Where Legends Are Made

Published on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018 in Features

Rosie Jones

You don’t have to walk The Legends Tour players through the state of Washington’s history as a reliable friend of women’s golf — they’re well aware of that first Women’s Open, and our history of great players. Indeed, many of them have first-hand experience, having played in the Safeco Classic at Meridian Valley from 1982-99. Legends Tour members who are past Safeco Classic champions include three-time winner Sheehan (1982, ’90, ’95), Inkster (1983, ’88), Brandie Burton (1993), Bradley (1991), Stephenson (1987), Judy Dickinson (1986) and Carner (1985).

“I won my 29th event at Meridian Valley after a playoff with Rosie Jones,” Bradley recalled. “At that time, you needed 30 to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame. That helped me get into the Hall of Fame, so I’ve always had a soft spot for Seattle. Now, we get back to playing in front of those great people again.”

Bradley added that she was at Sahalee Country Club in 2016 when it hosted the KPMG Women’s LPGA Championship, where she welcomed Inbee Park into the Hall of Fame. With that tournament, Park earned enough career points to become the 25th member of the Hall. The Sahalee event also is remembered for its Executive Women’s Conference, a luncheon that featured prominent female executives discussing ways to encourage and empower women in business.

Another prominent Seattle area golf course, Chambers Bay, which hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 U.S. Open, also has intentions of hosting an LPGA major, which would be the third in state history.

“Seattle has been on our radar for 10 years,” says Blalock, who runs The Legends Tour. “Everyone loved going to Seattle.”

The historic commitment of the state to host events such as the U.S. Women’s Open, the Safeco Classic and Sahalee’s LPGA major, contributed to the Legends Tour stop.

“Northwest golf fans, men and women, have always been great supporters of women’s golf,” Bradley said. “That’s the reason why the Seattle area looked at having us back.

“I’ve always enjoyed watching Fred Couples,” she added. “He’s from that area, as is one of the greatest women’s golfers ever to play our game, JoAnne Carner. I know she’s looking forward to playing in front of Seattle fans again.”

Despite a struggle to regain her game after recent hip surgery, Carner said she will take part in the White Horse event. How could she miss it?

“I won the Safeco in 1986 [sic]. It’s always fun to come there,” says Carner, who now calls Florida home but still has plenty of family members in the area. “There are so many great courses around there, and scenery. I’m looking outside right now at a palm tree, not a 100-foot high fir tree.”

Carner is the one woman in the field who most appreciates how far women have come to earn these competitive benefits, albeit late in the game for many LPGA veterans. Her career began on the Seattle public links courses such as Jefferson Park, Jackson and Fircrest. After the aforementioned stellar amateur career, she turned pro in 1970 and won more than $2.9 million in a career that spanned 35 years.

“That takes a long time to add up,” says Carner, who took home winner’s checks as little as $1,500 and $3,000. “These young, healthy LPGA players now make almost as much in one year as I made in a career.”

Carner recalls that early LPGA players sometimes had to use their cars as locker rooms, because there was no women’s clubhouse and the men’s facilities were off-limits. Pro-am events are customarily held on Wednesdays, but there were times when they were cancelled because they conflicted with men’s day at the club.

Collectively, the women worked together to improve their conditions. The tour hired a full-time agronomist to prepare the courses ahead of the event, a club repair trailer followed the schedule, courtesy cars were available — even a surgeon was put on retainer.

“We may have started the fitness thing first. Dinah Shore helped in that area,” Carner says. “We were the first to set up a retirement plan. I think the men looked at ours before they set up theirs.”

That kind of cooperative effort to improve the LPGA Tour and the conditions for women golfers served as a guiding force in formulating The Legends Tour. Women supporting women has been crucial in the effort, but Carner said men have also played a significant role. She estimates a typical gallery at a Legends Tour event is usually 40-percent men, at least.

“We’ve always drawn a lot of men, because women’s swings are slower,” Carner says. “They can see a good golf swing. They can break it down more and relate to it better. These women can still hit it 290 yards while not swinging as hard. What guy does that, unless you’re a young one?”

Bradley’s nephew is Keegan Bradley, a 10-year veteran on the PGA Tour. She agrees with Carner “100 percent” that the women are more interesting to watch.

“When my nephew, Keegan, plays in the Pro-Am, he’s back at the farthest tee,” Bradley says. “The guys are right with us, on the same tee, in our Pro-Ams. There’s a lot more interaction. They see the actual swing, up close. Keegan is 150 yards back and you can’t see much of his swing, because it’s so fast.”

Liselotte Neumann

What the Legends Tour and the Women’s Senior Open have essentially done is create a new era for the women’s game. Everything old is new again. There are opportunities to interact with the fans again, to renew friendships and rivalries, and draw out their competitive juices.

Yet, for many of the biggest names expected at White Horse — Bradley, Carner, Inkster and others — what was gained can’t really be attained. A U.S. Open championship, which they fought so long and hard to achieve, is likely out of reach for these over-60 veterans. As the standard for a USGA tournament, the Women’s Open will be contested over 72 holes, played over four days, with no carts allowed. They’ll need to walk every day in the steamy, Midwest, mid-July weather. Most likely, one of the younger players just making the jump from the LPGA Tour will take home the title.

Their generation has done so much to build the game and pave the way for another generation of stars, but now that they finally have the championship they’ve worked so hard to achieve, they’re at an age and level in the game that makes a run at the trophy unrealistic.

It’s an obvious question to ask … “Do you ever feel like you were born too early?”

“I don’t think so,” Bradley says. “[Women’s golf] has been transformed into a global game. It’s…grown in so many countries. I’ve taken the sport to the highest level. The game has given me so much more than I can repay it.

“I have no regrets.”

Bob Sherwin is a veteran of The Seattle Times and The New York Times, a frequent contributor to Cascade Golfer, and the co-publisher of GolfersWest.com. He last wrote about the struggles facing family-owned golf courses in the April 2017 CG.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Cascade Golfer magazine. To find out how you can receive Cascade Golfer, click here.

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One Response to “Where Legends Are Made”

  1. regina reale Says:

    I am so excited to be a volunteer for the Legends tournament. I’ve missed the LPGA coming to our area since THE Safeco Classic was pulled from our area. I volunteered every year at that tournament. Womens golf is as important as Mens and should be supported equally in this area and all over the country. Here is to a great tournament in June.

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