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Oakmont Will Roll Out the Green Carpet for Top Women Pros

February 28, 1985|JOE RESNICK

Three significant achievements in 1948 indirectly broke ground for the major sporting event Glendale will host in three weeks.

Patty Berg and Babe Didrikson-Zaharias won their first professional golf tournaments that year en route to the Hall of Fame, and golfing legend Ben Hogan captured the one and only Glendale Open by two strokes over Lloyd Mangrum at the Oakmont Country Club.

That same golf course will roll out its lush green carpet and its picturesque mountain scenery for the world's best women golfers March 18 when the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour makes its eighth stop of 1985 and its first ever in Glendale.

The 72-hole tournament, christened the GNA Classic, is one of two new events on this year's 38-tournament LPGA schedule, joining the Mazda Hall of Fame Championship in Sugar Land, Tex. It is sponsored by Great Northern Insured Annuity Corp. of Seattle, and championship play will begin on March 21.

Hogan Won $2,450

It also will feature Glendale's first rounds of professional golf since Oct. 17, 1948, when Hogan pocketed $2,450 from a total purse of $15,000 after capping his 275-shot score card with a final-round 64.

"We're glad to have it in Glendale," Mayor Carroll Parcher said. "It's a prestigious tournament and it means a lot to the city because it brings a large number of golf enthusiasts here. I'd be very pleased to have (the LPGA) come to Glendale as often as it could."

The tournament falls between the Kemper Open in Maui and the Nabisco Dinah Shore in nearby Rancho Mirage, so GNA was confident of drawing most of the game's top players. Tournament officials said that, as of Monday, 30 of last year's top 34 money winners had committed to the 144-player field that will compete for the $36,000 first prize.

Among them are JoAnne Carner and Pat Bradley, Nos. 1 and 3 in all-time LPGA earnings; Betsy King, 1984 Player of the Year and top money winner; 1984 Rookie of the Year Juli Inkster; Uniden Invitational defending champion Nancy Lopez, and glamorous Jan Stephenson, who is just $42,725 shy of the $1-million mark in career earnings.

Former Effort Failed

The last attempt to establish the Los Angeles Basin as a regular stop on the women's tour fizzled after two years. It was called the Olympia Gold Classic and was held in the City of Industry in 1982 and 1983. When Olympia Beer walked away from its contract after sale of the company, another sponsor came in but backed out at the last minute. That left the LPGA with an opening on its tour schedule.

Enter Don Andersen, sports information director at USC from 1967 through 1974 and later an official with the Seattle Seahawks professional football club. After launching his own sports marketing company, Andersen Enterprises, two years ago, the 1962 graduate of Cal State Fullerton wanted to try his hand at golf promotion. So he contacted a longtime associate, LPGA director of communications Ted Haracz, former publicity director for the Chicago Bears.

Andersen, the tournament's executive director, had been working on another project for GNA in 1983 when the LPGA gave him authorization to represent it. He took the idea to GNA President Vincent Coviello Jr., who told him that California would be a good location for the event because the company was just starting to market tax-deferred annuities here.

The timing of the March tournament also was favorable because 70% of GNA's business takes place in the first fiscal quarter, right before tax time. By hosting the women golfers, the company has an opportunity to drum up some extra business here before Uncle Sam plays through.

'Great Golf Course'

"The demographics were perfect," Anderson said.

Once he had the green light, Andersen began looking for a suitable venue. The Oakmont layout was an attractive choice.

"We wanted to get a great golf course, preferably a private club, and one that had a great reputation," he explained.

But he wanted it to be far enough, logistically, from the Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa--site of next week's Uniden Invitational, which debuted a year ago.

"We're about 72 miles from there, so that's two different markets," said Andersen, who is not concerned about the possibility of saturation hurting his gate two weeks later.

"I don't think we're competing for the same entertainment dollar. The people in Orange County are going to go to their tournament and the people in Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and the Valley are going to be the people who primarily come to this tournament."

One of Andersen's first Southern California contacts was Bob LaBarthe, who used to be a director at Oakmont and was president of the Trojan Club when Andersen worked at USC. LaBarthe made several presentations to a committee appointed by the country club to evaluate GNA's proposal. The directors voted unanimously to allow the LPGA onto their grounds, but the deal was not completed until last December when a majority vote taken by half of the club's membership approved the tournament.

$250,000 Purse

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