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August 27, 2004

2004 U.S. Women’s Open Puts Orchards at Center Stage

Photo by Fred LeBlanc

Mount Holyoke President Joanne V. Creighton and David Fay, executive director of the USGA

From July 1 to 4, The Orchards, Mount Holyoke College’s golf course, was in the spotlight as the home of the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open, the premier women’s golf event in the world. One hundred and fifty-six of the best women golfers, amateur and professional alike, played the classic Donald Ross-designed course, while 600 members of the U.S. and international media and a record 118,458 spectators looked on.

Photo by Dale Johnson II

Meg Mallon, the 2004 U. S. Women’s Open champion

It was a memorable championship, with youth and experience both having their day in the sun. Meg Mallon, at 41, became the third-oldest champion in Open history, while 14-year-old Michelle Wie and 17-year-old Paula Creamer tied for first among the amateurs, playing well enough to each be guaranteed a spot in the 2005 Open.

The course, built in 1922 by Holyoke textile magnate and philanthropist Joseph Skinner for his daughter Elisabeth, earned high marks from the United States Golf Association and from the athletes who were tested by the course’s narrow fairways and small greens, hallmarks of Ross’s courses. “I liked it a lot,” Annika Sorenstam, the top-ranked woman golfer, said. “I think it’s a course that I enjoyed more, the more I played it.” Wie had this to say: “I love it, it’s really nice. It’s just different. I can’t explain it.”

ESPN and NBC Sports, which broadcast all four days of the championship, and countless newspaper articles recounted the history of the course, its connection to the College, and its appropriateness as a site for the U.S. Women’s Open. Both ESPN and NBC treated viewers to images of the campus and facts about the College.

By the Numbers:
2004 U.S. Women’s Open

Yards on course: 6,473

Par: 71

Length of grass on tees:
3/8 inch

Length of grass in primary rough: 3–3 1/2 inches

Number of fans in attendance: 118,579

Single-day record: 25,708 (Saturday, round 3)

Kids who checked out the “Catch the Spirit” tent: 6,917

Purse size: $3.1 million

To the winner:  $560,000 to Meg Mallon, age 41

Prize money not collected by amateurs: Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer: $60,602

Youngest player:
Michelle Wie, 14

Oldest player:
Marilyn Lovander, 48

Countries represented
in top half:

Foreign countries represented by applicants to the tournament: 39

States represented by

Number of amateurs: 15

Number of amateurs to
make the cut:

Best round: 65 (round 4, Mallon)

Worst round: 85 (round 2: Elisa Kase and amateur Jennifer Ackerson)

Number of eagles: 36 (record for a U.S. Women’s Open)

Most eagles by one player: 3 by Grace Park

Next available date for the U.S. Women’s Open: 2009

“There is a theme of this college—‘uncommon women.’ This is a week of seeing uncommon women, uncommonly great athletes,” David Fay, executive director of the USGA, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “It’s just had a nice feel to it. It’s  resonated.”

“Mount Holyoke College is truly honored to have joined with the USGA, the staff of our Orchards Golf Club, the town of South Hadley, and the entire Pioneer Valley in hosting this event,” President Joanne V. Creighton said. “We are especially proud to have welcomed an international field of outstanding athletes—truly remarkable women who inspire us all. For one week, South Hadley was the center of the golf world, and it was wonderful to see players of the highest caliber recognize The Orchards as the world-class course it is.”

Among the many who helped make the Open a success were the 2,600 volunteers, who included a number of alumnae and other members of the College community.

The Open came to The Orchards as a result of a conversation between Laurie Priest, MHC’s athletics director, and David Fay’s wife, Joan McAnaney Fay ’73, during the College’s Friends of Athletics golf tournament three years ago. Joan Fay mentioned that her husband had always loved the course; Priest responded that the success of the 1987 USGA Junior Girls Championship at The Orchards was still on the minds of many people.

Ten days later, David Fay called Priest to tell her that the USGA was interested in holding the U.S. Women’s Open there.

“It was a good moment in women’s golf, the week we had here,” Betse Hamilton, director of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship for the United States Golf Association, told the Springfield Republican. “We were very pleased. We will spend time looking at what we’ve done. All parties involved will meet sometime in the next few months.”

Quite naturally, the success of the Open has more than one person thinking about an encore. “We’re very interested,” Priest told the Boston Herald on the first day of the championship round. “Things have gone so well. David Fay said today this tournament has exceeded his expectations.”

