The LPGA may have taken a major championship out of California’s Coachella Valley after 51 years, but women’s professional golf is poised to return to the desert with the biggest event on its developmental tour.
The Indian Wells city council will vote Thursday whether to spend as much as $100,000 to sponsor and host the Epson Tour Championship in the fall of 2024 at the city-owned Indian Wells Golf Resort. The Epson Tour Championship is the final event of the developmental Epson Tour’s season, with the top 10 players from the tour’s money list earning LPGA exemptions for the following year.
“After discussing funding options, the time during the year when the tournament is played, the consumption of existing tee times, and negotiated Resident Benefits, the Finance Committee recommends the Council consider the $100,000 Host City Sponsorship,” a city staff report to the city council suggests.
The event, to be played Oct. 3-6, would be the first Epson Tour event held in the desert, though the tour does play an annual tournament in March at the Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet in Beaumont. The championship has been held in Florida every year since its inception in 2008, with the lone exception of 2020, when it was played at River Run Country Club in Davidson, North Carolina.
“The chance to bring women’s golf back to the Coachella Valley and the chance to bring championship golf to the city is something that we look forward to,” said Christopher Freeland, city manager for Indian Wells who prepared the staff report. “And the idea that at the end of the week 10 players will get their LPGA cards is great.”
The LPGA has a long history in the Coachella Valley dating back to an event in 1953 at Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage. The best-known LPGA presence in the desert was the 51-year run of an event hosted by television and recording star Dinah Shore under various sponsorship names at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. That tournament, which started in 1972 and was elevated to a major chainpionship in 1983, ended its run in the desert in 2022 as the Chevron Championship before moving to Houston for the 2023 season.
While the proposal to be voted on Thursday is a one-year deal, Freeland said be believes the city and Troon would be interested in extending the Epson Tour’s deal to play at the city’s golf resort. He added that by showcasing the resort and the Coachella Valley in October, it might be possible that a successful Epson Tour Championship could influence the LPGA to think about returning to the desert with an official LPGA event.
Alexa Pano of USA plays her shot on the third tee during the first round of the Epson Tour Championship at the Champions course at LPGA International on October 06, 2022, in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Resident discounts included
If approved by the city council at the $100,000 sponsorship level, the new event will be known as the Epson Tour Championship at Indian Wells. City residents would receive discounts on grounds tickets, VIP hospitality and pro-am berths, and the city would receive advertising opportunities on the live stream of the event.
“This opportunity is consistent with the City Council’s goal to increase tourism to Indian Wells and expand the City’s brand as a golfing destination,” the staff report says.
The report says if the $100,000 sponsorship level is approved, staff has $62,200 in the Golf Resort fund to be allocated for the Epson event. That would still require $37,800 in an appropriation. The council will also consider a $50,000 sponsorship opportunity, or could turn down the chance to host the event at all. Freeland sid he was optisitic about the council vote.
“I would expect some sponsorship to be approved,” Freeland said. “I don’t know if it will be the $100,000 level or the $50,000 level, but I think something will be approved.”
For its part, the LPGA is estimating more than 1,900 hotel room nights from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, a traditionally slow shoulder month period for the city, spinoff revenues at local restaurants, especially the golf resort itself. Receptions and parties, a pro-am for 150 amateurs, the LPGA card ceremony at the end of the event and an estimated $2.5 million in media exposure for the city are all part of the LPGA pledge for the event.
The Epson Tour Championship was played this year in Daytona Beach, Fla., at the LPGA International, but Freeland said the LPGA, through IWGR management company Troon, asked about moving the tournament to the IWGR. While the staff report does not say which of the two 18-hole courses at the golf resort will be played, Freeland said he has confirmed that the Players Course, renovated by John Fought from an original Ted Robinson design, will be the tournament course.
The Indian Wells Golf Resort has hosted professional events before, starting in 1993 with the Gulfstream Aerospace Invitational on the PGA Tour Champions, an event won by Raymond Floyd. The LG Skins Game was played at the resort starting in 2006 and ending in 2008 when the Skins Game itself ended. In recent years the resort has hosted the Southern California Open, an event conducted by the PGA of Southern California.