Mission Hills bowing out with final major in the desert

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Come Sunday at Mission Hills, the winner will take the last traditional victory leap into Poppie’s Pond — and the women’s major golf tournament best known as the Dinah Shore will be history in the desert.

Unable to find a sponsor willing to remain at Mission Hills, the tournament — now called The Chevron Championship — is headed to Houston next year under a six-year deal with Chevron that ends a half-century run at the beloved course.

“It’s definitely unfortunate that it will be moving from this special venue,” said Lexi Thompson, the 2014 champion who made her first start at age 14. “I think we’re all a bit bummed out about it, but at the same time, we’re not losing the event, we’re just losing the location.”

The tournament started in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle with a $100,000 purse that was the largest in women’s golf — and more than the U.S. Women’s Open ($40,000) and LPGA Championship ($50,000) combined. The 54-hole event featured LPGA Tour winners from the previous 10 years and a popular host in entertainer Shore.

Amy Alcott was the first to jump in Poppie’s Pond in 1988, celebrating her second victory in the event that became a major in 1983. She did it again in 1991, with Shore joining. Donna Andrews was the next to take the plunge in 1994, Nanci Bowen followed the next year and the tradition stuck.

“Obviously, jumping into Poppie’s Pond is one of my best memories,” Thompson said. “Honestly, just the atmosphere of this whole event in general. The fans really get behind it. The golf course is always in amazing shape for us. Mission Hills does it right.”

The Desmond Muirhead-designed course is packed with more tradition than any other in women’s golf, with the 51st edition set to begin Thursday.

“This place, I guess the best compliment you can give it is it’s the same every time you come here,” said Stacy Lewis, the 2011 winner making her 15th appearance in the event. “Golf course is always in great shape. You kind of know what to expect when you’re coming. Just excited to have one more opportunity to try to win here.”

The tree-lined layout has spectacular mountain backdrops and colorful floral displays.

“Just the beauty that surrounds this golf course and the golf course itself, it’s always an incredible feeling,” Canadian Brooke Henderson said.

The pretty course demands accuracy of the tee.

“Just trying to hit straight driver,” 2019 winner Jin Young Ko said. “This course, fairways are narrow, so we need to keep it in the fairway. That’s why I love this course, I love to play this course.”

Mission Hills is as hard and quick as ever for the finale, just the way 2013 champion Inbee Park likes it.

“I like playing Mission Hills when it’s firm and fast,” Park said. “When it plays a little bit wet and soft, I mean, that’s when I like it the least.”

Chevron raised the purse from $3 million to $5 million and is investing $1.2 million over six years in the LPGA Foundation. Nabisco, then Kraft Nabisco sponsored the event from 1982-2014 and Japanese airline ANA was the title sponsor the last seven years.

“It’s a bittersweet goodbye, I guess,” defending champion Patty Tavatanakit said. “What Chevron did to this tournament, raising the purse and really growing the women’s game, it’s something truly what we’re after, what everyone is after.”

DIVOTS: Second-ranked Nelly Korda is sidelined as she recovers from a blood clot in her arm. She tied for second in 2020 and tied for third last year. … Ko and Thompson are paired together the first two days. They will open Thursday on No. 10 at 8:27 a.m. Tavatanakit is paired with Danielle Kang. They will start on No. 10 at 1:19 p.m. … Atthaya Thitikul, coming off her first LPGA Tour victory Sunday in Carlsbad, is the youngest player in the field at 19.

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