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When the USGA announced last year that the 2023 U.S. Senior Women’s Open would be played at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore., Lara Tennant knew the phone calls, emails and in-person requests would soon start coming her way.
She was right, and they haven’t stopped since – all from potential competitors seeking a sneak peek at the place where she’s been a member for 28 years and won 11 club championships. Her father learned to play the game here, as did her own kids; her husband grew up in a house overlooking the 12th hole. “It’s home to us,” Tennant said. The winner of three consecutive U.S. Senior Women’s Amateurs, Tennant will be an unofficial but enthusiastic host at the 5th U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which she has played in each year since its 2018 debut at Chicago Golf Club, where Tennant recorded the first hole-in-one in championship annals.
“During last year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open (at NCR Country Club in Ohio, where she finished 28th), I talked with some pros about visiting,” said Tennant. “I’m happy to accommodate anyone I can. I am so proud of our club hosting this championship. It’s such a tribute to Waverley and its commitment to women’s golf and the USGA.”
Few clubs in the Pacific Northwest, or the country, can match Waverley’s rich history, which dates to 1896. Overlooking the Willamette River 6 miles south of downtown Portland, it’s the oldest private club in Oregon, and the second-oldest west of the Mississippi River. A tradition of hosting high-level amateur golf began in 1897 with the club’s own Blyth Tournament (now itself the oldest amateur tournament west of the Mississippi). The winner has received a green jacket since 1930, an idea perhaps noticed by Bob Jones, who played the course later that decade and established his own green jacket tradition in 1949 at the Masters.
In 1903, Waverley became a USGA member club, and an impressive national championship pedigree commenced with the 1952 U.S. Women’s Amateur, won by Jackie Pung. Next came the 1964 U.S. Senior Amateur, where William Higgins defeated Waverley member Ed Murphy in the final match.
At the 1970 U.S. Amateur (the sixth of eight years when the championship format was 72 holes of stroke play), Lanny Wadkins edged Tom Kite by one stroke. In 1981, Juli Inkster captured the second of her three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur titles at Waverley, while Tiger Woods won his third consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur here in 1993.
In 2000, Marcy Newton won the 100th U.S. Women’s Amateur to go with her 1995 U.S. Girls’ Junior victory. And in 2017, Judith Kyrinis of Canada captured the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. This year Waverley becomes only the third club, alongside Oakmont Country Club and Merion Golf Club, to host a USGA championship in every decade since the 1950s.
“It’s a shot-maker’s golf course,” Kyrinis said of Waverley, an H. Chandler Egan design that received a thorough restoration by Gil Hanse in 2012. “You can’t hide out there. You can’t let down anywhere. You have to have your wits about you and think your way around.”
“You really need to know where to miss your approach shot,” Tennant noted. “There are certain bunkers you want to avoid. And putting is key. Our greens are the course’s best defense – you have to be putting well.”
Tennant breaks down the layout into four distinct sections. “The first four holes you have to stay steady and get your pars,” she said. “Nos. 5 and 6 are birdieable holes where you can be more aggressive. I consider 10, 11 and 12 our own Amen Corner and similar to the first four holes, where you need to be a little more conservative and not make any major mistakes. Then from 13 on you can really score well. I can see people coming in with some good scores over the last six holes.” That closing stretch includes the downhill par-3 16th, followed by two par 5s bordered by the Willamette River on the right.
The 2023 U.S. Senior Women’s Open co-chair, David Jacobsen, grew up playing at the club with his brother Peter, a seven-time PGA Tour winner and the 2004 U.S. Senior Open champion. David believes the key to success is not trying to overwhelm a course that many mistakenly feel is gettable.
“You need the patience to play the shot presented, put your ball in the appropriate place on the green, and also understand that you may not be able to go at every flagstick,” he said. “A lot of players come to Waverley and think, ‘Oh my gosh, look at the length (5,836 yards for the 2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur; 6,668 yards from the tips), I’m going to overwhelm this place.’ But the scores never reflect that.”
The Senior Women’s Open will be Tennant’s third USGA championship on her home course after the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. She was stroke-play co-medalist in the latter before losing in the first round of match play. Her roots run so deep here that when applying to host the latter championship, a club representative called her to confirm that she would be age-eligible (50) if it came to Waverley in 2017. She was, and it did.
“I will never forget that phone call,” she said. “Waverley has always been so supportive of my golf. I had to qualify for that championship here. That was probably the most difficult round of golf in my entire life. People just assumed I was already in. Not only did I want to make that championship, I think the entire membership wanted me to make it. Once I made it, everything was icing on the cake.”
It’s clear that playing host to amateur championships is baked into the club’s DNA. “It’s a part of what we called our legacy of 100 years, and we’re now at 127 years, where we hope to host a USGA championship once every decade,” Jacobsen said. “It’s a sense of responsibility that club members have, and it’s a distinction and honor that we enjoy.”
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in both Golf Journal and USGA websites.