USGA comes through on Senior Women’s Open — for 2018

The U.S. Golf Assn. has finally committed to holding a national championship for senior women players, though the first such tournament won’t be held until 2018.

While the USGA conducts 13 national championships, the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open was long overdue. The only other major event for senior women is put on by the LPGA Legends Tour, and it’s limited to professionals only. There will be plenty of differences between that one and the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

The Legends Championship has been played the last two years at the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind., which is also the site of the Legends Hall of Fame. The Legends event is over 54 holes; the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be over 72 holes.

Players can ride in the Legends event, won the first two years by Lorie Kane and Laurie Rinker. As per USGA tradition in open championships, the Senior Women’s Open will be walking-only. And, of course, the Legends is for former LPGA players while both amateurs and professionals can compete in the Senior Women’s Open.

Age requirements could be the most significant difference, however. The Legends Tour is for players 45 and over. The Women’s Senior Open is for players 50 and over.

Those differences will be the subject of discussion leading into the first Senior Women’s Open but, in the end, they may not matter all that much. The big thing is, senior women finally have their own open championship and another designated “major.’’ That figures to be a big boost for the serious players in that segment of golfers.

USGA president Tom O’Toole made the long-awaited announcement at the USGA’s annual meeting in New York.

“We have studied and discussed the need for this championship for many years, and now we can celebrate its introduction,’’ said O’Toole.

The field size and prize breakdown for the first Senior Women’s Open haven’t been set. No dates or sites have been determined, either.

For comparison purposes, the LPGA Legends Tour will start its 15th season in March. It’ll have nine tournaments, but only the LPGA Legends Championship will be as long as 54 holes. It offered $500,000 in prize money the last two years and its third staging will be Aug. 28-30, also at French Lick.

The Senior Women’s Open will become the 14th national championship conducted by the USGA.

“We feel strongly that factors such as the international strength of the LPGA and the increasing number of age eligible quality competitors from around the world, as well as the growth of women’s golf, are key to reaching this historical announcement,’’ said Mike Davis, the USGA executive director. “We hope this new championship will inspire both amateurs and professionals.’’