TGJ No. 22 The Two Dinahs Rancho Mirage Kraft Nabisco Dinah Shore

The Two Dinahs

On the ground at the LPGA’s final stop in Palm Springs to examine its parallel legacies

There’s something thrillingly humdrum about knowing a sporting event will return to the same place year after year. The majors of tennis are dependably distributed around the globe. Every January, fans young and old paint their faces and race into the Rose Bowl.

For the men of golf, many of their tournaments move around, though several are permanently affixed to a place. Since 1934, players and fans have returned to Augusta National for the Masters. Ditto the more recently established TPC Sawgrass for the Players Championship, and the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.

And what of the women? Is there a 7,000-yard stretch of grass and sand that is reliably theirs for a week every year?

Well, there was.

TGJ No. 22 The Two Dinahs Rancho Mirage Kraft Nabisco Dinah Shore

For the past 51 years, there has been the tournament established by television celebrity Dinah Shore and Colgate-Palmolive chairman David Foster Sr. The first Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle championship took place at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, 20 minutes southeast of Palm Springs proper. When Jane Blalock won that year, she made $20,000, which was at least three times what most events on the LPGA paid then. Blalock, who had been earning $15 a day as a schoolteacher in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, said that prize money set her up for life. Since then, despite a string of corporate name changes, the tournament affectionately known in the golf world as “the Dinah” had become a foundational place for the LPGA, with a Hall of Fame roster of winners.

Beyond that, the tournament has stood out for its cultural significance: In the 1980s, it became a popular place for the lesbian community to converge and spend a few days partying and watching golf. Since the 1990s, Dinah Shore Weekend, affectionately known in the lesbian world as “the Dinah,” has crystallized into what organizers call “the largest girl party in the world,” where thousands descend upon Palm Springs to celebrate.

In April, I went to the final tournament there, not so much on a lark as on a mission: to witness the end of an era.

After a revolving door of sponsors through the decades, Chevron took over the tournament in 2021 and renamed it the Chevron Championship. Then, in a move that was shocking to many local fans but unsurprising in golf circles, Chevron announced that in 2023 the tournament will move to Houston, Texas. To gauge the mood of the Dinah Shore faithful, I flew to Palm Springs for the swan song.

Temperatures, in the high 80s, were still bearable. It was Saturday, and attendance seemed relatively sparse, which isn’t all that unusual for women’s events. Yet on a weekend that should have felt celebratory—half a century is a remarkable achievement—the atmosphere was more befitting a wake. Comments ranged from “sad” to “heartbroken.”

The history of the Dinah Shore is a rich one. Shore’s celebrity helped put the competition on the map. Her star-studded network of friends signed up for the week’s pro-am, and the tournament quickly became one of the LPGA’s most popular. Colgate-Palmolive promoted the event heavily, even putting the golfers in its television commercials. “It was magnificent,” Blalock reminisced earlier this year in a Golfweek interview. “We were awed. It was hard to believe this was happening to all of us. That we were given the chance to play for that kind of money…We felt like royalty and became celebrities overnight.”

In 1983, the Dinah became a major. In 1988, when Amy Alcott won for the second time, she hooked arms with her caddie and, fueled by unalloyed joy, they jumped together into the water next to the 18th green. When Alcott won again three years later, Shore herself joined her for the leap into what came to be called Poppie’s Pond, named for longtime tournament director Terry Wilcox, whose seven grandkids had given him the affectionate moniker. Years of dives and cannonballs and cartwheels and belly-flops into the pond (when it was decidedly more brackish than it is today) followed.

A steady stream of faithful attendees from across the U.S. came to cherish the tournament and count it among the highlights of their year. Like so many revivalists to the tent, folks—the majority of them women—made the annual trek to Rancho Mirage to watch the golf.

In the 1980s, when being openly gay was much further from the mainstream, the Dinah also became a popular destination for lesbians. “It was a community,” Jamie Lipinski, 59, a cybersecurity engineer from Glen Arm, Maryland, told me. “And not just a community, but a totally safe space.”

As soon as Lipinski and her wife, Lisa Lintecum, arrived in Palm Springs for their first Dinah, in 2004, they knew they had landed in a welcoming place. Palm Springs has seen its politics become more liberal over the years, and in 2018 it became the first municipality in America whose entire five-person city council was openly LGBTQ.

Lipinski, a fan with a particular fondness for the women’s game, said that some years she and Lintecum have traveled with three or four other couples, renting a house for the week.

Not only did Palm Springs—and, by extension, Mission Hills—feel safe, but it also came to feel familiar. Just like diehards who know every inch of Augusta, players and fans like Lipinski could recite the Mission Hills tournament course map from the 450-yard par-4 opener with its heavily bunkered green to the huge island green on the 18th, the most famous hole on the LPGA. The greens were always fast and vexingly contoured. The driving range looked straight out to the snow-capped San Jacinto Mountains.