“It is linked to the oldest women’s college in America, built by a father for his daughter. It works,” David Fay told the Associated Press. “Given the success here, if the college invites us back, this would have to be given consideration—unless we don’t want to go to places where you have the most crowds ever and the players think it’s an exceptional course.”

The championship drew much attention to The Sporting Woman: The Female Athlete in American Culture, an exhibition at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum scheduled to coincide with the Open. Marianne Doezema, director of the museum, reported that she was pleased with the turnout of 325 visitors during the Open. “Everywhere I go on campus and in town, I hear lots of great talk about the exhibition,” Doezema said. “We had a writer from Golf Digest come in, and he was incredibly enthusiastic about it.” The exhibition ran through August 1.


Mount Holyoke, the Women’s Open, and the “Fenway Park of Golf”

Bradley S. Klein (left), a senior writer for Golfweek magazine and author of the critically acclaimed Discovering Donald Ross: The Architect and His Golf Courses (Clock Tower Press/Sleeping Bear Press, August 2001), has played The Orchards since 1976, when he arrived at the University of Massachusetts as a graduate student. A few weeks before the championship, David LaChance, media relations associate, sat down with Klein for a conversation about Ross, The Orchards, and the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open.

As familiar as you are with the history of golf course architecture, how would you describe The Orchards at Mount Holyoke?
The Orchards is the Fenway Park of New England golf. The same charms, the same intimacy, the quirkiness, the sense of tradition and of the living past that you have when you go to a game in Fenway Park, you feel when you tee off at The Orchards. A lot of modern golf courses are manufactured. They don’t have the flow, the intimacy, the trees, or the grasses, and they don’t have a feel like they’ve been settled there for 150 years. So that’s what makes The Orchards such a cool place. It is perfectly situated in a small New England college town, and that’s the way it looks.

Is The Orchards known by golf aficionados in the same way that Fenway is revered by baseball historians?
I brought Ben Crenshaw [winner of 19 PGA Tour events, including two Masters Tournaments] up there in 1990, and he had heard about The Orchards. Among people who are familiar with architecture and who study classical design, The Orchards has a reputation as a hidden gem. Here’s a really good example of what they were doing with a modest budget, when they did it right and when they left it alone. Students of architecture appreciate a golf course like that. Crenshaw came out there and played a few holes and spent an afternoon, and was absolutely thrilled and delighted. And maybe because the greens were in the same shape that Ross had left them.

You mentioned some of the characteristics of the traditional golf course. How do you know when you step onto this course what you’re looking at? What are the things that give it away?
The first thing is there is a simplicity to the forms, the holes flow very naturally, the long four-pars tend to be downhill, the shorter holes tend to be uphill, except for the eighteenth, which is typical of Ross. The greens look like they’ve just been picked up about a foot. They’ve just been hived together with some dirt and mounded up just slightly so they sit on top of the terrain. Everything else is at grade level. You’ve got gentle contours, good visibility, and beautiful trees on the side that frame. The other thing that’s telltale is the variety of grasses. I think a lot of Americans who are accustomed to lush, dense, green golf courses will look at these slightly tawny, caramel-colored, oatmeal-colored playing areas and think there’s something wrong. No. That’s the native grass. These courses were all built before there was irrigation. In fact, modern irrigation tends to produce a heavier blade, which is actually not a very good playing surface because it’s wet and boggy.

You’ve played The Orchards a number of times, haven’t you?
I’ve been playing The Orchards since 1976, when I started graduate school at UMass, and I have played two, maybe three times a year since then. In 1983 and 1984 I was a part-time faculty member in the Mount Holyoke politics department, and it was great because I could play the golf course—I always knew the pro and the superintendent so they let me on, as long as I didn’t do it too often. It was great—you’d take your clubs over for an emergency nine in the afternoon. Today, I’m an honorary member, and I live 40 miles away and still only play twice a year. And I love it. Every time I go back there, there’s something interesting about the place. I’ve brought a lot of people up there and they’ve all shared my respect and regard for the golf course. When I told Crenshaw about the Women’s Open coming there, he was just shocked and delighted.

As a golf historian, what do you find interesting about The Orchards?
The course was designed by Donald Ross, who was the most prolific golf course architect in the first half of the twentieth century. Ross was born in Scotland in 1872, came over in 1899, set up shop in Massachusetts, and over the next 50 years, from 1899 to 1948, designed 400 golf courses, mainly in the Northeast and the Southeast. A lot of those courses have been tinkered with, but not The Orchards. It’s quite amazing. Quite accidentally, they left it alone. They didn’t do a lot of the things that have taken character away from some of these older courses.

Did Ross design the entire course?
The golf course actually evolved in two stages. The initial nine-hole course that opened in 1922 was built on a 200-acre apple orchard owned by Holyoke textile magnate Joseph Skinner. He was trying to give his daughter Elisabeth something to do, so he gave her a golf course. Ross probably didn’t spend much time, if any, on the original nine. It was done by his longtime associate, Walter Hatch, who was a full-time resident of North Amherst. In 1927, Ross came back and supervised the design and construction of what I think are the much stronger holes. If you go out there knowing the sequence, you’ll see much better definition, more sophisticated bunkering, and a stronger approach to definition of playing areas on the following holes, which were the second wave: 4, which is one of the great par-fours in New England; 5, 6, 7, and 8; and then they added 12, 13, 14, 15, and then reconnected with the old 16, but with a different tee than they have now. Then they added 17, then they played 18 from the stronger tee in the back, and that was your sequence. I think if you look closely you’ll see much more sophisticated contouring work.

Is this the first time the Women’s Open has been played on a college course?
That’s a great question. It’s not the first time that a major has been held on a women’s college course; the 1987 U.S. Girls Junior Championship was held at The Orchards—won by Michelle McGann—but I’m certain that it’s the first time that a professional major has been held on a women’s campus course. There aren’t many women’s collegiate courses either—probably not more than a dozen in the country, and nothing else like this. This is by far the best golf course on a women’s college campus in the country. It’s not even close; it’s by far the finest facility. In the whole country, there are only about 160 golf courses that are properly classified as campus courses. Many of those are nine-hole. So of the 18-hole courses The Orchards certainly ranks among the top 20 courses on a campus.

How do you see the connections between women’s athletics and women’s education played out at The Orchards?
I think the course is one of many reasons why a student might be attracted to Mount Holyoke, and is an attraction for faculty, alumnae, and donors as well. Mount Holyoke is a Division III intercollegiate school; golf is part of the team repertoire, but it’s not a major component, and thank goodness, because the most important thing at Mount Holyoke is classroom education. That to me is the ideal of college athletics. College athletics should be something that enhances the academic experience, but doesn’t become the dominant experience.

Are there other factors that you believe make the Women’s Open-Mount Holyoke connection an unusually promising one?
What’s interesting about this golf course is not simply its design and design heritage, but the fact that it’s in the middle of an extremely active, well-coordinated academic community in which, particularly, women’s issues and women’s lifestyle issues are central and people are up-front about that being important. So the idea of women athletes is going to draw a very interesting crowd. It’s going to be a very diverse crowd, and I think it’s a great showcase for women’s athletics and for the women’s communities in the Pioneer Valley. I think the campus has done a phenomenal job with the Five College community, the buses, the parking, the hotels, the evening and the nightlife, all of that has been tied in in a way that’s going to make this a really interesting cultural and somewhat countercultural event. I think it’s great for the valley.

How much of a challenge to the average golfer is The Orchards? You’ve said that one of the characteristics of Ross courses is that they can be played with one ball.
Yes, what’s interesting about Ross courses is that they’re not very penal, in the sense that you stand there thinking, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve got to carry it over the Grand Canyon!” You don’t feel like you’re playing in a straitjacket. You feel like you can hit the ball and have some fun. You can knock it into the creek on the first hole, but there’s plenty of room to hit it short. And in fact the creeks are so shallow that if you hit it in there you can pick it out anyway. So in that sense, you can play the golf course with one ball, even if you’re shooting 100. That’s the important thing. I’m not talking about par golfers who shoot 72 with one ball, I’m talking about you hit it 90 times and you score 90 times. Whereas with a lot of modern golf courses, you hit it 90 and you score 100, because you’ve taken 10 penalty strokes, because you’ve landed in all sorts of junk.

How about the exceptional women golfers who will play at the Open?
In fact, The Orchards is an ideal Women’s Open golf course. With good women players today, there’s enough variety in how they hit their shots so that there are challenges on the tee shots, if you get in the rough you’ve got your hands full, and the short game is really wonderful for them to be tested on.


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