AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | After the unexpected announcement Wednesday morning that Augusta National will host a women’s amateur invitational tournament that will conclude at the club on the Saturday before the Masters beginning in 2019, Annika Sörenstam considered the impact of the new event on young female players.
“As a little girl knowing I might have the chance to play on the biggest stage here, that would have gotten me to the range,” Sorenstam said.
“This is a dream come true.”
Cast against where Augusta National found itself 15 years ago – caught in a public relations battle related to the absence of female club members – the announcement by new chairman Fred Ridley is of profound significance.
For a famously private club, the addition of the new event further expands the club’s investment in cultivating the game. Five years ago, Augusta National created the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship that culminates on the Sunday before the Masters and has become a showcase for junior golfers.
In creating a women’s amateur event that is expected to be televised and have a limited number of tickets available, the club under Ridley’s direction is creating an opportunity for the top amateur players in the fastest growing segment of the golf market.
It also reconfirms the club’s commitment to amateur golf, which was at the heart of creator Bobby Jones’ vision. The event – the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship – will join the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin American Amateur as signature events presented by the club.
“I think focusing on amateur golf is consistent with our history, with our founder, our co-founder, Bobby Jones,” Ridley said Wednesday in his first news conference as chairman. “We also feel that that is the way that we can make the greatest impact in growing the game, and in this particular instance the women’s game.
“So we thought that was the better way to go and the better use of our resources. But having said that, I think over time that this will also be of great benefit to the women’s professional game as well.”
The event will be a 54-hole, stroke-play tournament with the first two rounds being played at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta. It will feature a 72-player field of invited amateurs with the low 30 advancing to play the final round at Augusta National on Saturday.
Asked if the champion will receive a green jacket, Ridley said the winner instead will receive a “distinctive” trophy.
The tournament dates will coincide with the ANA Inspiration, the first major championship in the women’s game. Ridley said he has talked with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan about the date and neither sees a serious conflict.
While Ridley acknowledged the club continues to closely monitor issues related to distance in the modern game, he made creating the new event a priority upon assuming his new position.
“I met with our senior staff in October and said that I thought that this was the right time to do this,” he said. “It was the right time for the women’s game. I wanted to do this, and I wanted to do it here. 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, and I also wanted to be able to tell all of you about it today.
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“So that was a pretty tall order to be given just five months ago. But in characteristic ways that our staff responds, they took that and were committed to be in the position for us to talk about this today. So we’re looking forward to this event next year.”
As Ridley made his announcement, approximately two dozen club members were on hand including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“I was thrilled when (Ridley) mentioned it,” Rice said. “It’s a superb, superb opportunity. What a great idea.”
WATCH FRED RIDLEY’S FULL ADDRESS: