Golf

Juli Inkster committed to keeping LPGA in Bay Area

Juli Inkster
Juli Inkster has scaled back her schedule but still loves to compete.
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DALY CITY, Calif. (AP)

Juli Inkster believes the LPGA can become a success for the long haul in her native Bay Area.

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Inkster is helping promote the inaugural Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Golf Club, marking the LPGA's return to the area for the first time since the 2010 CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge at Blackhawk Country Club in Danville.

''It's great to have it back here. We just need something to stick, we need something to stick for 10-15 years,'' Inkster said Monday. ''I'd love to have this established for a long time. I think we can build a fan base, start from the bottom and build up, for years to come.''

The $1.8 million, 144-player Swinging Skirts tournament will run April 21-27 in this San Francisco suburb. It will be one of about 12 events the 53-year-old Inkster plans to play this year in a reduced schedule — though she makes a point to say she is not retiring but will take on some television work.

''It's not over, but I know the prime of my golf is passed,'' said Inkster, a native of Santa Cruz who played collegiately at San Jose State. ''I still like to play, I still like to compete. I'm looking forward to a new chapter.''

The Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic formally launched Monday with ticket sales and other details. The event features one of the higher purses for a domestic women's event, with the winner taking home $270,000.

While Inkster has watched some of the hard-hitting young women bring fresh energy to women's golf, she knows not everybody has seen the game's strides and is eager for fans in Northern California to get an up-close glimpse.

''I think it's going to be a great venue for it,'' Inkster said. ''It's tough, it's going to play like an Open. I hope we can keep this for a long time. It's important for the LPGA to be in this area. Women's golf has changed so much the last 8-10 years. . . . It's a different LPGA than it was 10 years ago. It's important for young girls to come out here and see role models, `Hey, I can do that.' We just don't have a lot of that around here.''

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The goal is for Swinging Skirts to reach a long-term agreement with Lake Merced Golf Club after the first event, tournament executive director Kevin Hopkins said. The club has a 92-year history.

''It feels like the perfect home. It's an exciting time for us to bring this here,'' Hopkins said. ''We want it to be a fixture on the golf calendar for many years to come. We've obviously got a perfect venue for it.''

Inkster knows as well as anybody the challenges facing the LPGA in a busy sports market such as San Francisco, where there is competition with storied professional sports franchises. The culture, diversity and wide-ranging activities keep Inkster here. She lives in nearby Los Altos.

''Three, four, five years down the road you can make this a really good tournament. That's what you want, you don't want to just jump in and jump out,'' she said. ''I love this area. We have some great golf courses. . . . Lake Merced, I'm telling you these girls better bring their `A' game. Once these girls play Lake Merced they're going to want to come back for a long time.''

The Swinging Skirts Golf Team is a private, Taiwanese nonprofit of amateur golfers committed to growing the women's game globally. The group's chairman is an art aficionado, so there will be sculptures around the par-72 course.

''I'll be in a swinging skirt, too, by the way,'' Inkster joked. ''You know me, I love a skirt.''

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