A native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and now a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, former LPGA superstar Jane Blalock is just as important to the golf world today as she was when she won 27 times between 1969-1985. Maybe more so! A graduate of Rollins College in Florida and a five-time consecutive winner of the NH Amateur, Jane made 299 straight cuts in the course of a decade, LPGA and PGA records still.
More importantly, perhaps, Jane organized The Legends Tour in 2000, a nostalgic mulligan for the personalities and Hall-of-Fame talent of the LPGA’s greats who are older than 45. Through her determination, this Official Senior Tour of the LPGA has grown throughout the years, now with 10 events for 2015 and one at Pinehills in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in September.
The Legends Tour has brought back the charm and charisma of the Golden Age of the LPGA from the 70s through the 90s to golf fans around the country. She said, “Our efforts have been well received by both sponsors and patrons because we are showcasing so many great names, just like Senior Tour in its heyday.”
Life after the LPGA Tour opened new opportunities for Jane. She entered the financial world and learned business strategies with Merrill Lynch. She then formed JBC Golf, Inc.—Jane Blalock Company—in 1990. JBC Golf markets and administers The Legends Tour and also empowers and educates business women about golf.
Jane was instrumental, after many years of persistence and persuasion, in encouraging the USGA to establish the US Senior Women’s Open Championship, with its first tournament set for 2018 (at a venue and date to be determined).
NEGM: Explain your advocacy for the US Senior Women’s Open and why its inaugural event will be good for golf.
JB: The challenge in golf, as you know, is how to grow the game. The USGA, as the governing body and the eyes and ears of golf, in general, had completely overlooked one of the most important segments in golf and one of the strongest areas of growth—the women’s market and the female “baby boomers.” It was a travesty that for all those years our pleading and our request to consider a Senior Women’s Open fell on deaf ears.
I think this championship sends a message that, finally, there will be equality in the game of golf and that the discriminatory issue—GOLF=Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden—will be a thing of the past. The first field will be star-laden, but I only wish that the event could have happened before 2018. Why the delay?
NEGM: How did you come to organize The Legends Tour in 2000?
JB: At that time, the men’s Senior Tour [Champions Tour since 2002] was receiving a lot of popularity and promotion. I was no longer competing but was working for ESPN TV. I’d be in the women’s locker room talking to players in the twilight of their careers—like Nancy Lopez, Hollis Stacy, Jan Stephenson, and Beth Daniel—and I would hear, “Why can’t we have something like that?”
Several of us talked to the golf commissioners, but, once again, our plans fell on deaf ears. The answer always seemed to be, “We’re going to focus on youth.” So, I said to our committee, “We have two choices: one, we can sit around and just grumble about it, or we can be proactive and do something about it. We certainly have the name recognition with the players. Let’s see if it will work.” In a short period of time, we put together 25 players who put up $5,000 apiece seed money to get the tour moving forward.
We had our first tournament in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and it was with the LPGA’s, well, “blessing” would be a stretch, but the LPGA allowed us to give it a try. To those who said we wouldn’t make it, we quickly proved them wrong. That first day we had 15,000 spectators show up, and an LPGA official showed up the next day to see what we were doing. So, we were off and running!
Then The Legends Tour had a battle with the LPGA to prove that we were not competing but were actually enhancing women’s golf. I said, “Would you rather have Nancy Lopez sitting at home or have her name in the headlines?”
NEGM: Comment upon the success of The Legends Tour.
JB: Since 2000, we have played for more than $13M, but we have helped raise more than $17M for charity. The Legends Tour has historically given a lot more money to charity than what the women play for. I wish we had more tournaments, but we are making steady progress and are growing. We appreciate our corporate sponsors very much like Wendy’s, BJ’s, Chico’s and Walgreens. Walgreens had added a third tournament sponsorship this year. The Legends Tour has so many great names and personalities to offer. How could it get any better than to watch players like Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan, Pat Bradley, Amy Alcott, JoAnne Carner, Sally Little, and Jan Stephenson to mention a few of the 120 plus competitors? The Legends Tour offers so many names that spectators and fans in our country certainly recognize and remember.
