RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Albane Valenzuela could have been teeing it up Wednesday in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, where the contestants who survive the cut will play the final 18 holes on the fabled course where men will compete at the Masters next week.
Valenzuela, a junior at Stanford and the fifth-ranked women’s amateur in the world, seriously entertained the invitation from the board of governors of the Augusta National Golf Club until she received what she considered a better offer for this week: her third start in the ANA Inspiration, the women’s first major of the year.
“Getting to tee off and play the same course as the world No. 1,” she said Tuesday, referring to South Korea’s Sung Hyun Park, “I think that’s the best experience you can get.”
Augusta National officials have trumpeted their amateur invitational as a grand stage for women’s golf. That overlooks the major originally known as the Dinah Shore, which has captivated young golfers since 1972. The tournament has cultivated indelible traditions like the winner’s leap into Poppie’s Pond and consistently provided significant exposure for top amateurs like Valenzuela, who used her 2016 debut here as a springboard to the Rio Olympics.
Augusta National didn’t admit its first female members until 2012. And while it has since opened its course to boys and girls through the Drive, Chip and Putt contest and to amateur women, these inclusive gestures have ignored — and however unintentionally, undermined — the L.P.G.A., one of the longest-running women’s professional sports organizations.
The Drive, Chip and Putt contest, held the Sunday before the Masters, has siphoned television and other media coverage from the final round of the ANA Inspiration. And with the advent of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the spotlight on the best women’s players in the world has become more diffuse.
Honoring a tradition: Pernilla Lindberg jumped into Poppie’s Pond just behind her caddie, Daniel Taylor, after winning the ANA Inspiration last year. Lindberg’s parents followed her into the water.CreditAlex Gallardo/Associated Press
“I think it comes from a very positive place in Augusta — they want to do the right thing,” Valenzuela said. “It’s probably not my place to say, but it would have been great if both could have worked together to make them happen in different weeks, because you don’t want to get the spotlight off the L.P.G.A.”
The ANA Inspiration matters because the magnetic moments that attracted Valenzuela to the sport as a child didn’t involve Augusta National, which for most of its history has been so far out of the women’s orbit that it might as well have been on Mars.
“Ever since I’ve been a little girl I’ve seen all the girls jump in the pond,” Valenzuela said, adding, “This is the women’s Masters.”
On Wednesday, Jennifer Kupcho, a Wake Forest senior and the top-ranked women’s amateur, struck the opening drive of the new event at the Champions Retreat resort in Evans, Ga., the site of the first two rounds. Only the final round will be played at Augusta National.
Across the country Wednesday, Valenzuela grooved her swing on the Mission Hills practice range. Stacy Lewis, the 2011 ANA Inspiration champion, said she planned to extend a warm welcome to Valenzuela and the four other amateurs in the field: Patty Tavatanakit, Frida Kinhult, Rachel Heck and Xin Kou, who is also known as Cindy.
“I’m really proud of them,” said Lewis, the former women’s world No. 1 who recently returned to competition after the birth in October of her first child, a daughter. “If you want to play professional golf, you need to play in majors, and you need to see where your game stacks up and have that experience of playing in front of those big crowds.”
Valenzuela has advanced to the weekend in each of her previous starts in this event. If she misses the cut this week, she will not be idle over the weekend. Her consolation prize will be joining her Stanford teammates on Sunday at the Silverado Showdown, a collegiate women’s event in Napa.
Stanford is ranked fourth in the Women’s Golf Coaches Association poll and is jockeying with other top teams for seeding positions at next month’s N.C.A.A. championship. Another Stanford star, Andrea Lee, chose to play in Georgia this week.
Anne Walker, Valenzuela’s coach at Stanford, said in a telephone interview that she welcomed Augusta National’s move into the women’s game, describing it as “another great opportunity that’s opened up.”
But in its exuberance to grow the game, Augusta National big-footed more than the L.P.G.A. schedule. “There’s very little discussion about the timing of it as it relates to college golf,” Walker said.
She pointed out that Texas, which is ranked second behind the University of Southern California, competed in the Bruzzy Challenge this week in Texas without three of its top players: Emilee Hoffman, Agathe Laisne and Kaitlyn Papp, who are in Augusta. The Longhorns finished tied for seventh, their lowest finish of the season by three places.
Walker ultimately described the scheduling conflicts as “a great problem to have.”
But they are a problem, nonetheless.
When the Augusta National chairman, Fred Ridley, announced the new event last year, he said: “We think that to have one week where the future greats of the game and the current greats of the women’s game are all competing on a big stage is, it’s just very exciting.”
Referring to L.P.G.A. Commissioner Mike Whan, who was not consulted before the Augusta tournament was scheduled, Ridley added, “I think he also understands that in time it’s going to be a win for the L.P.G.A.”
Lewis said she would love to see the Augusta event played at a different time of year.
Referring to the amateurs, she added, “Maybe they could get a full tournament on Augusta National. Get a couple practice rounds and a three-round tournament there.”
Or better yet, the Augusta National members could find a way to welcome the 8-year-old girls and the 18-year-old amateurs after they have grown into the best women players on the planet.
It’s a win-win for golf any time the best women mix with the best men, as Brittany Lincicome, a two-time ANA Inspiration champion, recently was reminded.
Lincicome spent two days last month at the PGA Tour’s flagship event in Florida, and she was shocked when players like Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy saw her behind the rope lines and came bounding over to ask if she would pose for selfies with them.
Lincicome, 33, has been slow to recognize that her start last year in a PGA Tour event in Kentucky trumped either of her victorious finishes here.
“I had no idea they knew who I was,” she said.
If the L.P.G.A. has to move the date of its first major to accommodate Augusta National, here’s one idea how Augusta National members could make the change palatable. They could extend an invitation to the women’s reigning major winners to compete alongside the men in the Masters’ par-3 contest. That would be more meaningful start than a flashy 18-hole finish to an amateur event.