After an absence of 15 years, the LPGA will return to Georgia in 2021 when the Atlanta Athletic Club will host the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, one of the tour’s majors.
The LPGA last played a tournament in the state in 2006, when Eagle’s Landing in Stockbridge ended a 15-year run as the site of an annual LPGA event, sponsored by Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A from 1995-2005.
The tournament lasted one year after Chick-fil-A’s departure, and there has not been an LPGA event in the state since other than a one-day pro-am involving players from the LPGA Legends Tour, who played at the CC of Roswell for a few years in conjunction with a summer tournament for college golfers.
This will be the second women’s major championship hosted by Atlanta Athletic Club, which was the site of the 1990 U.S. Women’s Open. That championship was played at AAC’s Riverside course. The 2021 Women’s PGA Championship will be played on the Highlands course, which has been the site of three men’s PGA Championships, the last in 2011, and the 1976 U.S. Open.
The 2021 Women’s PGA Championship will mark the sixth straight decade Atlanta Athletic Club has hosted a men’s or women’s professional major, beginning with the ’76 U.S. Open. The club also hosted the ’83 PGA, ’90 U.S. Women’s Open and the PGA in 2001 and ’11.
The USGA has played three other national championships at Atlanta Athletic Club, most recently the 2015 U.S. Amateur.
While news of the 2021 tournament has already appeared in print and a tournament director has been hired, there has yet to be an official announcement regarding the tournament. The web site for the championship has the date and sites for tournaments in 2022, ’23, ’25 and ’27 listed, but nothing for 2021.
Tournament officials will hope for better weather than the 1990 U.S. Women’s Open, which was plagued by rain the first two days. The first round was not completed until Friday and the second round was finally completed Saturday afternoon, forcing a 36-hole finish on Sunday.
Patty Sheehan, who shot 66-68—134 to take a 6-stroke lead into Sunday’s final two rounds, closed with scores of 75-76 and was overtaken by Betsy King, who began the day nine off the lead. King shot 71-70 for a 4-under 284 total, one shot ahead of Sheehan and two in front of Danielle Ammaccapane and a fast-finishing Dottie Pepper, who shot a final round 66.
The 2021 Women’s PGA Championship will be the 67thfor the event, which began in 1955, shortly after the creation of the LPGA Tour. The event was known as the LPGA Championship from 1955 to 2014, with Mazda, McDonald’s and Wegmans serving as title sponsors between 1987 and 2014.
The PGA of America took over the tournament in 2015, with KPMG assuming the role as title sponsor. Unlike the U.S. Women’s Open, which has been played at a different site every year, the LPGA Championship typically was played at the same course at least twice in a row for its first 20 years.
The championship was played at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Kings Island course in suburban Cincinnati from 1978-89, at Bethesda (Md.) CC from 1990-93 and at DuPont CC in Wilmington, Del., from 1994-2004 before returning to Maryland at Bulle Rock in 2005.
That tournament generated considerable controversy when the LPGA elected to invite an amateur to participate in the championship for the first time. Michelle Wie, who had finished in the top 10 in her early teens the previous two years in the LPGA major in Rancho Mirage, Calif., became the first amateur to compete in the event, and at the age of 15 tied for second behind Annika Sorenstam.
The championship remained at Bulle Rock for four more years before moving to Rochester, N.Y., which had hosted an annual LPGA event since 1979. The tournament remained in Rochester until 2014, after which the PGA of America took it over, significantly increasing the purse and moving the event to more high profile venues.
Since 2015, the Women’s PGA Championship has been played at Westchester CC in suburban New York City, Sahalee in Seattle, Olympia Fields and Kemper Lakes in Chicago and Hazeltine in Minnesota. The 2020 championship will be played at Aronimink in Philadelphia.
In Bee Park won the event three straight years from 2013 to ’15, joining Se Ri Pak, Sorenstam, Sheehan and Nancy Lopez as three-time champions in the modern history of the tournament. Australia’s Hannah Green captured this year’s title, continuing a long stretch of dominance by international players.
Since Juli Inkster won back-to-back in 1999 and 2000, the only American winners over the past two decades have been Cristie Kerr in 2010 and Danielle Kang in 2017.
Until the demise of the tournament at Eagle’s Landing, Georgia had been closely connected to the LPGA Tour since its origins in 1950. Of the 14 tournaments played that year, two were in Georgia – the Titleholders at Augusta CC, which was first played in 1937, and a first-year event at Sunset Hills in Carrollton.
The LPGA played two if its majors in Atlanta in its early years – the U.S. Open at Druid Hills in 1951 and the Western Open at Capital City Club in ’53. The tournament at Sunset Hills dropped off the schedule after 1955, but other tournaments at Sea Island GC (1954-63) and CC of Columbus (1959-61), followed it, with the Titleholders remaining one of the tour’s most prominent events before it came to an end in 1966.
After one year without an LPGA event in the state in 1967, the tour began its long run of events in Atlanta at Canongate GC south of the city. After two years there, the tournament moved to Indian Hills in the east Cobb suburbs in 1970 and remained there through 1976, after which it moved a short drive east to Brookfield CC in Roswell.
The tournaments in Atlanta featured several different title sponsors – mostly beer companies – with Pepsi sponsoring the event for two years at Indian Hills in the home market of Coca-Cola. After eight years at Brookfield, that tournament closed up shop, but the World Championship of Women’s Golf relocated from Cleveland to the Atlanta area the next year, playing at the Pine isle resort on Lake Lanier Island.
That Nestle-sponsored event lasted five years before disappearing from the LPGA schedule, but an LPGA event was played in Atlanta for a 23rdstraight year when the U.S. Women’s Open returned to the metro area at Atlanta Athletic Club.
There was no LPGA event in the state in 1991, but Eagle’s Landing made its debut as a tournament site in 1992. The event struggled to find a stable title sponsor in its early years, but just as it was about to go under, Chick-fil-A stepped up and backed the event for more than a decade before dropping its sponsorship after the 2005 tournament in favor of a larger presence in college football.
The tournament lasted one more year with a stopgap sponsor, but was played for the last time in 2006. There was some talk at the time about the LPGA returning to Atlanta for an event in the northern suburbs, but after a few years, the hopes of Atlanta getting another women’s professional event faded.
The LPGA returns to Atlanta at a time when Georgia is barely represented on the tour. Mariah Stackhouse and Dori Carter are the only two golfers who grew up in the state who are LPGA Tour members, and Carter is in danger of losing her status at the end of this season. LPGA veteran Jane Park has lived in the Atlanta area for a few years, but the steady stream of female golfers who grew up in the state, played collegiately in Athens and went on to the LPGA Tour dried up almost two decades ago.