Los Angeles calls itself the entertainment capital of the world, Hooray for Hollywood and all that jazz, though sports in this melange of lights, camera, action has always been hit or miss.
A city of four million in a county of 10 million, for instance, loves its Dodgers but went without an NFL team for 20 years and responded with a collective whatevs.
This is the landscape the LPGA is re-entering this week with the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. It will be played in the heart of Hollywood, at Wilshire Country Club, less than two kilometres from Paramount Studios, the famous Hollywood sign visible in the distance, parking at the Hollywood Bowl.
There’s no business like show business, so they say.
The question is, based on past performance, whether the LPGA has no business returning to a region in which it has never been able to establish traction. We posed it to Los Angeles’ resident LPGA expert, World Golf Hall of Famer Amy Alcott, a native of Santa Monica.
“From my experience in close to 40 years of playing the tour,” she said, “I always found that it was the small cities — Corning, New York; Rochester, New York; Birmingham, Alabama; Dubuque, Iowa — those are the cities that have smaller populations where the LPGA becomes the biggest show in town.
“When it’s not the biggest show in town, New York or Los Angeles, where there’s so much going on, it becomes a little different animal. It’s not that it can’t thrive and be amazing. But a lot of it is promotion and just getting the golf people [in the area] behind it.”
The last time the LPGA came to what is called the Southland (incorporating Los Angeles and Orange counties) was seven years ago, when the Kia Classic was played one time at Industry Hills in the City of Industry. Before that it was 2005, the last year of a five-year run of the Office Depot Championship, this one at Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes.
The previous three where hosted by Amy Alcott at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana. “Out at El Cab we drew very well,” Alcott said. “The last year of the contract, out at Trump National, it didn’t draw very well at all.”
That has often been the case since the first LPGA event, the Los Angeles Open, was played in 1955 at Inglewood Country Club (which no longer exists).
Since then, the LPGA has had tournaments in Whittier, Montebello, Buena Park, Pasadena, Calabasas, Los Angeles (Rancho Park Golf Club), Costa Mesa, Simi Valley and Glendale, four years its longest run in any one place.
Now for the optimism on the eve of the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. “I have no doubt this tournament will be successful with this sponsor and where it’s located,” Alcott said.
The two sponsors are Korean companies and Wilshire Country Club is adjacent to Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Moreover, the Southland has the largest population of Asian-Americans in the United States, 10 of the top-21 players in the Rolex Rankings are Korean, and 13 of the top-21 are from Asian countries, including the No.1-ranked player, Shanshan Feng of China.
The LPGA is returning at the right time in the right place, in more than one way the right place. One of the sponsors, HUGEL, produces Botox, among other beauty products, and intends to expand into US markets.
Could there be a better place to market Botox than on Los Angeles’ west side that includes Hollywood and Beverly Hills?