Golf professional Lisa Vaught stands in front of just a few USGA plagues awarded to the Oaks Course for their years of giving unselfishly for the betterment of the sport. (Staff photo: Manny Fils)
COVINGTON — The Oaks Course has been the site for the local qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Public Links tournament since 1998.
Unfortunately, the tournament which started in 1977 is coming to an end as the USGA is discontinuing both the men and women’s public links event before the starting a four-ball format next year.
The final qualifying round for the final U.S. Womens Public Links tournament will be held on Tuesday, May 27 with the qualifying players advancing to the championship at The Home Course in DuPont, Washington from July 14 through the 19.
“It’s been a fun thing to have and look forward to every year,” Director of Operations at The Oaks Course Dick Schulz said. “We’ve had an opportunity to see some of the best players and see some of the kids that have went on to play on the LPGA tour.”
Some of the players on the LPGA that came through the Oaks Course include Brooke Pancake, Lexi Thompson and Brittany Lincicome who shot the lowest round in any tournament with a 64.
“That’s the lowest round we’ve ever had shot in a competition period, men or women,” Schulz said. “It was pretty apparent that she was going to be a good player.”
Another player which has the ability to make it on the LPGA that won the qualifier at the Oaks Course two years in a row is UGA star Emilie Burger.
When the tournament first started, there were a lot more local golfers participating. But soon those local golfers stopped participating as the college players started making their mark dominating the qualifier.
When the Oaks Course started hosting the qualifier Schulz said that there were a lot more local players. But as the college kids started to dominate it seemed like the competitive amateur player felt like they’re just wasting their time.
That was one of the reasons that the USGA decided to eliminate the public links tournament and start the four-ball tournament. Another reason is that they were seeing the trend where the many of the younger players participating in the public links tournament were also participating in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“It’s sad to see it go away because at one time it was a very big tournament. I think it shows the course golf is taking right now,” Oaks head professional Lisa Vaught said. “When I was playing in the Tennessee State Am, if you didn’t get your entry in the day you received it you were more likely on the waiting list. Now there are several spots open every year. We start seeing college golf bigger for women, but you see participation in amateur tournaments go down.
The Oaks Course is hoping to to keep the qualifying players going on to the next level as they are trying to become a venue for the four-ball tournament.
“We’ll find out sometime this fall. They look for venues that serve certain roles. Obviously the U.S. Open is suppose to be the toughest golf course. They could take the Oaks Course and make it a U.S. Open course. They would grow the rough up to four inches and put the pins in ridiculous places. Even the guys would go out there and struggle,” Schulz said. “They normally don’t set the qualifiers up to that degree of difficulty. (The maintenance staff) get the golf course ready and that’s fun. They get to experience tournament preparation. They take it very seriously and don’t want it to look bad.”
The USGA is hoping that by changing to a four-ball format it will allow the older golfers that can no longer keep up with the collegiate more competitive and involved in tournament play.
The four-ball tournament consist of a two-person team where they play your own ball but take the lowest score of the duo. This format takes the pressure off the individual tournament players but still allow for a good competition. Unlike individual play, a bad shot or a bad hole will not take them out of the contention.
“I have a lot of friends that like to play in those (four-ball) because it takes some pressure off the individual and gives you a chance to compete against the younger girls,” Vaught said.”
The men’s winner of the public links championship was got to play in the Masters while the winner of the women’s championship earned a spot in the Women’s U.S. Open. Since the four-ball tournament is a team competition, the winners will compete in a USGA sponsored four-ball championship but probably will not advance to a major.