The Kraft Nabisco Celebrates a Milestone
The year was 1972. For most Americans, women’s sports barely registered on their radar screens. The Kraft Nabisco Championship helped change all that.
It was originally called the Dinah Shore Colgate Winner’s Circle and from the beginning, it was a big deal. Colgate-Palmolive put up a $110,000 purse for the pros to play for, the biggest purse ever offered on the LPGA Tour up to that time.
It was eleven years before the tournament was officially designated a major, but the players knew from the outset that it was something special. Professionals measure an event’s significance by the amount of money they’re playing for and that $110,000 was more than 11 percent of the LPGA’s total prize fund that year or the rough equivalent of a $5.2 million event today. Jane Blalock was the winner that year, by three shots over Carol Mann, and pocketed $20,500 for her efforts.
Apart from the dollars and cents, the Dinah, as it was called then and occasionally now, brought the LPGA and its players a degree of visibility they had never experienced before. Colgate-Palmolive and Dinah Shore herself were enthusiastic performers of the event and LPGA players, notably Laura Baugh and later Jan Stephenson, began appearing in television commercials, although there was “spirited discussion,” then, and in the years since, on the subject of whether the players were being marketed on the basis of their appeal to the camera rather than their ability as athletes.
But the tournament was a springboard that helped launch the LPGA’s modern era and indeed, the modern era of women’s athletics. Three months after it was first played, Title IX was enacted, providing additional funding for women’s sports in high schools and colleges. Athletic scholarships for women became available and some talented athletes began to consider golf a way to make a living.
While all this was going on, LPGA purses were increasing dramatically. In 1972 LPGA Tour players competed for just under $1 million over the course of a 30-event season. The average purse, even with the Dinah factored in, was less than $33,000 – that’s the total purse, not the winner’s share. A decade later that amount had risen to $9 million, and it increased to $18.4 million just six years after that. The impetus from the tournament was a major part of the reason why.
With athletic scholarship now available to women, college golf programs blossomed and the talent level on the LPGA Tour rose as a result. In the summer of 1977 Nancy Lopez, who almost won the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur, and Betsy King, who was a collegiate standout at Furman, joined the LPGA Tour. A year-and-a-half later Beth Daniel, also from Furman, joined them. At the time the vast majority of tour players were Americans. But that would change in the next three decades as players from Europe, Australia, and the Pacific Rim were drawn to an LPGA Tour that had become increasingly lucrative and appealing to talented athletes from beyond America’s borders.
As the LPGA Tour grew, the Kraft Nabisco grew along with it. There were several name changes along the way and in 2000 the name of Dinah Shore, who passed away in 1994, was dropped. But the tournament is as significant as ever; today it might be considered the LPGA’s equivalent of the Masters, in part because it’s played at the same golf course (Mission Hills Country Club) and in part because of its tradition of honoring past champions, women like Mickey Wright (who won the event in 1973), Kathy Whitworth, Amy Alcott and King, to Juli Inkster, Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, and Lorena Ochoa.
The list is a roll call of heroes, which is fitting. Thanks to this tournament, whatever the name, Mission Hills will always be a place of honor.Written by Rick Woelfel
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