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MAJOR PARTY WOMEN GO TO THE DINAH FOR THE GOLF AND FOR THE SCENE THAT HAS GROWN UP AROUND THE TOURNAMENT

April 07, 1997
April 07, 1997

Table of Contents
April 7, 1997

Faces In The Crowd

MAJOR PARTY WOMEN GO TO THE DINAH FOR THE GOLF AND FOR THE SCENE THAT HAS GROWN UP AROUND THE TOURNAMENT

For the stars of the LPGA tour, doing the Dinah means hitting
the snot out of the ball off the tee, tossing a putter in
disgust after skanking an easy three-footer, cursing after being
penalized for slow play, politely signing programs, visors,
T-shirts and straw hats for clusters of desert-burned fans, and
generally being the most fabulous sports babes in town.

This is an article from the April 7, 1997 issue

But for an estimated 20,000 other women, doing the Dinah means
saving up for months to buy hotel and party vacation packages,
leasing condos, packing just the right ripped jeans, baby T's
and thong-bottomed bikinis, and arriving in balmy Palm Springs
by limo, car, plane and pickup for perhaps the largest gathering
of like-minded women in the world. Officially called Dinah Shore
Weekend, but better known as lesbian spring break, the four-day
celebration is less about sports than babes--hordes of them,
gaggles of them, giggling and groping and making out with
abandon. Oh, Dinah! See the LPGA in your bustier!

Every year, when the lady pros tee it up for their first major
of the season, the city's hotel lobbies teem with k.d. lang
look-alikes in their spiky crewcuts and skintight black spandex,
jostling for position at the ATM machine. They come from
Pasadena, Portland, Honolulu, Chicago and New York. Some
hitchhike in from as far away as Alaska. Foreign accents
(British, French, German, Norwegian) waft through the air,
lilting and languid. See them strolling into the laser-lit
ballroom at the glamorous so-called White Party, kohl-eyed,
willowy blonde Valkyries on the arms of their girlfriends, who
are less drop-dead gorgeous but more financially secure. See
them topless by the shimmering turquoise pools, sipping
cocktails called Sex on the Beach, their bodies buff and
burnished. See them line-dancing at country and western parties
or grinding to Girl Jesus at the Dinahpalooza, a $49-a-ticket
battle of the girl bands at the Inn at the Racquet Club. See
them at Delilah's buying a book from NOW president Patricia
Ireland ("My sport is politics," she says) and dining at
Hamburger Mary's. See the tattoos, the nipple rings and the
corporate sponsors--Absolut and Skyy vodkas, American Airlines
and Miller beer fly their flags over many of the party sites and
contribute to the goody bags given to some of the women who come
on package deals.

"It's a very hedonistic weekend," says San Francisco promoter
Mariah Hanson, who has joined forces for the last six years with
two woman promoters from Los Angeles to buy out all the rooms at
the Wyndham and Riviera hotels and sell them to the revelers.
"It's spring break with credit cards."

See them in their Brooks Brothers oxford button-downs, strolling
the lush Mission Hills Country Club course arm in arm, watching
their favorite player or following the leader, Betsy King, as
she wins on Sunday. Last year's champion, Patty Sheehan,
attracts her own groupies, who call themselves Pattyfanatics.
Finally, see them lugging their golf clubs out to play a
twilight round.

A more diverse group is hard to imagine: Elegant, silver-haired
stockbrokers in designer pants suits puffing on eight-dollar
cigars sit next to tank-topped, bleached-out, self-described
"lipstick lesbos" downing shots of vodka, all of them ogling the
long-haired brunette with the tight buns in the see-through
white short-shorts.

For Kate, a blonde country and western singer from Beverly
Hills, doing the Dinah means "getting drunk and picking up
chicks." How very...Easter.

At a time when the LPGA struggles with what is euphemistically
known as an "image" problem, Dinah Shore Weekend presents a
unique dilemma. While the players distance themselves from the
nonstop bacchanalia, rightfully saying that it has nothing to do
with the golf, they can't ignore the fact that the Nabisco Dinah
Shore has benefited from the partying. The large crowds drawn to
Palm Springs are good for the tournament, good for the corporate
sponsors trying to reach a new, upscale audience and good for
the vendors charging $70 for Dinah sweatshirts.

There has been talk that the LPGA wants to move the event and
detach itself from lesbian spring break. The gays say go ahead
and try, they'll move too. But that would make Palm Springs
cranky, since an estimated 20,000 well-behaved gay women
generating millions in revenue is far more desirable than the
beer-swilling, Oxy 10-toting college crowds that laid waste to
the city in the 1980s. "That was a very raucous, rowdy crowd,"
says John Manfredi, the executive vice president for Nabisco,
which has sponsored the tournament for 16 years. He says the
lesbian spring break "isn't a factor for us." Manfredi doesn't
rule out the possibility of moving the Dinah but says, "The
timing and the location work well for us." LPGA commissioner Jim
Ritts says, "It's irrelevant if you're gay or straight" and adds
that the LPGA is committed to keeping the tournament in Palm
Springs.

