Illinois Women’s Amateur will be played in Rockford — but without IWO champion

Unfortunately Illinois female golfers don’t have the same, more-than-ample, competitive opportunities that their male counterparts enjoy. This June, though, offers the first of the annual highlights for the women’s season in the state.

The Illinois Women’s Amateur will be played for the 83rd time at Forest Hills Country Club in Rockford from June 14-17.

You’ve got to hand it to the Illinois Women’s Golf Association. That not-for-profit organization run by 22 volunteers conducts not only this championship but also the Illinois Junior Girls Championship, which be played for the 37th time at the University of Illinois’ Orange Course in Savoy from Aug. 2-3 and the Illinois Senior Women’s Amateur, which will be played for the 47th time at Champaign Country Club from Sept. 13-15.

There isn’t a whole lot of other playing opportunities for the women and girls. Biggest of them all is the 22nd annual Illinois Women’s Open, to be played at permanent site Mistwood in Romeoville from July 18-20, and the 85th annual Chicago Women’s District Golf Association Championship at Flossmoor Country Club from Aug. 9-11.

In addition to its three tournaments the IWGA has raised $1.1 million over the years to support not only its programs but those at Illinois state schools as well. The IWGA also has its own Hall of Fame, the latest inductee being Marilyn Dechert of Decatur last fall. She was a long-time coach at Millikin College.

The IWGA does the best job of any of the Illinois golf associations in spreading its tournaments around the state. That’s probably because its leadership is largely from away from the Chicago area. President Pam Henning is from Moline, secretary Pat Burgy from Rockford and treasurer Terri Moore from Galesburg.

Henning announced the addition of two new board members for this year, one of which – Monica Coleman of Long Grove – is from the Chicago area. The other new board member is Leslie Frankfort of Rockford.

The last time the Illinois Women’s Amateur was played in the Chicago area was in 2013, when Bing Singhsumalee was the champion at Cantigny in Wheaton. Singhsumalee was the tourney’s youngest champion, winning at 16 years old while she was still attending Waubonsie Valley High School in Naperville. She just completed a very successful freshman year at the University of Illinois, finishing tied for fourth in the Big Ten Conference Championship.

Going back in time, the IWGA was founded in 1933 under the leadership of Mary Wheeler. Its first tournament was the Illinois Women’s Amateur in 1934 at Evanston Golf Club with Dorothy Porter of Springfield the champion.

The tourney format is different from the other big state events. The field – limited to 100, all with a handicap index no higher than 22.0 – will have an 18-hole stroke play qualifying round to kick off the competition. Then the low 80 competitors will be broken down into flights for three days of match play competition. The championship flight gets the top 32 players from the qualifying round.

Over the years the Illinois Women’s Amateur has had some great champions, most notably Lois Drafke of LaGrange who won her first title in 1953 and her last 20 years later. Drafke won the tournament nine times. Shirley Dommers, of Belvidere, was the champion in 1957, 1961, 1968, 1969 and 1974. She’ll be honored at this year’s tournament with a new award for low junior medalist having been created in her name.

As for this year’s field, entries don’t close until June 6 but there is going to be one very notable absentee. Madasyn Pettersen, who lives in Rockford, won’t be there. Burgy, who doubles as tournament chairman for this year’s Illinois Women’s Amateur, said last year’s sensation of Illinois women’s golf will be playing in a big American Junior Golf Assn. event. The Rolex Junior Girls Championship will be played at Country Club of Rochester in New York from June 13-17.

Pettersen will be missed, as she shocked the Illinois Women’s Open with a five-stroke victory last year as a 15-year old and then won an Illinois high school title while playing for Rockford Guilford. She was the youngest-ever IWO champion.

Whether she will defend her IWO crown in July is uncertain, but Pettersen’s victory last year is hard to forget. Despite her youth she birdied the last five holes to shoot a final-round 66 and posted an 8-under-par 208 for the tourney’s 54 holes.

Only one player has wins in both the IWO and Illinois Women’s Amateur. Kerry Postillion, from Burr Ridge, won the Amateur in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2004 and 2007 and the Open in 1996, 1997 and 1999. All her IWO wins came as an amateur and her daughter Samantha contended in more recent playings of the tournament.

As good as Pettersen was in last year’s IWO, she couldn’t have won the 2015 Illinois Women’s Amateur. It was scheduled to be played at Illini Country Club in Springfield but heavy rains led to the tourney’s cancellation. It was only the second time in 82 years that the IWGA had a tournament ended by weather. The first Illinois Women’s Senior Championship, scheduled for 1970 at Pekin Country Club, was also rained out.

That tourney obviously didn’t have a defending champion, and neither will this year’s Illinois Women’s Amateur.

“Mother Nature is our defending champion,’’ said Burgy, who hopes for better luck weather-wise. Entries had topped 50 at the time of this printing and Burgy expected to have 70 by June. She held out hope for a record field.

“Cantigny had the record, with close to 100,’’ she said. “In Rockford we have a beautiful golf course and we’ll get a lot of Chicago people because it’s close to Chicago.’’

Forest Hills, which will be hosting for the first time, was established in 1921. Its course is built on 160 rolling acres and has 59 bunkers, over 1,800 trees and over three acres of ponds. Known for its consistently fine conditioning, it’s been a member of the National Audubon Society for Golf Courses since 1997.