In 1982, Nabisco took over, and it became the Nabisco Dinah Shore Invitational. Shore died in 1994; six years later, Nabisco deleted her name and the tournament became the Nabisco, then the Kraft Nabisco. Then Japanese airline ANA stepped in, and for six years it was the ANA Inspiration. During the annual leap into Poppie’s, ANA employees with fresh towels draped across their arms stood at the ready like so many pool attendants.

Chevron’s bump in prize money for 2022 was a marked improvement, and it has the corporate might to keep future purses in line with other majors like the U.S. Women’s Open and the KPMG Women’s PGA, both of which have already far surpassed it. The transition also includes a move to a later date on the calendar, away from the avalanche of Masters, Augusta National Women’s Amateur, and Drive, Chip & Putt headlines and into better-guaranteed network television broadcast windows.

It’s been said that men’s golf is bought and women’s golf is sold. But, as Alcott herself has pointed out, with more women entering the game, and prize money pushing upward, it’s a victory that deep-pocketed sponsors like Chevron are getting involved. Women’s golf is being bought.

None of this helped the mood at Mission Hills, where the Chevron banners were a ubiquitous reminder of a glorious past and a future that wouldn’t include the majority of the folks on the ground. Spectators groused about the heightened corporate feel to the event, including the grandstand around the 18th green, which previously had been open to everyone. Chevron had cordoned off half the seats, making them accessible only to VIPs and their guests. There was widespread disappointment about the paltry selection of merchandise to commemorate the final tournament at Mission Hills. Volunteers were unhappy about the reduced number of perks.

The move to Texas is a strategic one for Chevron, which recently adopted the moniker “The Human Energy Company.” The acquisition of a women’s tournament was no doubt part of a move to demonstrate its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. “We strive to empower women and underrepresented groups,” read the official program.

The Dinah old guard was unmoved. “It’s the worst decision ever to move it from the desert,” Pat Cornett, a prominent amateur, told me. “The LPGA should be ashamed. If you can’t honor your traditions, you are nothing.”

Lipinski and Lintecum were also none too pleased. “It sucks,” said Lipinski, shaking her head next to the sprawling clubhouse.

Carolyn Young, who lives in Portland, Oregon, first started going to the Dinah in the early 1980s, and even bought a condo in Palm Springs in 2019. “There was a whole bunch of other lesbians from around the country, and there just weren’t any other gatherings or anything like that, anywhere,” she said.

For many current players, it was easier to accept the changes. A good number of them were born after Shore died, and well after players like Alcott and Pat Bradley and Judy Rankin had worked so hard to bring prominence to women’s golf. By Saturday afternoon, the supremely talented Jennifer Kupcho, 25, had snagged the lead against 22-year-old reigning champion Patty Tavatanakit.

The duel was exciting, but I wanted to find Alcott, 65, who has come to symbolize the tournament as much as anyone. I had interviewed her in 2020 for my podcast, Our Mothers Ourselves, about the support she got from her mother, Lea Alcott, while she was growing up in Los Angeles and taking a shine to golf, when Title IX was brand new. Our conversation was so rich, her answers so candid and the memories so poignant, I thought we had forged a forever bond during that interview. I was sure she’d be happy to finally meet me in person.

I was wrong. Alcott was a moving target that weekend, busy hosting events and meeting up with old friends. I texted her, I called her, I left pestering voicemail messages. Nothing. Finally, on Saturday morning came a text: “I’ll be on the first tee of the Palmer Course at 11 o’clock.”

She was playing in the LPGA USGA Girls Golf Legends and Juniors pro-am event, 18 holes on the course adjacent to the Dinah Shore. There they were, living legends Alcott, Bradley, Hollis Stacy and a clutch of other old champs, paired up with promising young amateurs. When I approached Alcott to say hello, she was polite but not entirely sure who I was or what I was doing there. She agreed to a selfie.

Alcott, as matter-of-fact as ever, gave a brief speech before the round started. About a dozen of us cheered as the legends teed off, arthritis and all, then took off in carts.

I followed the foursome and watched Alcott and Andrews toggle between bittersweet reminiscing and offering a continuous stream of tips to the young women. “Nice tempo on that swing,” Alcott said to one who’d just landed the ball on the green with her 8-iron from 146 yards. “That’s the art of it.”

TGJ No. 22 The Two Dinahs Rancho Mirage Kraft Nabisco Dinah Shore Amy Alcott
Amy Alcott (in yellow) and a parade of past champions including Patty Sheehan, Sandra Palmer and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc came for the final event, dispensing their wisdom in a pro-am with juniors.

The remaining tangible reminders of Shore herself include a bronze relief of her on the Dinah Shore Wall of Champions by the clubhouse and a massive statue of her with a putter in one hand and the other raised in greeting to the players headed to the 18th green. Her name is also on the course at Mission Hills on which the tournament has been played all these years.

And then there’s the big, sprawling party with her name attached. In the late 1980s, lesbians would venture to Palm Springs during the golf tournament to socialize at loosely organized parties. In 1990, a party promoter named Mariah Hanson attended one such gathering and had an idea: to create one big lesbian bash during the golf tournament weekend. The next year, she organized a one-night event, and it took off from there. She named it The Dinah and has since expanded it into a five-day music festival, where thousands attend concerts and daylong pool-party blowouts. “It’s become a bucket-list item in the lesbian community,” Hanson told me. Today, most of the revelers are in their 20s and 30s. Their interest in golf, Hanson said, is minimal at best.

