A groundswell to make the Safeway International one of the LPGA’s major championships is under way this week, with the sponsor, the host, the organizers and several key players giving it their blessing.
Lyle Anderson, the developer of Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, has done it before — made a tournament into a major — on the Champions Tour, and he hopes the LPGA will give some thought to making the Safeway International a major.
Asked if he had heard the rave reviews and the “major talk,’’ Anderson said he had. And he likes it.
“Absolutely,’’ he said without hesitation. “I wouldn’t want to take a major championship away from someone else, but if you let it be known that you would be in favor of such a move, well, that’s how it happens.
“I know that our sponsor, Safeway, feels that way. That Tom Maletis and the Tournament Golf Foundation feels that way. The players feel that way, and we feel that way. Now, if the LPGA should feel that way, we could do this.’’
As it stands, the LPGA already has four majors — the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and the Weetabix Women’s British Open. And while the PGA Tour also only has four majors, the Champions Tour does have five majors.
Reaction from the LPGA on such a move was unavailable. Mike Nichols, the vice president of tournament business affairs, was apparently en route from Phoenix to Daytona Beach, Fla., where the LPGA is headquartered.
Wendy Ward, the former Arizona State All-American who serves on the LPGA Player Executive Committee, said she likes the idea, but added she can’t speak for everyone.
“(The Safeway International) is a lot like a major, absolutely,’’ she said. “They’ve got the facility, the course conditions, great organization, all that stuff you need for a major.
“We pretty much get the royal red carpet treatment when we come here. It doesn’t get much better than this week.’’
The facts are the Safeway International has a better field — 96 of the top 100 players — than next week’s Kraft Nabisco; a better facility; and sponsors and hosts that are easily equal to or even better than Kraft Nabisco.
Or as Ward put it: “Superstition Mountain and Safeway are raising the bar out here for our entire (tour), and we like that kind of competition, obviously.’’
Asked how Superstition Mountain compares with the Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills, Calif., Ward said Superstition Mountain has a distinct edge.
“(Mission Hills) used to be a great course five or 10 years ago,’’ she said. “But last year it was awful.’’
Annika Sorenstam, who also is a member of the LPGA Player Executive Committee, gave Superstition Mountain the ultimate compliment this week.
“I must say that this golf course is in as good of shape as I’ve ever seen in a golf course,’’ she said. “I really mean that.’’
Rising star Paula Creamer also had high praise for the Safeway International.
“This tournament is run so well,’’ she said. “The golf course is in such fantastic shape, it certainly feels like a major.’’
So why wouldn’t the LPGA want to go with a better product to showcase one of its majors? The big stumbling blocks probably are tradition, sponsor commitments and scheduling.
But in 1992, in just the fourth year of the Tradition, which was formerly played at Desert Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale, the players put pressure on the then-Senior Tour to name the Tradition a major. It worked.
“Apparently, the players had heard that (then-commissioner) Deane Beman was going to give major championship status to a tournament in Puerto Rico, and they revolted,’’ Anderson said. “The players went to Beman and said, 'It would be a mistake if we didn’t make the Tradition a major.’ ’’
Maletis, who is president of the Tournament Golf Foundation which runs the Safeway International, was optimistic but cautious with his assessment of the possibility.
“You just can’t say, 'I want to be a major,’ ’’ he said. “There’s too many things involved, and they already have four majors.’’
As Maletis pointed out, the U.S. Women’s Open and British Open are here to stay based on their position in the history of the women’s tour.
“Realistically, if (the Safeway International) became a major it would only happen if Kraft Nabisco, which has a long-standing relationship, or McDonald’s, which also has that type of relationship, went away.
“But if that opportunity would ever be there, we’d be interested, and we’ve expressed that to the LPGA.’’