What started as a few discreet backyard barbecues for some
players and their friends in 1972 has grown, over the years,
into a highly commercial venture. "We looked around, and it was
obvious there were women who would pay for something better,"
says promoter Sandy Sachs, who with her partner, Robin Gans,
runs a Los Angeles nightspot, the Girl Bar, and last week helped
Hanson organize activities at the Wyndham and the Riviera.

But at a time when many successful gay women are open about
their sexual orientation, the players are not. "They worry
they'll lose endorsements," says Trish Owens, the co-manager of
Delilah's, a lesbian bar in nearby Cathedral City. "But we've
had several players in this week."

On even the most superficial level, almost all of the players
refused to publicly discuss Dinah Shore Weekend. Muffin
Spencer-Devlin, who a year ago revealed in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
that she is a lesbian, declined to be interviewed by SI last
week. So did veteran player Allison Finney, who is tour
president and a member of the LPGA executive committee. "I don't
want to talk about it," she said. "I'll talk about our game and
our players, but I don't have anything to say about that."

When Nancy Lopez, who won the Dinah in 1981, was asked if the
social gathering that has grown up around the tournament has had
any impact on the players, she looked like a deer caught in the
headlights. Topless pool parties? Twenty thousand lesbians? "I
didn't know that," she said.

One golfer did confide that she was told by a fellow pro,
perhaps jokingly, that this was not the tournament to invite her
parents to. Another player, Michelle McGann, said that "the
crowds are unbelievable. It's a great time of year, a great
party. It's like being at a basketball or football game. I think
it's good for all of us."

Many of the younger women at the Dinah last week preferred to
lounge by the pool at one of the party hotels. It was women like
Kristy Cummins, a 35-year-old insurance broker from Sacramento
attending her third Dinah, who were more apt to hang out at the
tournament. "A lot of the women just come for the parties and
all the other women here, but I think the older ones come for
the golf," she said while walking the course watching Liselotte
Neumann play. "There's a larger crowd of lesbians here [than
elsewhere on the tour]. People feel they can be more themselves
than at other events."

Cummins is the kind of person the week's corporate sponsors are
trying to reach. "Dinah Shore is the top lesbian event on the
West Coast," Vivien Gay, a consultant with the Napa marketing
firm Isosceles, which advised one of the Dinah Shore Weekend
promoters, told The Wall Street Journal last week. "It attracts
the starched-linen [higher income] lesbians."

The Dinah also attracts beginning golfers, like Micki Jones, a
firefighter from San Francisco. She says she watches the
tournament from start to finish, although she's somewhat
underwhelmed. "I enjoy the golf more than the parties," says
Jones, "but to me this isn't much of an athletic event. Look at
them--they're 50 pounds overweight. It's a game of finesse, I
guess, but so is marbles."

Women make up a relatively small percentage of golfers in the
U.S. Of the estimated 25 million players, one in five is female.
Of new golfers, one in three is female. While the LPGA isn't on
a par with the PGA Tour, prize money has increased dramatically.
King, for example, earned $135,000 for her victory, compared
with $90,000 when she won in '90.

There's no doubt that last weekend was a success, although there
was some grumbling about the cost. "It used to be a lot
different, much smaller," says Lisa Ferguson, a 31-year-old hair
colorist from Los Angeles who has attended 10 Dinahs. "There
used to be one hotel [where the parties were held]. Now there
are three or four. It's so big. Now it's all about money. We
just got charged five dollars for a beer. To get into a club now
is 20 bucks a head, and that doesn't include the beer. If you
want a hotel, it's $400 or $500. It's a ripoff now."

The packages put together by event producer Joani Weir at the
Doubletree Resort are typical. Weir reserved all 289 rooms, plus
15 of the resort's 47 condos, from Thursday through Sunday. She
then charged $150 a night and offered several packages,
depending on which assortment of pool parties, comedy shows and
other activities her customers planned to attend.

Ellen Mead is Weir's kind of client. An attorney in her 50s from
Encino, Calif., Mead has been coming to the Dinah for years.
"It's a wonderful social scene, although it's changed," she
says. "We have a friend who started us coming here many years
ago. She had a little organization and would get 60 people
together, rent a hall and charge 10 bucks. Now it's thousands of
people at $40 a head for the parties. It's too commercial."

By Sunday both the players and the revelers were exhausted. As
the golfers headed for the next tour stop, the pool parties were
finally cooling down. At the Wyndham, many of the women were
wandering around the lobby, bags packed, ready to start home for
a work week that would begin early the next morning.

"I think the LPGA is coming around," says Hanson, the San
Francisco promoter. "They've always kept us at arm's length, but
in prior years they wouldn't comment about us and probably
wished we weren't here. Last year tournament officials said they
didn't care if we were here too. That's a step toward the LPGA
really starting to let go of their homophobia, which hurts their
players more than us."

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Some women at Dinah Weekend came to see the tournament winner take the plunge, while others opted for fun in the sun. [Betsy King waving to crowd from lake]COLOR PHOTO: JAN SONNENMAIR [See caption above--women in and around swimming pool]COLOR PHOTO: JAN SONNENMAIR The tournament drew many upscale fans, who made up a target audience for the sponsors. [Crowd on golf course]COLOR PHOTO: JAN SONNENMAIR Events like the White Party at the Wyndham Hotel were part of the package provided by promoters. [Dancer performing for audience of women]