As the movement was growing, the local business community welcomed what was affectionately named “Lesbian Spring Break.” The official golf community, however, did not appreciate being connected with the rougher tagline of “dykes on spikes”; through the years, the various sponsors of the golf event have kept The Dinah lesbian gathering at arm’s length. After a COVID-19 hiatus, The Dinah returned to Palm Springs, this time six months after the tournament.

But some of the older golf-loving lesbian crowd still made it out to the final contest in the desert.

“For a lot of us who’ve been coming here for decades, to see it go is heartbreaking,” said Young. “And to see it go to Texas, of all places, is especially heartbreaking.”

Paula Dragosh, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, had wanted to attend the Dinah since she first heard about it, when she was in high school in the late 1970s. She went for the first and final time in April. She was in Rancho Mirage for the entire tournament, including Wednesday’s pro-am. I made her acquaintance on Saturday morning, at the first tee. She’d been following two of her favorites, Jin Young Ko and Hinako Shibuno. Dragosh told me she was crushed about the move, as were many fellow spectators she had spoken with.

No doubt mindful of the neutrality expected of them, those in the public eye engaged in a collective mincing of words in an effort to hide their disappointment. Golf Channel commentators Rankin and Terry Gannon, while appropriately focused on the golf, couldn’t resist the occasional nostalgic riff.

“What a place,” said Gannon from the booth as they watched Kupcho stride up the fairway on Sunday against the silhouetted mountains that surround the Coachella Valley. “It’s the last time we’ll see that walk with that backdrop in this major championship.” Rankin remained quiet, so Gannon continued. “I’m gonna miss this view, Judy.”

Rankin, whose own career soared when she won the Dinah in 1976, paused. “Me too,” she replied. Then, a contemplative sigh. “How lucky we have been to watch the LPGA grow up here,” she continued, her delivery slow and deliberate, her words carefully chosen. Lucky indeed: She had been there for the first Dinah at Mission Hills, and now she was there for the last. (When the PGA Tour Champions announced a new event coming to Mission Hills just days after the final putt dropped at the Dinah, Rankin, ever polite, tweeted, “Please forgive me. Very conflicted here!”)

“For a lot of us who’ve been coming here for decades, to see it go is heartbreaking.”

Lucky, too, for the younger generation of women, having benefited from the trailblazers who preceded them and grown up on a game that mixes grace and power, with an emphasis on the latter. “Who are these people?” marveled Rankin as she watched Tavatanakit, who had just taken an 8-iron and sailed the ball 176 yards onto the green.

On Sunday, even the younger competitors seemed to understand the magnitude of the moment. Dragosh sat near No. 18 and happily reported which players waved to the Dinah bronze as they passed. Caroline Masson raised her palm to Dinah’s in a high-five. In Gee Chun gave the statue a hug.

Lipinski and Lintecum arrived early enough on Sunday to get seats under Poppie’s Pavilion, giving them a perfect view of the 18th green. When a thrilled Kupcho finally won with two strokes to spare, they watched her make the ecstatic leap into Poppie’s, flanked by her husband and her caddie.

“It was bittersweet,” said Lipinski. “You’re so excited for these young players. But you’re also…” Her voice trailed off. Does she plan to go to Texas? “Probably not,” Lipinski said. “But for people who do go, that’s my concern. They’re gonna be in hotels. They’re gonna frequent restaurants and bars. I hope [the people in Houston] are accepting and nice to the gay community that will attend.”

Less diplomatic was the crowd at the awards ceremony. When Al Williams, Chevron’s VP of corporate affairs, was introduced, a chorus of boos that Dragosh described as “loud and immediate” cut through the decorum.

But they will no doubt turn into cheers in 2023 at The Club at Carlton Woods, in The Woodlands, Texas. The Woodlands is an affluent suburb 30 miles north of Houston with deep connections to the oil and gas industry. The golf course is private, but the membership boasts a thriving junior program split 50/50 between male and female players. Time will tell what, if any, kind of personality the tournament will develop. Character can’t be bought.

And what’s to become of the other Dinah? It may well be the tournament’s longest-lasting legacy. No other golf tournament, men’s or women’s, has spawned a massive parallel event that has gone on to become a cultural movement. Hanson said the festival has no signs of slowing down and will stay in Palm Springs.

On that late Sunday afternoon in April, Kupcho was joined on her jump into Poppie’s Pond by many past champions—Alcott, Patty Sheehan, Sandra Palmer and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc. “It was just such a cool thing to see,” said Lipinski. “A whole line of people, shoulder to shoulder, for old time’s sake, saying, ‘We’re gonna do this one last time.’” 

TGJ No. 22 The Two Dinahs Rancho Mirage Kraft Nabisco Dinah Shore