Ode to municipal courses — Annika Sorenstam’s winning press conference — Must-click women’s golf links

The IX: Golf Thursday with Sarah Kellam, August 5, 2021

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An ode to munis

We spend a lot of time talking about making golf more accessible and are constantly worried about “growing the game” in every way we possibly can. Yes, we want more women and people of color to play the sport. Yes, we want every person no matter their income level to have a chance to pick up a club. Yes, we are willing to do whatever it takes for the longevity and health of golf, particularly in the twilight years of Tiger Woods’ career. But, we don’t often consider how exactly we get there.

Junior clinics and ladies’ days certainly help, as do organizations that promote youth participation like the First Tee and PGA Junior League. However, there are other avenues that provide people that may not otherwise have the chance the opportunity to tee it up, effectively fostering a lifelong love of the game for many, something that is absolutely critical to golf at the moment. 

I’ve always said that it’s the down-home driving ranges and no-dress-code municipal golf courses that keep our sport going. It’s not that we don’t need the upper-echelon country clubs or elite public facilities that are so classically associated with the game. They have their place and fill a role as well—in their own way.

But, it’s the judgment-free, come-as-you-are style of the local par threes and pitch-and-putts that make golf feel friendly, inviting, and, most importantly, fun. With very few rules regarding proper attire and personal coolers that typically make golf seem stuffy, it’s the places that welcome jean shorts and BYOB rounds that are propelling engagement, encouraging those to play that may have previously deemed the game too formal to grab a club and swing away.

I had an experience recently that proves this point and got me thinking about how people come to play and love the game. 

After driving over to the U.S. Women’s Amateur from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, I decided that I wanted to find somewhere to play, itching to hit a few balls after watching Annika dominantly win at Brooklawn. I settled on Maple Moor Golf Course in White Plains, New York because one, it was cheap and two, it looked easily walkable. 

As is the standard for a single, I was paired up with an older father and son, both of whom weren’t the most skilled players. It took 6 to 8 shots for each to reach the green on pretty much every single hole and while it didn’t bother me in the slightest that they struggled to keep the ball in play, I had to wonder how they would’ve felt playing anywhere but a public, county-owned facility. It’s likely that Tim and Chris, intimidated by the seriousness of a country club and all its rules and regulations, wouldn’t tee it up as much nor have as much fun as they did that day playing a twilight nine, freely enjoying themselves on the golf course. 

That two hour round reminded me that, while we get so caught up in how to grow the game from a diversity and numbers perspective, palpable growth happens at courses like Maple Moor where golfers are more able to focus on enjoying the walk instead of what they shoot or what they wear. 

Golf desperately needs facilities with fewer rules and fewer dress codes if we want to see more people get involved. Things are much different than they used to be, but we still have a long way to go in terms of having fun with it. 

Places like your local short course or rundown driving range or government-run muni may not appear to be ripe with untapped growth potential. But, it’s at those kinds of facilities—where people feel openly welcomed to just flat out have a blast—that the game of golf can truly flourish. And, in the long run, keeping people swinging is the most important thing.

This week in women’s golf

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Tweets of the Week

Five at The IX: Annika Sorenstam’s winning press conference at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open

Try to put this moment into words.

It’s really hard to describe. I think the joy and the happy tears, the moments, the journey, the shots, the friends, the family, everything has been great. When we came here, we saw you about a month ago, and I just loved the place from the start. To come here, we stayed with some great friends around the corner. Things have kind of just been lining up. Everything felt so good, and then obviously you have to go out there and finish it up, and today I really felt like I played very, very well. To come in here on Sunday knowing what I had to do and I did it, obviously, I’m very happy.

You see those moments more so on the men’s side where they get to have their family out there. Likely when you retired you didn’t know you were going to have this type of moment, so talk about that.

It’s very different to share it with your loved ones, and I’m talking about immediate family with the kids and what we have gone through the last, whatever, almost 12 years. And it’s been a lot of good stuff, but still, just to kind of have them walk here, walk the fairways, see what I do for a living and see what it takes to get there, and to be able to share it with them as I said out there, this is a totally family affair in a lot of ways. It’s a commitment from all of us.

When I turned 50 we had a discussion. I said, Do you want to see mama play? And they said, Yeah, we want to see mama play. I said, you know, To do that I have to put in some time. You just can’t go out there and compete like with the women out here. They have seen me hitting the balls, they’ve seen me make some putts, they’ve seen me drive it, and go out there and really put sweat and tears into it, so it’s really paid off. I obviously want to thank them because without them this would not really happen. It’s certainly a team effort.

This victory gets you into the U.S. Women’s Open next year at Pine Needles. Will we see you there?

You know, I’m not really sure. Obviously, I just want to enjoy this moment. Again, it’s been lots of months to prepare, lots of tournaments to play in to get ready for this. I’m still at a time in my life where my family comes first, and obviously my partners and some of the projects I have; I love to work on different things. To play in these big events just takes a lot of effort, so I want to continue to focus on my foundation, and we’ll see. One thing at a time, but it’s certainly been fun to be here.

Were you able to enjoy the walks up to each hole and the congratulatory claps more than in years past?

Absolutely. It was nice to have a little lead. It was nice to have a little buffer, just knowing there are some tough holes coming down the stretch. So yes, I enjoyed it, and just focusing on one shot at a time. I kept telling Mike, Let’s just hit one shot, let’s just see what happens. But certainly, when I came back there after when I made the putt on 16 I felt like this is a nice feeling. I started to look around a little bit, started to — but you can never really let off your guard here. It’s tough. I just said, I just want to continue. I’m not going to make any mistakes. But it sure was a nice walk on 18, I can tell you that.

This week you seemed to have a lot more fun with the fans, with the people around you than maybe you would have back in the day. How much has your perspective changed on that part of it?

There’s no doubt I’m in a different time in my life. I’m very happy with my family, and that’s what means the most. I have a distance now from golf. Every shot doesn’t mean as much as it used to, even though I care, but I know by the end of the day I’ve got them, I’ve got the support and I’m living my life. I’m not going to let shots bother me as much. I really enjoyed interacting with the fans the last 10 years or so with the Annika Foundation, just being with kids and remembering what it’s like to be in their shoes. I want them to see somebody who’s having fun do it. I want them to see that you can do that and you can enjoy what you’re doing. I have a passion for golf, I have a passion for competing, so it’s a lot easier.

Again, not feeling that super pressure that I did towards the end of my career where I felt like I always had to be at the top, it’s a lot more fun to go out there and not feel that you have to do something or otherwise something is wrong. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just playing the game of golf and we’re humans and we’re just going to try and enjoy it.

It seems like your children obviously enjoyed the moment on 18. If they asked you, Mom, please, I want to continue to watch you contend and win titles, would you reconsider and come back?

We’ll see. They know what it takes, and now it’s summer break, they can travel with me. But once school starts it’s going to be a little different, it’s going to be events for them. It’s volleyball, it’s going to be soccer. And Will has golf tournaments, so we’re back to the agenda that really matters. It’s going to be hard to do everything, even though I’m trying to juggle. Mike is a great dad and a great supporter in a lot of ways, but I can’t just disappear. You know what, it’s not that important to me anymore. I’ve done that, and if they can’t be part of it and it’s not something we agree on, then certainly won’t be. I look forward to putting on the mama hat this evening and then tomorrow morning I’ll put on the IGF hat, so there’s a lot of hats to wear, so I want to make sure I do them all right.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam, LPGA.com
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Sarah Kellam