This year we have new blood with the likes of Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon, and Michelle McGann. Annika will be eligible for the November event, and I have been in touch with her. Nothing has been confirmed, but it would be a chance for Annika to show her appreciation for the LPGA players who paved the way and created the platform for her to become so successful.
Galleries have been fantastic everywhere. The Chico’s event in Fort Myers in April where The Legends Tour players joined the Symetra Tour [“Road to the LPGA” similar to the Web.com Tour] players was a winning combination, too, and may lead to other dual-tour events. It certainly helps us as we have been asking for a little more support from the LPGA, and I think this is the beginning of recognizing how important we are. The Symetra Tour doesn’t usually draw big galleries, so the Legends players will certainly boost the gate.
NEGM: Explain your LPGA Golf Clinics for Women.
JB: The clinics are a signature property of JBC Golf that we created and run. Designed for career-minded business women, it is a full day of total game instruction led by an LPGA teaching professional and hosted by an LPGA Legend. It is supported by Fidelity, KPMG, and Met Life. We have 15 clinics from April through November, and nine of them have been sold out. We have two in Massachusetts: one at Spring Valley CC in Sharon on July13 and one at Blue Hill CC in Canton on August 10 that is sold out. We are celebrating our 25th anniversary and were ahead of our time with this concept of encouraging women in business to play golf and enhance relationship developmental skills. It is a very successful program that just keeps getting better.
NEGM: What do you remember most about your LPGA experiences?
JB: I think about winning the first Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle championship in 1972 [before it became a major in 1983]. The purse was $100,000, five times bigger than the second-largest purse of $20,000. It was covered on national TV, and Dinah and all her friends were there. The LPGA became a very big deal that week. I can still remember the goosebumps, the nerves, the excitement, and the attention after winning. The Dinah Shore was a unique experience for me. I won a lot of other big tournaments, too, but, more importantly, I remember the camaraderie, the friendships, the funny stories we would tell, and the many activities that we would do together—occurrences that, unfortunately, do not seem to be an integral part of the LPGA today. I will never forget traveling the world as an “insider” and playing golf at some amazing venues and with some amazing people.
NEGM: With whom do you still enjoy teeing it up?
JB: I play a lot of practice rounds with Pat Bradley and Patty Sheehan and have a blast. We have so much fun on the course. Also, nothing is quite like playing with JoAnne Carner—I just love it!
NEGM: Who were the best women on tour in your heyday?
JB: JoAnne Carner, Sally Little, Nancy Lopez, Judy Rankin, and Kathy Whitworth.
NEGM: You have been a member with Bobby Orr of The Ridge Club on Cape Cod for a number of years and have a house there.
JB: Yes, my primary residence and the JBC Golf office is in Cambridge, but I can get to The Ridge Club in about 70 minutes. I go there for weekends and to relax whenever I can. The club has a great membership and excellent throw-up-balls member foursomes on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It is a classy, low-key club. I have been friendly with Bobby Orr since 1975. I see him on the range quite a bit and play with him on occasion in the weekend games. He is just a wonderful human being.
NEGM: What are your other favorite New England golf courses?
JB: A real favorite is Boston Golf Club in Hingham, a links-style layout designed by Gil Hanse. It’s walking only and is like playing in Scotland. I also love all the Donald Ross classics like Salem, Charles River, and Brae Burn.
NEGM: Who would be on your Dream Team of today. Of any time period?
JB: Condi Rice, Bill Clinton, Mickey Wright, and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.
Babe Zaharias, Ben Hogan, Walter Hagen, and President Eisenhower.
NEGM: Do you follow any of Boston’s professional sports teams?
JB: Absolutely! I’m a big Patriots and Red Sox fan.
NEGM: Your life has been full of achievements. What do you still have left to accomplish?
JB: I want to be eligible for the first US Senior Women’s Open! After all these years of working to make it a reality, I don’t want to be standing on the sidelines. A definite goal is to have The Legends Tour become a household name and one of the most successful franchises in sports.