By Sally J. Sportsman
When the lovely white flowers of the magnolia tree bloom and their sweet fragrance fills the air, it signals springtime in the South. To golfers, magnolias symbolize something even more. Driving down Magnolia Lane approaching Augusta National Golf Club signifies one of the more meaningful experiences in all of golf. The historic, private golf club in Augusta, Georgia, which opened for play in 1933, is home to the Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf. While blossoming trees are interspersed throughout the course, the fifth hole, “Magnolia,” is often recognized for its special beauty.
This year, there is a new game in town. Another group of accomplished golfers—amateurs in this case—will have the opportunity to play the majestic course: the much-anticipated Augusta National Women’s Amateur makes it debut this April.
“Masters officials believe it will be the most widely attended amateur tournament in the world, and by a large margin,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National and the Masters.
To be played partially at Augusta National the week before the Masters, the new event is part of a gathering movement to help grow the game ofgolf. The tournament will be contested April 3-6 over three rounds, with the first two at the Champions Retreat outside Augusta and the final round on the Saturday before the Masters at the famed Augusta National course.
The 72 women who comprise the field were determined by their victories at other recognized championships and the Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings. NBC Sports will provide three hours of live coverage of the final round.
Countless skilled, female amateur golfers no doubt will dream of and aspire to play in this esteemed event. The ones who ultimately succeed in being part of the field in years to come may take on an important role in the game of golf.
“While we aim to stage a first-class championship, our motivation goes beyond the scores posted between the ropes,” Ridley said. “By providing this opportunity and shining a brighter light on this important segment of the sport, we expect role models to emerge who will help inspire a new generation of golfers.”
The international field of 72 women amateurs will compete over 54 holes of stroke play. A cut will take place after 36 holes, advancing the leading 30 players to the final round at Augusta National. In the event of a tie after 54 holes, the winner will be decided by sudden-death playoff
From young girls who are just learning to play to proficient collegiate players to seasoned amateurs—all will be keeping a keen eye on the first- ever Augusta National Women’s Amateur, a singular chance for participants to showcase their skills and earn well-deserved accolades. The inaugural event represents an important moment of the growth of the game.
“The Augusta National Women’s Amateur presents an exciting new opportunity for women’s golf and the future of the game,” said Suzy Whaley, who in 2018 became the first woman president of the PGA of America.
“The PGA of America is delighted that women’s golf will take center stage at such a storied and breathtaking venue. The prospect of inspiring women and girls to play the game, while vying for the attainable dream of competing at Augusta National Golf Club just prior to the Masters, will serve as special inspiration for the players as they compete for their chance at golf history.”
Provided she remains an amateur, the 2019 Augusta National Women’s Amateur Champion will receive an invitation to the next five Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championships, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open, the 2019 Women’s British Open and any USGA, R&A and PGA of America amateur championships for which she is eligible for one year. If a junior is the champion, she will receive an exemption into the Girls Junior PGA Championship.
The Likely Field
College athletes no doubt will make up a substantial part of the field at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, giving them a chance to accomplish something rare as well as providing attendees and viewers a new opportunity to see a collection of the nation’s top college performers.
“We are very supportive of the event, as it provides significant exposure to what should be a very deep collegiate field,” said Roger M. Yaffe, executive director of the Women’s Golf Coaches Association, formed in 1983 to promote women’s intercollegiate golf. “Having received this level of recognition from Augusta National and the parties involved with the event boosts the growth of college golf.”
“I think the tournament will be very important for a number of reasons, one being that it will provide an additional reason for players to remain amateur,” Yaffe added.
The Eyes of the Golf World are on Augusta National
Julie Garner, director of golf and head women’s golf coach at Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida, is among those who have great interest in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur and in seeing it grow in future years. A member of the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018, Garner is in a unique position to assess the significance of the new event.
“The tournament will be fantastic for women’s amateur golf, a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity to play an incredible venue in a worldwide first-class event,” she said.
With an eye on the college calendar, Garner does have her concerns: The practice rounds will require players to miss class for several days during the week. Also, the tournament will take place shortly before semester exams and the collegiate regional and national golf championships. There may be a number of players forced to decide between participating in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur or in the NCAA Championships.
Yet, Garner said, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur occupies a unique place in the annals of golf history. “The benefits far outweigh the costs,” she said. “I find it hard to believe someone would turn down an invitation.”
One of the young women slated to take the green is our cover model for this issue, Lucy Li, the youngest qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Open, in which she participated in at ages 10 and 11 respectively. She will face off against Dixie Amateur champion Alexa Pano, who narrowly defeated Li last summer in the semifinals of the 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. Other players include Isabella Fierro, winner of the 2017 Mexican Amateur Championship and the 2017 North South Amateur Championship, and Natalie Srinivasan, the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Year.
The Larger Picture
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur is the newest spoke in a wheel that is turning women’s participation in golf into an increasingly welcome phenomenon. The spirit of golf has been evolving into one of inclusivity and engagement, not only to grow the game, but also to embrace equal opportunity in a more meaningful and long-lasting way.
New opportunities for female golfers abound. Examples include the national Drive, Chip & Putt Championships, the First Tee youth development program, initiatives by the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program, the inclusion of women in the Arnold Palmer Cup for collegiate golfers and more.
Women’s golf is finding support from all corners. And none is more significant than the home to “Ámen Corner”—Augusta National.