The tournament was created in 1972 by Colgate's then chairman, David R. Foster, to convince the sporting press and public and, coincidentally, the players themselves, that the LPGA really mattered. Foster put up the then astronomical purse of $100,000, prodded television coverage out of the Hughes network, and each year hosted a lavish week-long party in Palm Springs for the players and his corporate guests. When Foster was unseated in 1979, however, Colgate's commitment withered and died, leaving the fate of the Dinah Shore after 1981 up in the air.
Enter Nabisco Brands, Inc., created last July by the merger of Nabisco, Inc. and Standard Brands. As it happened, F. Ross Johnson and Martin F.C. Emmett of Standard Brands, which agreed to sponsor the event one month before the merger, were both golfers. "We were delighted to get it," says Johnson, who has since become president and chief operating officer of the new company. "It was a unique opportunity to take on an established tournament. We wouldn't have started our own."
"We had ideas about what we wanted to do," says Emmett, now an executive vice-president. "We wanted to do a first-class job, nothing halfway."
In pursuit of excellence Nabisco Brands spent between $5 and $6 million on the tournament and dozens of related activities. It distributed, for instance, 700 million supermarket coupons and bought a Sunday supplement advertising insert that reached 34 million homes, all calling attention to the Nabisco-Dinah Shore Invitational Sweepstakes.
Watching all the commercial activity from the sidelines last week, with a slightly amused look, was Ray Volpe, the LPGA's commissioner for the last seven years. Volpe, who this month is moving on to possibly greener pastures in independent TV programming, took over the LPGA job in 1975 when the organization was on the brink of bankruptcy, and nursed it back to financial health. Combining his own marketing savvy, learned in the National Hockey League, with a fortuitous surge of public interest in women's sports and the long-awaited emergence of a genuine superstar in Nancy Lopez, Volpe was able to increase the tour's total prize money from $1.2 million in 1975 to $6.4 million this year and to raise the average purse from $52,787 to $168,000. He also set up a retirement plan for his players and earlier this year negotiated the first bonus-point pool in golf, the Mazda- LPGA Series, worth $300,000 a year for the next three years. Under the Mazda plan, the leader at the end of the year in points based on performance will win a $125,000 bonus. Second place will receive $60,000, and so on down to 60th place.
Taking over for Volpe will be John Laupheimer, who was previously executive director for administration of the USGA. Laupheimer has an uncommon asset, a source of insight into the women's game that may be helpful in his dealings with the players. His wife, England's Mary Everard, has had a distinguished amateur golf career, playing on four Curtis Cup and three World Amateur Cup teams between 1968 and 1978.
Laupheimer will oversee the tour from the LPGA's new offices near Houston. The LPGA's own golf course, the Sweetwater Country Club, will be built there, along with a $12 million clubhouse, a headquarters building and a Hall of Fame.
In 1950 11 women professionals named themselves the Ladies' Professional Golf Association and created a golf tour. That first year there were nine tournaments. Patty Berg won three of them, Babe Zaharias won all the rest. No record remains of the purse total in 1950, but Zaharias, the leading money winner, earned some $14,800.
Last week at Mission Hills, Amy Alcott and Kathy Whitworth, who finished tied for fourth, won $13,500 apiece. Now that's really unreal.