published Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Honors for USGA seniors

A big birthday celebration awaits the USGA's Senior Women's Amateur Championship, which now is as old as its youngest participant.

The 50th version of the national tournament is being held at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, the late Jack Lupton's spectacular shrine to amateur golf. The tournament begins with stroke play Sept. 10-11, and the 64 women with the best scores will move on to match play that ends Sept. 15.

One of the 132 entrants is Maggie Scott of Charleston, Tenn. She wasn't present Tuesday for the media opportunity at the course, but Robyn Puckett of Irvine, Calif., was. This will be her seventh Senior Women's Amateur and her 10th USGA national tournament, and she and her husband, Bernard, are Honors members who regularly visit for about 10 days in the late spring and early fall.

"This is just a very, very special place," she said.

She is a native of Australia and the reigning Australian Senior champion. About a month and a half ago, she invited the reigning U.S. senior amateur champion, Mina Hardin of Fort Worth, Texas, to the Honors for three days of play. They met as members together at The Palms Golf Club in LaQuinta, Calif., and regularly play together in a two-ball event in Florida.

Hardin was duly impressed by the site of her national title defense.

"It demands that you be patient and hit good shots," Hardin said Tuesday by teleconference. "It can be tricky. The greens are very nice, but they have very subtle breaks. You have to be careful or you can get in trouble, but there are some holes where you can make birdies."

She said she expected to be able to use her driver more at the Honors than she did in winning last year at Fiddlesticks Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla. The first female citizen of Mexico to win a USGA national title, she won in her first try at the senior level after a couple of near-misses in the U.S. Women's Amateur. Her husband of 29 years was her caddie and will be so again this year.

Like tournament co-chairman Betty Probasco, who at age 81 had the best score Tuesday (74, net 67), Sarah Ingram of Nashville is in the Honors Circle outside the clubhouse. At 45 she is not eligible yet for the senior event, but she won three Women's Mid-Amateur titles in four years in the early 1990s and was on two Curtis Cup teams, including the one that tied Britain-Ireland 9-9 at the Honors in 1994.

Ingram's husband is an Honors member and they've made the club their anniversary destination a couple of times.

Even aside from the "beautifully conditioned, challenging" course with "incredible views," she said "the club in general will be the best thing for the players. It's a great golf course, and the people -- the staff and members -- make you feel like a new member of their family."

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