The LPGA Tour has just departed South Korea after a two-week stretch of events that provided perhaps the highlight of the season.
The home country claimed the UL International Crown amid frenzied scenes at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club, before In Gee Chun put a halt to her two-year winless drought at the KEB Hana Bank Championship. The latter tournament in Incheon always delivers drama in one way or another and it consistently brings big attendances, as did the Crown – which, unfortunately, cannot be said for a lot of other LPGA tournaments in the United States and Europe.
This was the final year of the KEB Hana Bank tournament at the Sky 72 Golf Club, with the sponsor having taken the decision to end their partnership with the LPGA and focus instead on creating a prestigious event on the LPGA of Korea Tour (KLPGA). The LPGA Tour will still continue to visit Korea, with a deal already agreed with BMW to play a new tournament from 2019 in Busan, the second largest city in the country, located on the south-east tip of the peninsula.
From next year it will be the start of a new era and, given the LPGA’s experiences in Korea, the new tournament will more than likely prove to be a huge hit with both the players and fans. Simply, the Korean events are low risk; the players love going there, the fans equally love to attend, and there is a mutual appreciation between both. So, given the country’s recent domination and undisputed contribution to women’s golf across the globe, shouldn’t South Korea host an LPGA major championship?
Take last year’s KEB Hana Bank Championship for example – the final round, in which Jin Young Ko won, drew a record attendance of 31,726, and that was just for the Sunday! This KLPGA co-sanctioned event was a major in all but name.
And now, with that championship off the schedule, it’s time that the LPGA recognised that Korea is so incredibly valuable to the women’s golf market that the formation of a new, Korean major is the obvious next step to further continue the tour’s growth.
But the LPGA already has five majors every year – should they increase it six, or should one be replaced?
My proposal would be to demote the Evian Championship back to just being an LET and LPGA co-sanctioned regular season event. The France-based tournament has only just completed its sixth year as a major so in that sense it’s the most vulnerable of the five.
Looking at the other four, the ANA Inspiration has an illustrious history dating back 35 years, the US Open and the PGA are the unrivalled heavyweights, while the British Open is played regularly on some of the finest golf courses the players face all year.
As for the Evian, it functioned perfectly well in its last role of being a prestigious co-sanctioned event, often to coincide with the British Open to reduce the players’ travel. With the Evian moving back to the summer next year, I don’t like the crowded idea of two majors in the space of three tournaments. There’s also the argument of whether the frail Ladies European Tour deserves two majors.
Besides, the Evian is the only one of the quintet that, in my view, lacks a clear identity. The initial hope was that it would be the LPGA’s answer to The Masters, played on the lush grass overlooking the stunning Lake Geneva. Perhaps a good idea in theory, but the reality is that it just hasn’t worked out – the often drab crowds and enthusiasm levels attest to that.
Instead, this is the opportunity to create a new major on Korean soil to dovetail with the existent Asia swing. A co-sanctioned tournament with the KLPGA would drum up interest levels even further and, with over a third of the current world’s top 100 made up by South Korean players – 19 of those currently playing full time on the KLPGA – it’s impossible to argue that the country doesn’t unequivocally deserve it.