The Evian Masters presented by Société Générale turns 18 this year and there will be lots to celebrate as the international women’s golf showcase event gets underway from Thursday.

Bringing together 111 of the world’s finest female professionals and with a purse of €2,437,500 (US $3,250,000), this is one of the crown jewels on the women’s golfing calendar.

Jiyai Shin of South Korea will defend the title.

The memorable setting of the Evian Masters Golf Club overlooking Lac Leman in Evian-les-Bains, France, combined with a quality golf course and world class field has long earned the tournament the title of the fifth major on the Ladies European Tour and as such, extra Solheim Cup points are available for top-20 finishes by European competitors.

What makes this event so popular with the players? “The fact that it is in Europe is special,” says Melissa Reid of England, who tied for 19th at the 2010 event. “All the players want to play in it. I’m lucky enough to have played a couple and it’s definitely one of my favourite tournaments.

“It’s literally a golfer’s heaven. They have the best practice facilities I’ve seen and I’ve been around the world. You can get lost there. It’s mind blowing.

“My earliest memories when I started taking up golf were the Women’s British Open and the Evian Masters. They were the two that caught my eye. I think why it’s so great is because it’s so fresh and it feels like a young tournament even though it’s been around for 18 years. My parents love coming because they can drink champagne on the terrace and I love the Evian Masters training ground.”

Mel Reid rates the Evian Masters

No less an authority than Laura Davies, who has played in every Evian Masters tournament and will be chasing a third Evian title, has described the tournament as “one of the best events of the year on and off the course.”

“Franck and his team put on a first class event and really look after the players. I’m really looking forward to the competition on a great course,” she commented.

Last year’s Henderson Money List winner, Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa, will be hoping to have her name etched on the roll of honour after earning five titles last season. She tied for 43rd on her debut in 2010.

“I love the Evian: I think everyone does,” says Pace. “I really like playing the golf course and it is certainly a beautiful place. It seems like it is the ’fun’ unofficial major of the year. People are more relaxed and the atmosphere is great.

“It is extremely important as it is great for our world ranking and also for our Henderson Money List ranking. It could make a big difference. It’s our best tournament of the year.”

Fellow South African Ashleigh Simon, who claimed her second LET title at the Portugal Ladies Open, knows she will have to be at her sharpest if she is to follow in the footsteps of last year’s champion, Jiyai Shin of South Korea and claim the €375,000 first prize.

The annual charity football match for the ELA is always popular with footie-mad Laura Davies. Here she is pictured playing with Zinedine Zidane.

“Obviously you go into every event trying to win so that would be the ultimate goal, but I just hope to play relaxed and free golf,” she said.

“I’m really excited to be returning to Evian. I really like the golf course. I think the setting makes the Evian Masters a special event because it’s just so beautiful as well and the players get treated so well during the week. I would say it’s the best event to play in the whole year.”

Since its inauguration in 1994, the Evian Masters has been an all-embracing project with no shortage of glitz and glamour associated with its many and varied social activities. It has evolved into much more than just a golf tournament, acting as a magnet for the stars of sport, stage and screen.

Last year, A-listers including the actor Hugh Grant played in the Pro Am, while former French soccer star Zinedine Zidane was the top draw at the annual charity football match.

This year, Bixente Lizarazu, Alain Boghossian, Guy Forget, Laurent Blanc and Youri Djorkaeff will be among the players on the pitch at the Stade Camille Fournier, along with football fanatic players such as Davies and Reid, plus their caddies.

Deputy Tournament Director Steve Brangeon explained that the match was the vision of tournament president, Franck Riboud. “At the time, most of the caddies were British, most of them loved football, so we organised a football game. Since then those that have played include Lorena Ochoa, Laura Davies and many other players so it’s a great moment for us.”

One of the aims of the organisation is to open the event up to the main stream public and there is a raft of entertainment on offer for spectators, as well as the Evian Masters Junior Cup on 16-17 July.