For the fourth consecutive time, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open goes to a venue with long ties to the USGA. First it was Chicago Golf Club, then Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club and last year’s host, Brooklawn Country Club. Now the championship is on the South Course at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio. And with astonishing swiftness, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open has become part of the passion that drives golf fans.
Each of those iconic golf courses have produced memorable champions: U.S. Women’s Open winner Laura Davies in Chicago, two-time U.S. Women’s Open runner-up Helen Alfredsson at Pine Needles and three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Annika Sorenstam at Brooklawn. This year, from newcomers Brandi Burton, a former winner of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship who turned 50 in January, to 83-year-old legend JoAnne Carner, an eight-time USGA champion, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open is once again a celebration of history while primarily a compelling competition.
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When Annika Sorenstam showed up at Brooklawn last year, she had not played in a USGA championship for 13 years. In fact, she had barely competed at all, focusing on raising her two children and, with her husband Mike, building her brand as a businesswoman. But Annika being Annika, she worked hard to get ready, and the result was an dominant eight-stroke victory. The question now is whether anyone can beat her at NCR.
A victory would be Sorenstam’s fifth in a USGA Open, tying her with Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin for the most all-time. As for challengers, Laura Davies still hits the ball a mile; Juli Inkster is motivated by the fact that a victory would add her to the list of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, JoAnne Carner and Carol Semple Thompson as players with wins in three different USGA championships. A triumph would do the same for Pat Hurst, and Alfredsson and Trish Johnson also loom as contenders. The stage is set for an intense week.
When the U.S. Women’s Open was played at NCR in 1986, the Dayton area was hit with an array of natural and man-made disasters that would seem like a stretch even for a movie script: A toxic waste spill, powerful storms and power outages, an earthquake and, literally, a plague of locusts. In the end, Jane Geddes won in an 18-hole playoff with Sally Little, outlasting a final top-10 that included Ayako Okamoto, Amy Alcott, Betsy King and Pat Bradley – all of whom are now in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Of those who played at NCR in 1986, 14 are competing this year: Alcott, Danielle Ammaccapane, Barb Bunkowsky, Carner, Davies, Jamie Fischer, Tammie Green, Inkster, Rosie Jones, Anne Marie Palli, Michele Redman, Hollis Stacy, Jan Stephenson and Geddes. Talk to them now and they look back on 1986 with a fond smile. They also look ahead to the challenges NCR presents this week and will surely have their game faces on, just like 36 years ago.
The South Course at NCR Country Club is a demanding test that will play about 6,100 yards this week to a par of 73, with five par fives. For many in the field, the par fours will require a hybrid or fairway wood for the approach to the green. “This course asks everything of the player,” said the USGA’s Shannon Rouillard, who is in charge of course setup for the championship. “Accuracy off the tee, a strong short game and thinking through your strategy. This is an impressive set of greens. NCR is going to demand mental and physical stamina in all parts of this test.”
Hopefully, there won’t be locusts or an earthquake. What we do know is that 120 players are going to be tested by a great golf course, and come Sunday, one of them will be raising the trophy on the 18th green.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites and publications.