Preparations for the upcoming U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship at Pine Needles are heading down the homestretch.
The second U.S. Senior Women’s Open is less than two months away. It begins May 13 with practice rounds, followed by the four-day championship that tees off May 16.
The USGA presented a championship preview Monday at Pine Needles that included a panel discussion and an appearance by defending champion Laura Davies.
The panel discussion featured pros Donna Andrews and Cathy Johnston-Forbes, along with the late Peggy Kirk Bell’s daughters Bonnie McGowan and Peggy Miller.
The inaugural winner of the newest USGA championship that was held at Chicago Golf Club last year, Davies thought the event got off to a rousing start.
“It was great,” said Davies. “It was nice that us pros were still going to get a USGA event and compete at the very highest level. I thought it was just nice that near the end of my career I had the chance to do this. … It was so special as soon as we got there. It couldn’t have been a better week.”
Davies, who at 55 still competes on the LPGA Tour, powered past the field last year, winning by 10 strokes over runner-up Juli Inkster. When it was pointed out to her the history of repeat champions in USGA events at Pine Needles, Davies drew laughs from the crowd when she said, “I like the way you’re thinking. I hope we keep that tradition alive.”
The tradition held true in two of the three U.S. Women’s Opens held at Pine Needles. In 1996 at Pine Needles, Annika Sorenstam repeated as Open champ and in 2001 Karrie Webb did the same.
Competitors might want to be a bit wary of Davies’ chance to repeat.
“It’s a course I’m going to really like,” she said.
During the panel discussion, much of the talk focused on the Donald Ross course, especially since the course is not the same as it was in the three previous U.S. Women’s Opens. The course was restored by Kyle Franz in 2017.
“We had aerial shots of the course,” said Miller about the restoration. “Our goal was to bring it back to its original state. Our intent was to bring it back to the way it was.”
With the restoration, Johnston-Forbes believes the course has grown more difficult.
“It’s a much tougher course now,” she said. “Especially some of the tee shots that you see. They look a lot different, at least to me.”
Andrews, who won six times on the LPGA tour, including a major, is now an instructor at Pine Needles. She was asked what is the secret to playing the course, a course known for its signature turtle-backed Ross greens.
“It’s the short game more than anything,” Andrews said. “It’s typical Donald Ross — hit it to the center of the green. If you’re going to miss the green miss it short. The greens are a lot firmer than they have been. Hit shorter shots into the green so they hold better for you. … It’s going to be a great challenge and a great place to hold such a wonderful event.”
And it’s an event, in its infancy, that the USGA is trying to grow. If the reaction to the first championship is any indication, the USGA is doing something right. Even Davies was amazed by the crowds in Chicago last year.
“I loved it,” said Davies. “I thought it was great fun because the galleries were quite big. I think it was a bit of a shock to everyone at how big the galleries were.”
One of the drawing cards for the event is the ability of the fans to get up close and personal with the players. The only area roped off will be the tees and greens, leaving fans the chance to walk the fairways with the pros.
“It was great to see so many fans out there watching golf,” said Andrews, who also competed at Chicago last year. “It’s a unique experience at the Senior Open to walk down those fairways.”
Tickets to the championship are $20 for any one day session (Thursday through Sunday) and a weekly package is $70 (Thursday through Sunday). There are also several other packages available, including one that allows a fan to get tickets to attend both the Senior Women’s Open and the U.S. Amateur that is scheduled to be held at Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 4 in August.
For more information, go to the website usga.org.