 2020 season that saw the tournament postponed from April to September and played without spectators due to the pandemic, tournament officials were hopeful that the 2021 event could be played with at least a limited number of spectators. But Riverside County remains below the state’s most restrictive purple level, allowing sports to be played live but without spectators.
In fact, little in the state and county has changed since last September. The PGA Tour American Express was played at La Quinta in January under restrictions and without fans.
“In September, we weren’t technically in that purple level where we could dine al fresco in restaurants,” Randolph said. “So it’s a positive element that we have, right now, today. So maybe we’re a little early, but not that much of a difference.
A major change from 2020 for the tournament is the event time of year. Postponed from its April dates and postponed to September, the tournament and LPGA players had to contend with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees, a golf course dominated by Bermuda grass rather than ryegrass in cool April weather and even the smoky sky of a nearby forest fire. Mirim Lee defeated Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson in the playoffs to win the tournament.
Things should be back to normal for this year’s tournament, starting with its dates of April 1-4.
Back to the first major of the year
“First and foremost, the fact that he can be played in his major opening position of the year is so important,” said Michele Mair, vice president of golf communications for International Management Group, operators from ANA Inspiration. “And not having the weather conditions and the different course conditions.
“Being the very first opening major of the year is very special for us,” added Mair.
Another benefit of the event in 2021 is that the 2020 tournament was successfully held under pandemic conditions. Those lessons are expected to carry over to the April event, tournament director Teo Sodeman said.
“It was great to see all of the work the team has done working really well,” said Sodeman. “As you know, we’ve planned and planned and planned and changed and changed and changed and found the end product. I don’t think we’re going to change that end product much because it was so successful.
These protocols include testing of players, staff and volunteers, keeping the clubhouse closed to Mission Hills members, and making hand sanitizer available to players on the course.
Randolph said the tournament continues to work with municipal, regional and national authorities on the event.
“Since we are operating our back-to-back majors in the same event format, we already have our plan approved as per current state guidelines as of September 2020,” she said. “Of course, we are still working closely with the county and really appreciate their advice and support.”
Other operational facts about the ANA 2021 inspiration include:
A full handbag: The purse remains at $ 3.1 million, fully funded by tournament host All-Nippon Airways for a second year in a row despite the lack of fans.
A celebration of the event’s 50th anniversary: Randolph said the tournament is still working on plans, be they virtual, branded, or perhaps former champions in Mission Hills for the event. There should also be a lot of talk about tournament hostess Dinah Shore, who started with the tournament in 1972 and is the only non-playing member of the LPGA Hall of Fame. Shore died in 1994.
Limited amateur participation: Heather Daly-Donofrio, head of tourism operations for the LPGA, said Golfweek earlier this month, “To expand competitive opportunities for LPGA Tour members as we continue to address COVID-19 and to ensure a manageable pitch size, 2021 (ANA Inspiration) has limited invitations to reigning American and British amateur women champions. . “
Mair said British amateur champion Aline Krauter of Germany, who plays at Stanford, has already accepted her invitation. ANA Inspiration has had a conflict over the past two years with the new Augusta Women’s National Amateur Tournament, with top amateurs having to choose between the two events.
A return to a full range of pros: Several top international golfers, including defending champion Jin Young Ko, have not played in the ANA Inspiration 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, quarantines and travel restrictions. Mair said she believes the squad will return to full strength in 2021, in part because the LPGA changes in 2020 allowing players to essentially freeze their exempt status without playing during the pandemic have disappeared this year.
No blue wall: To replace the usual hospitality tent that runs along the back and left of the island’s green on the Shore Course’s 18th par 5 hole, a tent that prevents certain shots from rolling into the lake surrounding the green, the tournament of Last September attempted to replicate the panel with what has come to be known as the Big Blue Wall. This wall became controversial over the week for allowing players to safely aim it, so it will not be part of the 2021 tournament. No structure will surround the green in 2021, as was the case when the tournament started in 1972.
Larry Bohannan is the Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: subscribe to Desert Sun.