RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The first women's major tournament of the year begins today at Mission Hills with the Nabisco Dinah Shore, where the top players in the world may have to face up to one hard-baked question.
Where to go, Nabisco?
"Let me know if it changes, will you?" Betsy King said.
Once again this week, the LPGA's best aren't competing only against one another, they're also competing against a couple of other events that are sort of important--the Final Four and the PGA Tour's Players Championship.
If it's a battle for attention in the sports world, then it probably isn't a very fair fight. The Nabisco Dinah Shore isn't exactly maxing out on its potential these days.
The LPGA wouldn't object if the tournament moved up a week or so in the schedule--and apparently neither would ABC in hopes the ratings would improve--but Nabisco hasn't been interested.
"There's no driving force making us want to move," tournament director Terry Wilcox said. "Nabisco is extremely happy with the tournament, the turnout and the reaction from corporate executives and guests. I don't want to say that's the primary driving force, but it's one of them."
The fact of life for the Nabisco Dinah Shore is that it's not even the most important golf event of the week. The men's Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., offers $3.5 million in prize money compared to the Dinah Shore's $1 million.
While the women are accustomed to disparities in prize money with the PGA Tour, the television ratings of the Dinah Shore face an even greater mismatch when compared to the Players Championship.
Last year, the Players Championship on NBC had a 4.0 rating on Sunday while the Nabisco Dinah Shore had a 1.1 on ABC.
"[Nabisco] is not terribly disappointed in the TV ratings," Wilcox said. "The TV ratings have been fair."
Then there is also the problem of the Final Four, which is competing for sports television viewers because it's being played the same weekend as the Nabisco Dinah Shore for the third straight year.
Annika Sorenstam isn't sure that's such a problem.
"I know the Final Four is very important and I'm sure people watch that, but when we come out and play the turnout is really good," she said.
"I think this tournament has the tradition and the players. I think this tournament can stand by itself."
It certainly can do that, but at what cost? King's victory last year at Mission Hills--her sixth major title--might have been the fourth most-noticed event in sports that week after the men's and women's Final Four and the Players Championship with the strongest field of the year in men's golf.
King said she isn't sure moving the date of the Nabisco would make any difference.
"The way sports are today, you're always competing against something," she said.
But if the LPGA would favor a new date for the tournament, television would enjoy seeing the ratings improve and the players would come anyway, Nabisco is the only party not falling in line to make a change.
Wilcox said there have been no formal discussions about a schedule change, but he said the subject has been brought up before.
"There's no driving force making us want to move," he said. "That's not to say we wouldn't. As they say, you don't want to mess up a good thing."
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Nabisco Dinah Shore
Site: Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Course: Mission Hills Country Club (6,460 yards, par 72).
Purse: $1 million
Winner's share: $150,000.
Television: ESPN2 (today-Friday, 2-4 p.m.) and ABC (Saturday, 1:30-3 p.m.; Sunday, 1-3 p.m.).