2008 champion Helen Alfredsson received a congratulatory kiss from Franck Riboud, chairman of the Group Danone and Jacques Bungert, chairman of the Y&R group in France

The world’s greatest women golfers have assembled at Evian Royal Resort in Evian-les-Bains, France, for the 16th Evian Masters, presented by Société Générale.

The premier women’s golf tournament has been designated “the fifth Major” by the Ladies European Tour since 1998 and is beloved by the players.

Nestled in a magical setting between Lake Geneva and the mountains in the heart of the French Alps, the venue is one of the most beautiful on the Ladies European Tour.

The tournament carries a record prize fund of $3.25 million and 2009 promises to be a vintage edition with the Evian Royal Resort celebrating its 100th year.

Last year, Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson was named the event ambassador and provided a glittering performance with a course record of 63 (-9) in the second round.

After entering a three-hole playoff against Korea’s Na-Yeon Choi and Brazil’s Angela Park, she delighted fans by capturing the trophy for a third time, 14 years after her first victory (1994) and 10 years after her second (1998). Helen will defend her title from July 23-26 against a field of 90 players, including 19 LET champions, who have won in the last two years: Alfredsson, Lisa Hall, Laura Davies, Gwladys Nocera, Suzann Pettersen, Amy Yang, Emma Zackrisson, Anne-Lise Caudal, Rebecca Hudson, Martina Eberl, Lotta Wahlin, Minea Blomqvist, Hee Kyung Seo, Anja Monke, Marianne Skarpnord, Jade Schaeffer, Tania Elosegui, Johanna Westerberg, Diana Luna and Becky Brewerton. Those who have received invitations include Melissa Reid, Maria Verchenova, Karine Icher and Caroline Rominger. Anna Nordqvist, the McDonalds LPGA Champion, is also in the field.

Competitors are vying for a first prize cheque of $487,500 and fans are guaranteed another sparkling display of golf over the par-72 course.

In an effort to give the competitors a new challenge, the organisers have created a new grass bunker within driving distance on the par-five 18th hole, meaning players will have to take greater risks to be rewarded with birdies and eagles.

Between them, the players in the field collectively represent 20 countries. The tournament boasts a formidable line-up including 23 of the top 25 on the Rolex Rankings including Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng and Jiyai Shin, the world numbers one, two and three respectively.

“This event is an important showcase and it is so important to the players that it can be considered a Major,” said Alexandra Armas, executive director of the Ladies European Tour. “The LET selects its own majors and considers the Evian Masters to be one.”

This year there will be extra spice with the tournament being the penultimate qualifying event for The Solheim Cup teams, due to play at Rich Harvest Farms, Illinois, from August 21-23.

Cup points will be awarded to Ladies European Tour players finishing inside the top 20 places and will be doubled, while US players from the LPGA will also receive points for top 20 finishes.

The Evian Masters will give players the chance to impress the European captain Alison Nicholas and US team captain Beth Daniel, while the captains will study their prospective wild card picks at close quarters.

While the tournament itself will be the main attraction, an exciting array of activities will contribute to making it one of the most enjoyable weeks off the course too.

The town of Evian will be practically painted pink in rhythm with the Evian Masters, with the mottos “Everybody think pink” and see “la vie en rose.”

In addition, the traditional football match takes place on Thursday evening featuring teams of players and caddies, versus international star footballers and celebrities.