This week, for the first time, the Chevron Championship—formerly known as the ANA Inspiration, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle—will take place somewhere other than the Coachella Valley. After 51 years at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, the tournament will now be contested at the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at the Club at Carlton Woods, about a 45-minute drive from downtown Houston, Texas. The LPGA Tour recognizes the Chevron as a major championship, the first of the year in women’s golf. But will it feel like one?
The forces that transform golf tournaments into major championships are enigmatic. The Masters became one sometime in the 1950s or 60s. Some argue that Arnold Palmer and journalist Bob Drum, confined together on a transatlantic flight in 1960, granted the tournament that designation as part of a marketing scheme. There is no doubt, however, that the public’s subsequent acceptance of the Masters as one of the four majors in the men’s game had much to do with the respect accorded to Augusta National’s membership, golf course, and co-founder Bobby Jones. It felt like a major, so it was one.
The Dinah Shore received the “major” label in 1983. By then, the tournament had been an important institution in women’s professional golf for 11 years. When it debuted in 1972, its purse was the largest on the LPGA Tour, more than double the size of those at the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open. As Beth Ann Nichols detailed in an excellent article last month, LPGA Tour players came to venerate Dinah Shore, the singer and TV host who co-founded the tournament. After her death, Shore became the first non-playing member of the LPGA Hall of Fame.
Even as the tournament changed names, it retained certain traditions. Most importantly, it stayed in the Palm Springs area, coinciding with the Dinah Shore Weekend, a women’s festival that caters to the LGBTQ+ community. More frivolously, winners since 1994 have celebrated by leaping into Poppie’s Pond, a body of water near the 18th green at Mission Hills that has, over the years, taken on the appearance of a large hot tub. These rituals and continuities, from the serious to the playful, help create the feeling we recognize as major-ness. They constitute a reassurance, a structure of memory, a sensation: “Yes, this is a big one.”
Now, with its new sponsor, name, locale, and venue, the Chevron Championship may struggle to persuade fans of its major credentials. Tournament organizers, according to Nichols’s reporting, are trying to maintain links to the past. They have named a hospitality area at Carlton Woods “Dinah’s Place” and invited Shore’s family to attend the event. They have also prepared for the possibility of a celebratory leap, dredging the pond next to the 18th green and installing a dock and… uh, “gator netting.” (I don’t know about you, but if someone tells me, “We’ve taken measures to keep the alligators at bay,” I’m noping outta there pretty quick.)
Of course, none of this will fool anyone. The Chevron Championship is no longer the Dinah Shore, and if it wants to feel like a major, it will have to earn that status anew.