In June the U.S. Women's Open will be played at Pinehurst No. 2, right after the men are there. In 2017 the women are headed to Trump National in the New Jersey horse country. The schedule is wide open after that. So how about Augusta National for '18?
The Right Rev. William Porter Payne has made admirable efforts to spread the word of golf. The Augusta National chairman has started the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin American Amateur. This Sunday, he is opening the course to a kids' competition. As Atlanta's point man for the 1996 Olympics and not yet an Augusta member, he talked to the club's chairman, Jack Stephens, about the National as a possible venue for an Olympic golf tournament, for men and women. Stephens liked the idea, even though it died at city hall in Atlanta.
Well, a U.S. Women's Open at Augusta National would be a spectacular grow-the-game opportunity. And hugely fun.
When Annika Sorenstam played with the men at Colonial in 2003, millions of ordinary sports fans were introduced to her. Just one Open at Augusta National will introduce tens of millions of people from around the world to this dynamic period in women's golf, with rising talents like 16-year-old Lydia Ko, established stars like Inbee Park and legends like Karrie Webb all at it hard. You could set the course up at 6,400 yards and have the two back-nine par-5s reachable for at least half the field. Good times.
Augusta (the city) has a rich history of women's golf. From 1937 through '66, with a three-year interruption because of World War II, one of the most important tournaments in the women's game, the Titleholders, was held at Augusta Country Club. Mickey Wright teed it up annually in her prime and won twice. One year she was invited to play next door, at Augusta National.
"Back in 1958, Betsy Rawls and I had the pleasure of playing the course," Wright, a four-time Open champ, wrote in a recent email. "A day I shall never forget. Cliff Roberts drove Bobby Jones out to watch us play a couple of holes. Never been so nervous in my life. That day is one that if there were bucket lists back then, would have fulfilled a big part of mine."
So that we in the vanguard know what we are up against, I must include Wright's next part: "Of course being the old fogey that I am, I think Augusta National should be for the Masters only." Lots of others, including many Augusta National members, surely share that view. Well, these people need to be turned around. Mr. Payne is the key.
In this campaign we will accentuate the positive and find supporters where we can. David Fay, the former USGA executive director, is a believer. Give a listen: "I wish I could say this is not a pipe dream, but I fear it is." See that use of the word fear? That says to me Fay likes the idea. Tell the chairman, sir! Gary Player sees the merit too. Last week the three-time Masters winner said it would be "wonderful" and "fantastic" for Augusta National to host a major event for women (or, for that matter, seniors and amateurs). "This is not completely out of the realm of possibility," Player said. Encouraging. He will surely remind the Hon. Mr. Payne, as he did me, that Augusta hosted the Senior PGA Championship in 1937 and '38. If Jones and Roberts, as president and chairman, could sign off on those events, W.P. Payne, Esq., can surely sign off on a U.S. Women's Open. Right?
A spokesman for the chairman said he was not available to discuss the matter. I think we all know what that means: This brilliant man, an activist but still a traditionalist, was in the Crow's Nest, communing with Bobby Jones on the details.
In the meantime, picture this. It's Thursday morning, May 31, 2018, mellow and warm. Darla Moore, in her green member's jacket, pairings sheet in hand, stands on the 1st tee, and in her lilting voice she announces, "Fore, please, Pornanong Phatlum now driving."