Defending champion Azahara Muñoz of Spain will headline the field at the Lacoste Ladies Open de France, which will take place at the Golf de Chantaco in Saint-Jean-de-Luz from 2-5 October. The 27th edition of the tournament will boast Ladies European Tour stars, among whom Frenchwoman Gwladys Nocera and the English duo of Florentyna Parker and Charley Hull. The week will also mark the fiftieth anniversary of the victory of France, led by Chantaco founder’s grand-daughter Catherine Lacoste, in the inaugural World Team Amateur Ladies Championship.
No question that her victory last year at Chantaco was a turning point. Following her second Ladies European Tour win, four years after the first one, Azahara Muñoz had a remarkable 2014 season on the U.S.-based LPGA Tour. Eight top 10s, including two in Major championships, have propelled the Spaniard up to 12th in the Rolex Rankings (as of 1 September). And even if the Malaga-born player is yet to win this year, a second place after a play-off loss in Singapore in March being her best result so far, she has however triumphed with the Spanish team in the International Crown, a new team event on the U.S. tour. While the end of the season is coming on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, 26-year-old Muñoz has no intention to skip the Lacoste Ladies Open de France, where she will aim to defend her title. “It is such a good event with the best players in Europe always being there. I love it there so I can’t wait to be back.I truly feel like home there,” she says. A win would make her the first to repeat since Italy’s Veronica Zorzi back in 2005-06.
This year again, Gwladys Nocera will be one of Muñoz’ main rivals. The Frenchwoman, who finished second last year one shot behind the Spaniard, will target her maiden victory in her national open, an event she will play for the 12th time. Still winless in 2014, the current fourth-ranked player on the LET Order of Merit is in good form, having just finished second in the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scotland Open in late August. Florentyna Parker, the Ladies Italian Open champion and Solheim Cup sensation, Charley Hull, complete this dream quartet. Charley Hull clinched her first victory in Morocco last March, four days before turning 18, and is currently ranked 30th in the world.
None of these players, and none of the 78-strong field at the 2014 Lacoste Ladies Open de France, was born when France won the World Team Amateur Ladies Championship on 4 October 1964. In Saint-Germain, where the first edition of the event was held, the young French trio of Claudine Cros, Brigitte Varangot and Catherine Lacoste cruised to a one-shot victory over the United States to lift the Espirito Santo trophy. As the icing on the cake, then 19-year-old Catherine Lacoste took low individual honors alongside an American competitor. “This was the time when high level women’s golf really started to develop across the world,” assesses the daughter of tennis champion René Lacoste and golfing great Simone Thion de la Chaume, who played a key role in the success of Chantaco, founded by the latter’s father back in 1928.
Although she never turned professional, Catherine Lacoste has some of golf’s most illustrious titles to her name, both amateur and pro: the 1967 U.S. Women’s Open, the 1968 Western Amateur, the 1969 US and British Amateurs, a fine collection of French Championships, and ten or so European Team Championships as a player or a captain. “Brigitte and Claudine were wonderful players as well, and we were a small group of golfers used to winning regularly, and all over the world. I recognise ourselves in all the young French players of today. With the bonus of spending four years in the American colleges, they quickly turn into ambitious and young golfers on the world stage,” says Catherine Lacoste. She remains close to her fellow Frenchwomen, most notably through Porosus, an endowment fund created by members of the Lacoste family, which provides financial help to selected local talents. In a month time, the great lady of French golf will be a careful witness of the third edition of the Lacoste Ladies Open de France to take place in her home of Chantaco.