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Epson Tour Championship is officially heading to Southern California. Will other events follow?

The Epson Tour will play its biggest golf tournament at the Indian Wells Golf Resort in 2024, but officials from the City of Indian Wells and the golf resort are making no secret that they want to bring the LPGA back to the Coachella Valley at their courses.

“First, it puts us back in the game,” said Robin Graf, the new general manager at the Indian Wells Golf Resort. “It gives us an opportunity to potentially host more events in the future, and bigger events.”

The Indian Wells City Council voted 5-0 on Thursday to approve a one-year $100,000 sponsorship for the 2024 season finale of the Epson Tour, the developmental tour for the LPGA. That event, to be called the Epson Tour Championship at Indian Wells, will be played on the Players Course of the golf resort on Sept. 30-Oct. 6.

While the Epson Tour Championship becomes the biggest golf event played at the golf resort for now, city staff and council members talked openly about the prospect of an LPGA event for the city in the future. The LPGA left the desert after the 2022 Chevron Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, with the major championship moving to Houston. That left the Coachella Valley without an LPGA event for the first time in 51 years.

The Epson Tour event could show the LPGA that a regular LPGA event is viable for the desert in the fall, and that the Indian Wells Golf Resort is the place to hold such a tournament.

“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have had a golden opportunity dropped into our laps,” council member Greg Sanders said during council discussion of the sponsorship. “The Dinah Shore, the ANA tournament, the last year it was here it was sponsored by Chevron, I think. They moved out. I’m going to ask Visit Greater Palm Springs what the economic spinoff was from the ANA. I guarantee you it is huge.”

Sanders added the idea of the Epson Tour sponsorship is to get the LPGA to see Indian Wells as a top-flight candidate for an LPGA event.

“I see this as a strategic investment,” Sanders added.

Photo courtesy Epson Tour/Ben Harpring

City, residents benefits

The council chose a $100,000 sponsorship over a $50,000 option for the Epson Tour event. City manager Christopher Freeland explained that the $100,000 level includes everything the $50,000 level features including the city name and logo incorporated into tournament promotion and advertising, pro-am teams in the tournament, participation in a meet the pros party and VIP passes for the four days of the 72-hole professional tournament. But the $100,000 level also includes discounted tickets for city residents and a designated seating area along the 18th green for residents. Freeland also pointed out the $100,000 sponsorship might be viewed more favorably by the LPGA for any future tournament discussions.

Indian Wells is already the home of the two-week BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden each March, the Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells-La Quinta in December and has a sponsorship deal with the Coachella Valley Firebirds hockey club. For golf, the city hosted a PGA Tour Champion event at The Vintage Club from 1981-92 and at the golf resort in 1993 as well as three years of the LG Skins Game from 2006-08.

“Golf is the epicenter of Indian Wells. It always has been since the 1980s,” council member Bruce Whitman said. “I think golf is our past, our present and our future. And so our golf resort, that campus with the hotels and the golf courses, that is the economic engine of our city. All we can do to encourage more golf in this city can only benefit this city.”

Council member Dana Reed said he supports the sponsorship deal, but would like the city staff to audit claims about the golf tournament and other sports sponsorships the city has. One such claim is the Epson Tour saying the Tour Championship will produce 1,930 room nights in area hotels, with Freeland acknowledging some of those room nights could be in other desert cities.

Freeland added that while the sponsorship voted on by the council Thursday is a one-year deal, it could lead to a multi-year agreement with the Epson Tour and deeper discussions with the LPGA about a tournament on that larger tour.

As the developmental tour for the LPGA, the Epson Tour has 24 events across the country, including one in Beaumont each March. Purses for Epson events are between $200,000 and $375,000, with the Tour Championship featuring a $250,000 purse last month in Florida.

The top 10 money winners on the tour each year earn LPGA exemptions for the following year, with the Tour Championship the final event of that exemption chase. Top players on the LPGA who have graduated from the Epson Tour include major championship winners Nelly Korda and Lilia Vu, with Epson Tour graduates winning more than 400 LPGA titles.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek