Old Waverly return makes this Handa Cup special

WEST POINT, MS. – The ninth playing of the Handa Cup begins Saturday at a most appropriate location. Old Waverly Golf Club is the first site used for the LPGA Legends Tour’s premier team event that had previously hosted a U.S. Women’s Open.

Captain Nancy Lopez gathers her U.S. team at the Handa Cup’s opening ceremonies.

Old Waverly hosted the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open 11 years after opening its course, and owner George Bryan admitted at Thursday night’s opening ceremonies that “We feel we have an ongoing partnership with the LPGA. These players provide us inspiration.’’

The club’s enthusiasm for the Handa Cup showed in the nine months leading up to the big event. The club’s chairman, Rick Milburn, said that 111 sponsors, advertisers and contributors stepped forward and over 250 volunteers were projected to contribute over 7,000 hours to the staging of the event.

“Pretty impressive for West Point, Mississippi,’’ said Bryan, who was born in West Point.

Nancy Lopez, the U.S. captain, was in the foursome that played the ceremonial first round at Old Waverly in 1988. Her partners included Jerry Pate, the former U.S. Open champion who joined with Bob Cupp in the course design effort, and the late LPGA player Heather Farr.

The World (in blue) and U.S. (in red) get ready for battle.

“It was so exciting to know that we were coming back to Old Waverly for this event,’’ said Lopez. “Everyone has worked so hard to make this event one of the best Handa Cups ever. Old Waverly is a great place, and our players come from all over the world. This is the kind of competition you really want to watch.’’

Lopez and World team captain Sally Little introduced their 12-player teams during the well-attended opening ceremonies, which were held in the club’s English Garden prior to the dinner for participants in Friday’s Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Pro-Am.

Two of Lopez’ Handa Cup players finished one-two in the U.S. Women’s Open played at Old Waverly. That was an historic event on several fronts. Champion Juli Inkster posted a 16-under-par 272 score for 72 holes, which was six shots better than the previous tournament record for under-par scoring. The 272 also matched the stroke total record set by Annika Sorenstam three years earlier on a par-71 course. Old Waverly was a par-72 that played a 6,421 yards for its U.S. Women’s Open.

The word is out that the Handa Cup matches are a big deal.

Inkster’s closest challenger was Sherri Turner, who was five strokes back. During that tournament Inkster was 38 and Turner 42, so it was a battle of veterans. Inkster was also the first American to win since Patty Sheehan five years earlier.

That was Inkster’s first of two U.S. Women’s Open wins – she also was the 2002 champion – and the fourth of her seven titles in major tournaments. She would also win the LPGA Championship three weeks later.

Lopez was delighted that Inkster consented to be part of her team in her debut on the Legends circuit, which welcomes players who reach their 45th birthday. Lopez expected that Inkster would have good vibes about returning to the course where she posted such a big victory.

This unusual fountain is the centerpiece for Old Waverly’s English Garden.

“I love Juli Inkster, and I know she’ll have good feelings about that golf course,’’ said Lopez. “She killed us that year. She kicked our fannies all over the place.’’

Inkster and Turner weren’t the only Handa Cup participants who did well in that U.S. Women’s Open. Canadian Lorie Kane, a member of the World team, should have some good vibes coming into this Handa Cap as well. She was tied with Inkster after 36 holes in 1999 and remained a contender on the weekend, though Inkster’s lead never dropped to less than three strokes.

The U.S. takes a 6-1-1 edge into the ninth playing of the Handa Cup, but the World team won last year at Hermitage in Nashville, Tenn. Saturday’s schedule calls for best ball matches over nine holes in the morning and alternate shot matches over nine holes in the afternoon. The concluding 12 singles matches will be played on Sunday.

New finishing holes enhance Michigan’s Crooked Tree

PETOSKEY, MI. – Boyne Resorts may be best known for skiing nationwide, but golf has never been just an afterthought. That was clearly evident this season when Boyne undertook two major projects simultaneously on its Michigan courses.

Crooked Tree’s No. 16 offers a spectacular view of Little Traverse Bay from the tee. (All photos courtesy of Boyne Golf).
The bunkers on The Moor layout at Boyne Highlands Resort underwent an extensive renovation while nearby Crooked Tree Golf Club was given an even more noteworthy updating. The Crooked Tree project represents, arguably, the most significant work done in this golf –rich state in 2014. That’s saying something, since Michigan has over 800 public courses.

Crooked Tree’s original designer was Harry Bowers, his creation opening in 1991. Bowers has worked with Robert Trent Jones Sr., Raymond Floyd and Curtis Strange on various projects in addition to his own designs, which include Odyssey in Tinley Park, IL (done with Strange). It opened a year after Crooked Tree.

A good tee shot at No.16 will give you this approach to the green.

Plenty of players liked the challenges Crooked Tree presented, to say nothing of the scenic views it offered of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, but Bernie Friedrich, Boyne senior vice president of golf and retail operations, is quick to admit that all was not ideal with the original design.

There were issues with the three finishing holes. The well-respected architect Arthur Hills, who has another course named in his honor at Boyne Highlands, was brought in to correct the problems.

“We had three finishing holes that, frankly, weren’t very pleasing,’’ said Friedrich, in his 38th season with Boyne. “People would leave with a bad taste in their mouths.’’

For many players, those holes were too tough but Friedrich insists that Hills’ re-design effort wasn’t about making the holes easier.

“Easier? No,’’ he said. “It made them more playable. There’s a difference.’’

No. 16 is a par-4 that measures 389 yards from the back tees and 310 from the front. Hills’ version has some enthusiastic supporters, one telling me “We now have one of the best holes in North America.’’

It is indeed memorable. Little Traverse Bay doesn’t come into play, but it’s highly visible from the elevated tee. A good drive can leave you with another nice look, a downhill shot to a green blocked in part by a pond front right. The fairway was extended and the green moved behind the pond. That represented a big change for the hole.

Much more work was needed at No. 17, a par-5 that now plays 510 yards from the tips and 379 from the front markers.

“It was a really bad golf hole,’’ said Friedrich. An assessment can’t get any more blunt than that.

“A 10-handicapper would hit a driver, then lay up with a 9-iron and then hit a 150-shot over a ravine to the green,’’ said Friedrich, describing the old No. 17. “Women’s couldn’t play it. They’d skip it.’’

So, Hills backed up the tees, moved 165 yards of dirt, lowered the green and flattened it out. Friedrich now calls it “a very pleasant par-5.’’

No. 17 at Crooked Tree has gone from a “bad golf hole” to a “pleasant par-5” in part because of this new tee placement.

The finishing hole is now a 431-yard par-4 and can be played as short as 272 yards. The green’s the thing here. No. 18 shares the same green with No. 9. Previously it lacked a variety of pin positions for a finishing hole. Now it has three tiers, so there’s plenty of them. The fairway was also moved and some bunkers narrowed, the end result being a more playable hole before you head to the clubhouse.

Friedrich reports the new holes have been “extremely well received,’’ but it wasn’t a quick fix and it didn’t come cheap. Hills began his work last fall and the course re-opened on June 11 after an array of challenges.

The new holes were seeded twice because “horrible’’ spring weather resulted in 11 inches of rain falling in a three-week span. That led to the decision to lay sod instead.

“Otherwise we would have ended up trying to grow grass all years,’’ said Friedrich. “It turned out very expensive – in excess of $600,000 for just those three holes.’’

The project, though, produced the desired result. “The course is fun to play, and you leave the golf course with a much better feeling now,’’ said Friedrich.

His job, of course, encompasses much more than Crooked Tree. Within Michigan he’s also responsible for the Arthur Hills, Donald Ross Memorial, The Heather, Hidden River and The Moor at Boyne Highlands as well as The Alpine and The Monument at Boyne Mountain Resort and The Links, The Quarry and The Preserve at Bay Harbor.

He also oversees Boyne courses in Montana and Maine, and most are also impacted by busy ski seasons. Sometimes those seasons overlap. Two years ago, for instance, northern Michigan had 80-degree temperatures in March.

“We were trying to stretch out the ski season, and we were making snow on one side of a hill and on the other side (where golf holes were in place) we were watering,’’ said Friedrich. But that is highly unusual.

“If golf and skiing are going on in this climate at the same time it’s probably not very good for either one of them,’’ said Friedrich. “Having them together depends on the year, but it’s not a goal. We start golf in May (in Michigan) when a lot of holes still have snow on them and we’ll see snow until June.’’

Michigan’s True North brings Carlson out of retirement

HARBOR SPRINGS, MI. – Terry Carlson thought his working life was done after being a head golf professional in the Chicago area for 26 years and then getting a big sendoff into retirement at a prestigious club in Arizona.

Terry Carlson couldn’t turn down the chance to work at True North.

Forty years as a club professional plus one as a player on the Champions Tour seemed like plenty until Carlson got a call from one of his former members. He wanted Carlson to spend four summer months running the golf operation at True North, a northern Michigan club that had undergone an ownership change and was in transition.

“I never realized how beautiful the courses are here,’’ said Carlson, who just reached his 70th birthday. “And I was overwhelmed when I saw this place. It’s a top-50 golf course in America. Every hole is just gorgeous.’’

The addition of five golf cottages has made True North a more attractive destination.

Carlson knows all about good golf courses. He was the head pro at Elgin Country Club for 10 years, then spent 16 in a similar position at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn. While at Glen Oak he served term as president of the Illinois PGA.

Then he got a call from Estancia Club, a Scottsdale, Ariz., private facility that has a course ranked in America’s Top 100 Courses by Golf Digest magazine. Its members include two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and several other PGA Tour players. Carlson spent 14 years there.

In addition to his club duties in Arizona and Illinois Carlson was a good enough player to earn playing privileges on the Champions Tour for one season and play in nine major championships.

“I’m very proud of that. Club pros today don’t get a chance to do that,’’ said Carlson. “It was a great life for me.’’

Carlson left Scottsdale after his retirement and moved to New Orleans to be close to family members. Then came the call from True North.

Elevation changes, on both the tees and greens, add to the challenge at True North.

“I jumped at the chance to come here,’’ said Carlson. True North has 67 members, and the list isn’t quite like it was at Estancia with its array of PGA Tour players. True North, however, does have Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and the son of Hord Hardin, former chairman of the Masters tournament for Augusta National.

True North has an interesting history. Its designer was the well-respected Jim Engh, whose first Michigan design – Tullymore in Stanwood – was an immediate hit in the Midwest. True North, which opened two years later in 2003, is at least as good. Carlson calls it a “good, tough and fair’’ layout. It measures 7,040 yards from the back tees with a rating of 73.2 and slope of 146.

“(Engh) has a specific style with his bunkering,’’ said Matt Payne, True North’s general manager. “What he did here was let the course flow with the natural terrain.’’

The first ownership group wanted the course to be the centerpiece for a real estate development. That didn’t work out. The next wanted to go fully public. That didn’t work, either. The present four-man group of owners is moving in a different direction, with five new golf cottages built in the last two years to create a setting for a national membership..

“They wanted a fully private, low volume, high quality level experience,’’ said Payne. “Our members just want a place to play when they come. We’re pretty casual, a first-name club that’s unique to the area. We don’t need a lot of members to make the place successful. We just need the right people to make it successful.’’

An up-close view of the wildlife is an added attraction to a round a True North.

Northern Michigan is loaded with good golf courses, most of them public or resort layouts. But not True North. Payne says the initial target for members is 150.

“We’re building a private club, which means we’re trying to sell privacy,’’ said Carlson. “We’re kind of bucking the trend. This is a place where a guy who doesn’t want to own a second home – and a lot don’t these days – can come and stay in our cottages. We take care of everything from the moment he arrives until the moment he leaves and we can pick up him and take him back to the airport. For a guy looking for a vacation home, this is a pretty good choice.’’

The club is offering generational memberships, meaning a member’s privileges extend to a spouse, parents and all dependents of the members. The club is looking to fill the membership roster with more than just individuals, but with a lineage of legacy that will be with the club for many years down the road. The member also has the ability to transfer the membership to a dependent at any time.

National corporate memberships are also an option. The club is offering one-time visits for non-members to enable them to experience the club, the cost depending on rounds played, cart and lodging fees and transportation requirements. Details on how that works is available through www.truenorthgolf.com.

LPGA LEGENDS: Final round rainout makes Rinker a champion

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – The final round of the LPGA Legends Championship was impacted by weather for the second straight year Sunday, and this time it prevented a ball from being struck.

Anticipating weather problems, Legends officials scheduled a 7:30 a.m. start of play off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees, but a night of rain left the course too wet for play to begin on Sunday morning. Consideration was given to starting play five hours later, perhaps in a shotgun format, but the rain became stronger and fog made visibility difficult. A car accident on the road leading in to the course also was a factor in the decision to shorten the tournament to 36 holes.

That meant that Laurie Rinker, the leader after Saturday’s second round, was declared the champion and the winner of the $60,000 first-place check. She accepted the trophy to a standing ovation in the Dye Course pavilion and had words of wisdom for her brother Lee, a golf professional who will be playing in the Senior PGA Championship on the course next May.

“I texted my brother a picture of the trophy because he’ll be here next year,’’ said Rinker. “Maybe I can give him a tip or two.’’

She might also advise Lee to hire her caddie. Caleb Powers, a local bag-toter who was on her bag for both her tournaments on the Dye Course (they’re pictured together, below).

“He’s the best,’’ said Rinker. “He knows the course better than anybody. He told me where to hit it, and this week I could do it. French Lick’s a very special place. I’ve told people how beautiful it is, and the course is in fabulous shape.’’

Rinker, from Stuart, Fla., was joint runner-up in the first LPGA Legends Championship when Canadian Lorie Kane won the title. Kane had a two-stroke margin after the final round of 2013 was played in cold, rainy weather. She finished in a tie for 17th in her title defense after rounds of 75 and 73.

After two days of great weather rain and fog covered the Pete Dye Course and made the layout After two days of great weather rain and fog made it difficult to even see the Pete Dye Course from the clubhouse.

Sherri Steinhauer was within one stroke of Rinker after 36 holes thanks to a blistering 9-under-par 63 on Saturday. Steinhauer’s round is believed to be the lowest in the Legends’ 14-year history, two better than the 65 Kane shot in the Wendy’s Charity Challenge in 2011. Steinhauer’s runner-up check was for $36,969.

After two days of great weather rain and fog covered the Pete Dye Course and made the layout barely visible from the clubhouse.

Rosie Jones, winner of the Wendy’s Charity Classic in Michigan last Sunday, wound up third after Sunday’s round was cancelled. She was two strokes behind Steinhauer and earned $27,720. The tourney purse was $500,000, the highest on the Legends Tour.

Rinker, who shot 66 in the second round, posted a winning total of 7-under-par 137. It was her third win on the Legends circuit, the others coming in the BJ Charities Pro-Am in 2012 and the Legends Tour Open in 2013.

Rinker’s wins as an LPGA regular came at the Boston Five Classic in 1984 and the Corning (N.Y.) Classic in 1986. She also won the Bridgestone Ladies Open in Japan in 1984 and had three runner-up finishes on the LPGA circuit in 1987. Her brothers, Lee and Larry, are also golf professionals and Laurie teamed with Larry to win the JC Penney Classic in 1985.

Sunday’s cancellation also meant the six-player Super Seniors event was cut from 36 to 18 holes. It ended in a three-way tie for the title based on the 77s shot by Shelley Hamlin, Jane Blalock and Judy Dickinson on Saturday. Each pocketed $750. Blalock, CEO of the Legends Tour, also was inducted into the Legends Hall of Fame as part of the pre-tournament festivities.

LPGA LEGENDS: Steinhauer’s 63 likely a tour record

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Sherri Steinhauer posted a round for the ages on the LPGA Legends Tour Saturday, but – as good as her 9-under-par 63 was – it wasn’t good enough to give her the lead going into Sunday’s final round of the $500,000 Legends Championship, played on the tricky Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort.

Sherri Steinhauer (left) celebrates her 9-under-par round with caddie Lisa DePaulo.

Steinhauer, who posted a 75 in Friday’s first round, made bogey on her first hole Saturday, then reeled off 10 birdies in the last 17 holes for what’s believed to be the lowest round in the 14-year history of the Legends circuit. It’s also the lowest round – male or female – shot in competition on the Dye Course.

Legends’ officials believe the previous low was 65 by Lorie Kane in the 2011 Wendy’s Charity Challenge in Michigan but they wanted to check further before declaring Steinhauer’s round the best in the history of the circuit. It was a career-best for Steinhauer, who shot 64 four times while playing on the LPGA Tour.

All those birdies on Saturday boosted Steinhauer, 51 years old and from Madison, Wis., to 6-under 138 total for the first 36 holes. That left her one stroke behind Laurie Rinker, who posted her 6-under 66 about an hour after Steinhauer finished. They’ll be paired in the final group for Sunday’s final round.

Their closest challenger after 36 holes was Rosie Jones, the co-leader after Round 1. She shot 71 Saturday and is at 4-under 140 heading into the final 18, with a $60,000 first-place prize is on the line. The other first-round leader, Lisa Grimes, is a stroke behind Jones and the only other players under par are Barb Mucha (2-under 142) and Trish Johnson (1-under 143).

“I’m excited for tomorrow,’’ said Rinker, who tied for second last year – two strokes behind champion Kane. “I feel pretty comfortable on this course. You’ve got to play along and take what it gives you. The key is being very patient and take a lot of deep breaths.’’

Steinhauer wasn’t thinking along those lines Saturday. She was made after her bogey at No. 1, then went along for the ride the rest of the way.

“It was quite a day,’’ she said. “I started hitting it close and making the putts. It felt really good, and then you just get out of your own way and keep swinging. I tried to not think about it and just enjoy it.’’

Enjoying it was no problem. She answered the first-hole bogey with a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 2, the made birdies from five feet at the fourth, eight feet at the fifth, one foot after a fine chip at the seventh and eight feet at the ninth.

The back side started with birdie putts of 15 feet at No. 10 and four feet at No. 11, but the highlight of the day came two holes later when Steinhauer put a 4-iron second shot from 176 yards to six inches of the cup. She finished her birdie run with a 10-footer at the 14th and a long double-breaker at the 17th. As it turned out, the 10-foot downhill birdie putt that she left short at No. 18 cost her a share of the 36-hole lead.

Using local caddie Caleb Powers for the second straight year, Rinker started Round 2 four strokes better than Steinhauer and was steady throughout. She hit 17 greens in regulation and putted from 60 feet for eagle from the fringe at No. 18. She took three to get in, however, so her lead remained at only one stroke.

“Anything can happen tomorrow,’’ said Steinhauer, who won eight times –twice in major championships, on the LPGA Tour before winning her first Legends tournament at Innisbrook in Florida in 2012.

Her only other Legends win came in last year’s Wendy’s Charity Challenge in Michigan, but Jones kept her from defending her title in that 18-hole event last Sunday.

“It would be nice to add this tournament,’’ said Steinhauer, “but there’s a long way to go. I can’t get ahead of myself.’’

She’s downplaying the significance of winning the Legends’ biggest tournament for another reason, too. Both Steinhauer and her caddie, Lisa DePaulo, have been touched by cancer issues that diminish the significance of what happens to them on the course.

“Lisa and I went to college at Texas,’’ explained Steinhauer. “My mom died of cancer in 2010 and Lisa’s taking care of her mom, who has cancer and isn’t doing very well. A college teammate, Piper Wagner, was also just given less than two months to live. We’re playing for all of them. Golf is just a game, and I’m just out here playing and fortunate to be able to play the game I love.’’

Saturday’s play also included the start of the six-player Super Seniors division for players 63 and over. Jane Blalock, CEO of the Legends Tour and winner of last year’s Super Seniors, is tied for the leader with Judy Dickinson and Shelley Hamlin. All shot 77s on Saturday.

Legends do their part to help children’s hospital

FRENCH LICK, Ind. — Braden Tamosaitis got to roll some putts on the Pete Dye Course on Saturday and also meet many of the players competing in the second round of the LPGA Legends Championship.

Nine-year old Braden Tamosaitis got an up-close-and-personal look at the LPGA Legends Championship.

Braden, age 9, enjoyed the experience thoroughly and the players he touched most certainly did, as well.

“He’s a special little kid,’’ summed up Dave Harner, director of golf at French Lick.

Braden was born with spina bifida, hydrocephalus and Arnold Chiari II malformation. He underwent surgery the day after he was born and again on the second day of his life. Altogether he’s had 17 surgeries, but they haven’t dimmed his spirit for life. He was delighted to report that a couple of putts on the practice green even found the hole.

“He’s a very happy kid, and a better interview than I am,’’ said his father, Kevin, who drove his family over two hours (from Camby, Ind., near Indianapolis) on Friday night so that they could participate in Saturday’s Walk for Riley while the Legends tournament was in progress.

Riley Children’s Hospital at IU Health is the new charity partner with the Legends Championship. The hospital will received a check for $100,000 following Sunday’s final round to continue its work with families dealing with severe health problems.

“French Lick really stepped up,’’ said Kevin Tamosaitis. “We’ve been welcomed with open arms and treated like VIPs.’’

Harner said Riley Children’s Hospital’s involvement developed because `we wanted something everyone in Indiana could identify with and be a part of.’’ Harner knew of Braden and the Riley programs because his own son was involved in the Riley Dance Marathon at Indiana University.

“Riley affects all 92 counties in the state of Indiana plus Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio,’’ said Joe Vezzoso, vice president of hotel operations for French Lick Resort. “This is a win-win for everyone.’’

The Tamosaitis family isn’t new to the special events tied into Riley Hospital. Braden was named Indiana’s 2013 Children’s Miracle Network Champion, and that enabled him to represent the state in a celebratory event in Orlando, Fla., and then take a flight to Washington D.C. where – among other things — he met with President Obama.

Braden’s battle with spina bifida, though, continues. He watched Saturday’s event from a wheelchair near the No. 8 tee and more surgeries at Riley wouldn’t be unexpected.

“He looks forward to them,’’ said his father, “because he gets room service and his friends are there, both patients and doctors. He’s very comfortable there. It’s not like a home-away-from-home; it’s like our other home.’’

Five families from Riley participated in Saturday’s Walk. They were scattered around the course, and those participating in the Walk got to interact the Riley families. That made the Walk all the more special for over 75 youngsters who came from all parts of the area.

“The First Tee of Louisville brought 35 kids,’’ said Harner. “We had them from three years old through high school.’’

Walk participants and the Riley families participated together in an introductory event on the Dye Course putting green, with two of the LPGA competitors – Lorie Kane and Ann-Marie Palli – offered instruction. Then the families went to checkpoints along the course and the Walk for Riley participants took off on a tour of the spectacular, hilly course. They received stickers at each checkpoint and those who covered the full 18 holes received a small gift upon completion of the hike.

Leukemia survivor was a big hit at Legends event

Ashtyn Brown’s final swing at the LPGA Legends Championship may not have produced the desired result, but there’s no doubt she was the star of the show.

As the ambassador for Riley Children’s Hospital at IU Health, Ashtyn was the honorary starter for the 54-hole tournament on Friday. She hooked her tee shot, just a minor distraction in a saga that began in March when the hospital’s partnership with the tournament was announced.

The end result, said French Lick director of golf Dave Harner, was a $100,000 donation to the hospital through tournament activities.

Along the way Ashtyn gave several speeches describing her brutal battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She also went on a media tour with Legends star Rosie Jones and played in Jones’ tournament in Roswell, Ga.

Once the Legends arrived at French Lick Ashtyn was a focal point at Thursday’s pro-am activities as well as the dinner in which she gave one more touching speech to a big gathering in the rotunda of the West Baden Springs Hotel at French Lick Resort.

In the pro-am she was paired with Joanne Carner, the LPGA Hall of Famer, and was the cart partner of Steve Ferguson, chairman of the board of Cook Group. There’s about a 50-year difference in age between Carner and Ashtyn, and their round together didn’t quite last 18 holes because of time constraints involving the Hall of Fame dinner.

“It was just incredible just to be out there with those ladies, especially Joanne,’’ said Ashtyn. “She has so much experience in golf and is a great lady as well. It’s not surprising or shocking how great these people on the Legends Tour are, and my being a golfer myself, you strive to be like them.’’

The Legends event wasn’t the first for Ashtyn in her role with the hospital. She also have speeches in golf-related settings in Indianapolis and at the PGA’s Children’s Miracle Network event in Orlando, Fla.

In all her speeches she related how she was diagnosed with the disease twice. The first was in 1999, and she endured over two years of chemotherapy. Three years later she suffered a relapse and needed another two-plus years of chemo, radiation and a trial medication that proved to be a miracle drug.

At one point, she said, her weight had dropped to 35 pounds and she was given a 10 percent chance to survive. Along the way she lost 10 of her friends along with her doctor to cancer, but Ashtyn beat the odds.

“Through speaking it’s helped me heal, just as much as I want to help other people,’’ she said. “I’ve gone through so much hurt.’’

But she is moving on from those trying days and will check in at the University of Indianapolis on Monday for her senior year. She calls the Legends experience “something I’ll remember forever.’’

In high school in Richmond, Ind., Ashtyn was a member of the state-runner-up girls golf team in her sophomore year and carried golf into college. After two years at Ball State she transferred to Indianapolis and is part of a strong team there. Though she’s a senior academically, she took a redshirt season previously and has two years of athletic eligibility remaining. She plans to make the most of it.

“I want to take my game as far as I can,’’ she said; “I love the game, but realistically I’ve got to get much better than I am now. I want my game to be the best it can be.’’

Blalock sees a bright future for LPGA Legends Tour

FRENCH LICK, Ind. — Jane Blalock and Nancy Lopez will be inducted into the LPGA Legends Hall of Fame on Thursday night. They’ll also oversee ribbon-cutting at the circuit’s new Hall of Fame at the West Baden Springs Hotel.

Steve Ferguson, chairman of the board of the Cook Group, celebrates the opening of LPGA Legends Hall of Fame with inductees (from right) Jane Blalock, Nancy Lopez, Jan Stephenson and Kathy Whitworth.

The big night precedes Friday’s start to the 54-hole LPGA Legends Championship on the spectacular Pete Dye Course here. Both Blalock and Lopez will play in the three-day event, but receiving well-deserved recognition for their golf accomplishments will take precedence.

Lopez has been one of the most popular players ever in women’s golf, having won 48 times on the LPGA Tour before moving on to the Legends circuit. Blalock was a gritty competitor, too, as shown by her 29 LPGA titles and LPGA record for most consecutive cuts made (299) but her efforts off the course overshadow her stellar playing record.

Without Blalock there would likely be no Legends Tour. She, along with 24 other senior players, put in $5,000 apiece to get things started in the 1990s. They didn’t receive much support from LPGA headquarters then but – led by Blalock as chief executive officer – the Legends Tour has carried on.

“Some people think I own it,’’ said Blalock. “I don’t. I just run everything.’’

Nancy Lopez checks out her own memorabilia in the Legends new Hall of Fame.

And, operating with a small staff from her Boston office, she’s run it well.

“Our first real tournament was in Green Bay, Wis., in 2000,’’ recalled Blalock. “It was great. We had 15,000 people a day. I’ll never forget the goose bumps when I arrived there for the first day. We were front-page news. Then the LPGA took notice and became a little more helpful. We were off and running.’’

It hasn’t been the smoothest ride since then. The Green Bay event, which had a $500,000 purse, thrived for three years and another popular tournament in DesMoines had a four-year run. Both had changes in local leadership, though, and didn’t survive.

Still, the circuit managed to put on several events each year and the same players were even more successful in Blalock’s other golf venture – a series of one-day clinics under the banner of LPGA Golf Clinics for Women. The clinic series is in its 24th year and the Legends Tour in its 14th.

This week Blalock revealed some big news for the circuit. Walgreen’s has signed on for two more years to host tournaments in Phoenix and Delray Beach, Fla., and Juli Inkster, winding down her career on the LPGA circuit, has agree to join the Legends for its Handa Cup team event in Mississippi next month. It’ll be played at the Old Waverly course where Inkster won the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open.

Last year the Legends had 11 tournaments. This year there’s seven but the number will be up again next year. Blalock expects to have at least 10 events when the 2015 schedule is announced and the circuit could grow dramatically in subsequent years if the long-discussed U.S. Women’s Senior Open becomes a reality.

The U.S. Golf Assn. is considering creating such a championship, and president Tom O’Toole said meetings with Legends members on the topic at both Phoenix and Pinehurst, N.C., weren’t just “lip service’’ on the USGA’s part. The LPGA is supporting the Legends’ cause as well.

“There were a few different commissioners, and for a time the LPGA didn’t hurt us, but certainly didn’t help us, either,’’ said Blalock. “That’s changing now with Mike Whan (as commissioner). He’s a visionary, a go-getter. He’s got the Symetra Tour in good order and he’s picking up more tournaments for the LPGA. He knew he had to right his own ship, so now we’ll get more support.’’

Famous artist Leroy Nieman captured Jane Blalock in her playing days.

Since the two preliminary meetings with the USGA Blalock said that Whan has asked her “for more ammunition, which I gave him….We put together a powerful document. Now I feel it’s not if (we’ll get a U.S. Women’s Senior Open), but when.’’

“I’m optimistic for the first time,’’ said Blalock, “and I want to get it in 2016 while Lopez is still playing. Can you imagine how much that would help our tour? The LPGA is talking about doing a championship for us, too. I met with Mike Whan in June, and he brought it up.’’

To stimulate more interaction with the USGA the Legends offered invitations to both the winner and runner-up from the U.S. Women’s Amateur to compete in the Legends’ November stop in Florida and both accepted.

One USGA concern was whether there’d be enough senior women willing to compete to make the U.S. Senior Women’s Open a viable championship. Blalock says there are “easily 100’’ who would try just on the pro side and the Legends would provide most of them.

Back in 2000 the circuit called itself the Women’s Senior Golf Tour. Many of its players didn’t like the “senior’’ connotation and then the men’s circuit changed its name from the Senior PGA Tour to the Champions Tour. The led the women to change, too.

“We did some brainstorming,’’ said Blalock, “and feel that Legends is a really good name. It doesn’t mean you have to be old. It denotes quality. It works.’’

LPGA Legends Tour braces for its biggest tournament

A statue of course architect and namesake Pete Dye will greet members of the LPGA Legends Tour when they compete in their biggest tournament this week.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – The Legends Championship, which made its debut on the Pete Dye Course here last year, is bigger and better for its second staging. It begins on Friday as the climax to a week of festivities designed to celebrate women’s golf.

The two-day Alice Dye Invitational drew 112 amateur players from throughout the Midwest on Monday and Tuesday, with competition on both the Pete Dye and Donald Ross courses. The Legends day-long clinic on Wednesday drew 58 amateur participants and Thursday’s pro-am will be packed with 195 players.
Sponsorship has also increased significantly.

“This is one of many big events we’ve hosted at French Lick,’’ said director of golf Dave Harner. “We’re rapidly becoming known as a destination for championship golf.’’

Prior to the start of the competition on Friday there’ll be an induction ceremony for the Legends Hall of Fame, which was created for the inaugural event last year. Jan Stephenson and Kathy Whitworth were the first inductees and Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls, Louise Suggs and Alice Dye were also honored with membership. Wright, Rawls and Suggs won previous LPGA tournaments played at French Lick in the 1950s.

This time, following the induction of Nancy Lopez and Legends co-founder Jane Blalock, there’ll be a ribbon-cutting to open the Legends Hall of Fame at the West Baden Springs Hotel.

The Legends Championship is the only 54-hole event on the 14-year old circuit, but the last three events have all gone beyond regulation.

In May Liselotte Neumann won the Walgreen’s Charity Classic in Arizona in a playoff with Danielle Ammaccapane. In June Barb Moxness won the Judson College & Legends Pro-Am Challenge in Georgia in a playoff with Alicia Dibos.

The Legends Championship was immediately preceded by the Wendy’s Championship Challenge in Michigan, and Rosie Jones defeated Nancy Scranton in a playoff there. It was Jones’ seven win on the Legends circuit and she’s also in the field here.

Canadian Lorie Kane was the first winner of the Legends Championship, and she’ll defend her title. The inaugural Legends Championship was held in late September and finished in cold, rainy weather. Kane posted a 3-under-par 213 total to win by two strokes over Laurie Rinker and Val Skinner on the rugged but spectacular Dye layout.

“Being the inaugural winner was a thrill, but I’m looking forward to playing the course earlier in the summer, compared to last year,’’ said Kane, who earned $60,000 for her victory. This year she’ll be part of a 60-player field that will battle for the biggest purse on the Legends Tour — $500,000.

The tourney also includes a 36-hole Super Seniors Division on Saturday and Sunday. Blalock won that category, for players 63 and over, last year with a 5-over-par 149 total. The tourney will benefit the Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health Foundation.

Second International Crown, at Rich Harvest, should be bigger than the first

The LPGA’s first International Crown competition ended less than a week ago and already preparations are well underway for the second staging, in July of 2016 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove.

Rich Harvest owner Jerry Rich, LPGA star Anna Nordquist from Sweden and LPGA commissioner Mike Whan (left to right) hosted a Launch Party on Friday at Naperville’s Hotel Arista for the next eight-country, 32-player competition two years down the road. The first version was won by Spain at Caves Valley in Maryland. The Rich Harvest version falls a month before golf’s return to the Olympics in Brazil.

“I love the Olympics, but we’ll give the world what the Olympics won’t,’’ said Whan, who grew up in Naperville. “The Olympics won’t give us team dynamics.’’

The International Crown certainly did at Caves Valley. The top two seeded teams, the U.S. and Korea, met in a do-or-die playoff for the fifth and last spot in the finals, Korea winning. The disappointing showing by Team USA didn’t hurt world-wide viewership.

“There were 167 countries watching, ‘’ reported Whan, “and our Saturday TV viewership was 82 percent of the number at our last Solheim Cup.’’

For a first-year event, that was deemed outstanding, and Whan added that “over 5,000 articles were written about the International Crown in Korea alone.’’

Rich hosted the most successful Solheim Cup, a U.S. win over Europe in 2009. He and Whan started plans for creation of International Crown a few weeks later at Rich Harvest.

A creative dessert topped off the festivities at the International Crown Launch Party.

“Chicago’s the greatest place in the world if you love golf,’’ said Rich. “People really turned out in 2009, and we’ve been working for over two years on the next International Crown.’’

A big part of that work has been in the recruitment of high school golfers. Rich invited every girls team in Illinois to the 2009 Solheim Cup. For the International Crown he’s invited over 1,800 teams from Illinois and neighboring states. They’ll be housed at Northern Illinois University and Aurora University during the matches.

Whan also announced the first two Ambassador Sponsors for 2016, Rolex and Calamos Investments. The first Crown had five corporate sponsors. More will be coming.

“Jerry’s going to make it huge,’’ said Whan. “Rich Harvest is one of the top 10 golf venues in the world. I can’t think of any that can match Rich Harvest for ambiance, specialness and theater.’’