Inbee Park made her inaugural visit to Sahalee Country Club on Friday — site of the upcoming KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Before she teed off for a morning practice round, the three-time defending champion had heard about the nice gesture the Sahalee patrons had made in anticipation of the big event.
They had trimmed some of the overhanging branches of the trees surrounding the tee boxes.
To which Park responded with a rare chuckle.
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“(The course) is still tight,” Park said.
Major championship golf returns to the state of Washington — but this time on the women’s side.
Stars such as Park, Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis will be on hand at Sahalee June 9-12 for the LPGA Tour’s second major of the year.
But this is an improved championship, which was taken over by the PGA of America late in 2014.
The PGA of America — a staple in men’s golf — is the organization that runs the PGA Championship and the bi-annual Ryder Cup.
Pete Bevacqua, the company’s chief executive officer, had walked down the headquarters’ hallways for years in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, but something felt off.
“We had put up two- to three-time life-size posters of all of our champions, and they were all men,” Bevacqua said. “And we said, ‘You know what, we are talking about diversity … and that is not right.’ Something was missing. It was so obvious.”
So Bevacqua and LPGA Tour commissioner Michael Whan met and hammered out an agreement for the PGA of America to become the primary organizer of the women’s golf major.
The tournament needed a sponsor. Bevacqua immediately thought of KPMG, a global network of professional firms that provides audit and tax services plus is a sponsor of Lewis and PGA golfer Phil Mickelson. He called John Veihmeyer, the global chairman of the company, who agreed to become the tournament sponsor.
Eventually they also got NBC Sports and The Golf Channel on board to broadcast live coverage.
“It is one of those great moments in times when everything came together,” Bevacqua said.
So the struggling tour-run LPGA Championship became the rejuvenated KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“(The tournament) has elevated,” said Yakima native and former LPGA golfer Paige MacKenzie, who is now an analyst on The Golf Channel. “The feedback I’ve received from players — they told me it was born again.”
The purse was increased to $3.5 million (up from $2.25 million in 2014) for starters, making it the second-biggest purse on the LPGA Tour behind the U.S. Women’s Open.
The PGA of America has committed to holding the event at some of the historic venues in the country.
It started out last summer at Westchester Country Club, where Park won with a 19-under-par 273 total, and now comes to Sahalee, the site of the men’s PGA Championship in 1998.
Next year, it will go to Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois, and in 2018, it will travel to Kemper Lakes Golf Club
“They definitely raised the level of the tournament,” Park said. “It is a world-class tournament now, for sure.”