Why this week’s star-studded LPGA event is especially good for women’s golf

Ally Ewing fist bumps NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith at the HGV Tournament of Champions.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Lake Nona is the place to be — and be seen — this week in the world of professional golf.

While the men duke it out for millions in the Coachella Valley, the ladies are kicking off their season in Central Florida. And though there are only 29 LPGA pros teeing it up, the field is far from short on star power.

Nelly Korda is here, outfitted in Nike gear and gaming her new TaylorMade clubs. Her fellow new TaylorMade-signee Brooke Henderson is on site, too, pacing the field as she looks for her 13th LPGA victory. And lest we forget Danielle Kang, the fiery 30-year-old looking to defend her 2022 title.

The stars of women’s golf have assembled this week, but so too have some of the biggest stars in the world. The Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions might be the first event on the LPGA calendar, but it’s also the first of many celebrity pro-ams this season that will bring to golf some notable names from other walks.

John Smoltz. Vince Carter. Larry the Cable Guy. Alfonso Ribeiro. Blair O’Neal. Take a look at the celeb leaderboard and you’re sure to see more than a few names that you recognize.

And that’s a very good thing.

When celebrities tee it up alongside pro golfers, casual fans get invested (see: Pebble Beach Pro-Am, The Match, etc.) Better yet, when celebs play in golf tournaments, their reach brings new eyeballs to the sport.

Take this week, for example. Stroll the grounds and you’ll see NFL jerseys (Emmitt Smith, Brian Urlacher), soccer kits (Taylor Twellman) and even grown men carrying baseball cards. That’s not to mention the groupies intent on snagging pictures with Ben Higgins and Chris Harrison of The Bachelor fame.

If those athletes and celebs weren’t in the field, fans would still be here. But the clientele would likely be a little different. Gone would be the bros looking for autographs from their childhood heroes, along with The Bachelor fans hanging by the 18th green.

That’s the great thing about events like these — they expand the reach of what would otherwise be just another event.

“It’s really cool that the HGV Tournament of Champions brings people in every year that may never have been to a golf tournament before,” tournament director Aaron Stewart said in an interview. “It exposes these fans of other sports to the game of golf. They get to see the world’s best female golfers compete alongside Hall of Fame athletes and celebrities from music and entertainment. In that way, it helps bring in a different demographic of fans than who would attend other LPGA events throughout the year.”

Even better, the players love the format. Getting to hang with celebs for four days straight isn’t something that comes around often. It’s just another perk of winning on the LPGA.

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“You’re out here competing with different celebrities, former athletes, current athletes,” Nelly Korda said. “This event is so special.”

It’s not only the pros who benefit. The athletes also get an up-close-and-personal look at some of the best golfers on the planet.

Just last month, Jordan Spieth (among other pros) marveled watching Korda play in the PNC Championship. With the grind of the PGA Tour schedule, it’s forgivable that some of the male stars were unfamiliar with Korda’s game. But sharing a playing field with her forced them to take notice, and they came away impressed.

“I don’t know how she doesn’t win every week,” Max Homa said at the QBE Shootout after being paired with Korda. “It is a testament to these other ladies that anyone could even sniff beating her because that was wildly impressive.”

That’s a common sentiment among newbies watching the LPGA. These gals are good is something many celebs are learning this week. And thanks to the draw of the those athletes and actors, some fans are learning that lesson as well.

That’s a very good thing.

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Zephyr Melton

Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF.com, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf.