Augusta National Women’s Amateur has golfing conflicts, but it’s a start

Women will compete in a tournament at Augusta National for the first time this week.
(Jason Gatz / Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

On Saturday, one woman will be the first to hear her name announced as a competitor on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club.

Women will walk into Amen Corner and ponder their club selection in the tricky breeze at the par-three 12th hole and traverse the Hogan Bridge to cross Rae’s Creek.

They will stand in awe of the beauty of the azaleas and dogwoods that dwarf them on the 13th green.


They will hear roars from the gallery that have echoed for men through the pines for more than 80 years.

As they experience it, millions will be watching on television.

None of this has happened before in competition, thus drawing the assessment of World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam that this week’s inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA) is “a milestone in the game.”

Women have been playing as guests at Augusta National for decades. It has been seven years since the first two women were accepted as members. But there has never been an official tournament for women played at the site of the Masters, and that is about to change.

Seventy-two amateur women, ages 14 to 24 and representing 25 countries, have been invited to play in a 54-hole tournament that begins Wednesday at the private Champions Retreat Golf Club, north of Augusta in Evans, Ga.

Nancy Lopez, Gerri Willis, Sierra Brooks and Maria Fassi during an interview at the New York Stock Exchange for the Augusta National Women's Amateur press tour on March 27 in New York.
(Adam Hunger / Getty Images)

Following two rounds there, the final round for the 30 players who made the cut will be played Saturday at Augusta National, with the final three hours televised by NBC.

On Friday, the entire field will participate in a practice round on the most iconic layout in America, if not the world. Most will be stepping onto the grounds for the first time.

It is a watershed moment in golf of which few dreamed before Augusta’s freshly installed chairman, Fred Ridley, announced it at least year’s Masters.

“I wanted to do this, and I wanted to do it here,” Ridley said last April. “I thought for us to have the greatest impact on women’s golf that we needed to be committed to do it here at Augusta National.”

The seventh edition of the Drive, Chip and Putt for girls and boys, ages 7-15, will be held at Augusta on Sunday. Somewhat controversially, the LPGA Tour’s first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, begins Thursday in Rancho Mirage. All will be televised nationally.

“This is the epitome of girl power, right?” said Megan Mahoney, the executive director for San Diego County Junior Golf Association and the tournament director for the IMG Academy Junior World Championships, in which a number of the Augusta competitors have played.

“For our sport, and in the world of women, there is so much going on right now. There’s a global effort to make things fair, whether it’s in women’s sports, like the U.S. women’s national team’s fight for equal pay, or the social media movement.

“Golf isn’t the biggest thing that gets attention, and I’m sure there’s lots of people in society who have no clue about this event. But for our community, it’s a big, big deal.”

Mahoney said she had the thrill of attending the Masters for the first time last year and was there to revel in the announcement of the ANWA.

“Words don’t do it justice — just like with the property itself,” Mahoney said of the Augusta National Golf Club. “The first word that came out of my mouth was: jealous. I am so jealous of these women. I am beyond excited for them. It’s long overdue.”

The women who qualified for this first AWNA did so through the World Amateur Golf Rankings, or with victories in prestigious events such as the U.S. and British women’s amateur championships, and the U.S. Girls’ Junior. The top 30-ranked Americans not otherwise qualified were invited, and the field further filled with the next top 30 players, regardless of country.

There are six Southern Californians in the field: Alyaa Abdulghany, (Newport Beach), Zoe Campos (Valencia), Stephanie Lau (Fullerton), Haley Moore (Escondido), Brooke Seay (San Diego), and Rose Zhang (Irvine).

The current world No. 1 is Jennifer Kupcho, a Wake Forest senior from Colorado who originally didn’t think she’d play in the ANWA because she was going to turn pro last summer. She changed her mind, stayed for one last college year, and tops the field at Augusta this week.

Kupcho has played Augusta before with her Wake Forest teammates, but few in the field can say the same. There are some who admit they haven’t watched much of the Masters before and don’t know the intricacies of the course as well as some armchair fanatics.

Paige Mackenzie, a former LPGA player who will be a commentator for Golf Channel and NBC this week, said some girls didn’t pay much attention because they never thought they’d have the opportunity to play Augusta.

“Unlike a lot of boys growing up,” she said, “I don’t think women are quite as inclined to watch every single round of the Masters and have in their mind how they want to play it and where the holes are located.

“Young boys do that, and I don’t think young girls are quite as apt to prepare that way.”

She said playing Augusta with only one practice round would be “guesswork.”

It is expected that the women will play Augusta from the members’ tees at just over 6,200 yards. The yardage for the Masters is more than 1,000 yards longer.

In this inaugural year, at least, the amateur women get one official round at Augusta National, seen by some as a curious choice. There will be women who don’t make the cut and play the Friday practice round knowing they won’t get the thrill of competing.

“It’s kind of a weird format,” said Seay, the San Diegan who is Stanford-bound next fall.

LPGA Tour player Danielle Kang, speaking last week at the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, compared it to lipping out an eagle putt and making birdie. Good, she said, but not fully satisfying.

“I’m bummed about that, to be quite honest,” Kang said, “but I think it’s still a great thing we’re breaking down barriers and having the event there.”

The LPGA Tour and its players have mixed feeling about the ANWA.

Scheduling the event against the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration is troublesome, pitting the two against each other and opening comparisons of exposure and TV ratings. There will be fewer reporters in the ANA media this week because regulars on the LPGA beat have been pulled to cover Augusta.

The ANA essentially is the LPGA’s Masters, played annually on the Mission Hills Dinah Shore Course, with lore that dates to the game’s pioneers and the signature jump by the winner into Poppie’s Pond.

For this year, there was little each tournament could do to remedy the conflict. With the LPGA’s 10-year contract with the Golf Channel expiring at the end of this year, the most likely solution will be for the LPGA to move up its current pre-Masters tournament dates by at least a week.

LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan declined interviews leading up to the ANWA, instead issuing a statement that read, in part: “We have a real opportunity to make the week prior to the Masters a celebration of women’s golf unlike anything we have experienced. Navigating multiple opportunities for women’s golf is a good issue to tackle.”

LPGA Tour player Stacy Lewis said last week at the Kia, “There’s good and bad to it. I think for women’s golf moving forward it’s a great thing.

“I would have loved to see all three rounds at Augusta National. I would have loved to see it at a different time of year. A lot of these women are in their college season and being taken away from their teams. They’re missing tournaments to play in this.”

With one big innovation comes more dreaming. Know what the LPGA players are thinking?

“I hope one day,” Kang said, “there is a women’s Masters.”