By Nina Ahn
Photographs by Eric Sueyoshi, Chiuling Chen and Kwan Ko
Driving toward Robinson Ranch Golf Club after exiting the freeway north of Los Angeles, the scenery is bleak and almost desolate. After a swank night of introductions on the blustery rooftop lounge of The Mercury, a new condominium complex in Koreatown with an arresting view of downtown, it looked as if the golf tournament itself might be a disappointment.
All fears were relieved, however, on the turn into Robinson Ranch as a spectacular view of the Santa Clarita Valley and the Angeles National Forest’s rolling green mountains opened up. Lushly green and meticulously maintained, the golf course’s breathtaking scenery along with beautiful weather conditions provided the perfect environment for a long day of golf and socializing.
Benefiting The LPGA Foundation, the KoreAm Pro-Am golf tournament brought out Korean LPGA members, special guest pros, celebrity guests and community members for a day at the links.
“It’s an opportunity for players who represent the Korean community to have a meeting of the minds,” said former LPGA member Pearl Sinn-Bonanni, who helped organize the event.
Practicing his swing before the tournament began, Olympic medalist Toby Dawson gazed at the scenery. “The location is amazing and driving in was beautiful,” said the mogul skier, who now plans to turn pro in golf.
Christina Kim, known for her bubbly personality, bold ensembles and eye-catching bags, joked that KoreAm Editor in Chief James Ryu begged her to come but then said, “It’s for a good cause and [the tournament] helps get Korean names out there.”
Not long ago, the increasing number of Koreans on the LPGA tour faced criticism for not being able to promote the tour due to language and cultural barriers. Hoping to improve the situation, the LPGA has recently been taking steps to integrate Korean players by providing cross-cultural programs and English tutors.
“The success [of the Koreans on the tour] is unbelievable,” said Pat Browning, executive director for The LPGA Foundation. Praising their practice, focus and determination, Browning said she hopes that events like this will help Korean players “understand the importance of reaching out.”
Many of the LPGA golfers were excited to be playing in a pro-am with other Koreans, since most of their pro-am experiences are with non-Koreans. “It’s exciting because everyone can speak Korean,” said Jeong Jang, one of the top performing Koreans on the tour.
“All my friends are here,” noted rookie Jin Young Pak. “I usually play with all Americans, so it’s nice to play with Koreans. If they had more events like this, I would come.”
After a long, but fun day on the course, everyone gathered in the rustic clubhouse where it was announced that PGP Capital Advisor’s group featuring pro Hana Kim tied at 56 under par with JamisonServices’ team, which featured pro David Oh. PGP’s team, however, won in the card off.
Dr. Sammy Lee, the first Asian American Olympic gold medalist, and, at 87, the oldest golfer in the tournament, noted at the awards dinner, “When I started in sports, no one even knew what a Korean was.”
How things have changed.