July 3, 2002
RHONDA GLENN: Welcome everyone to the USGA press conference. We do this every year to update you on trends in the game and trends on the women's side of the game. To my immediate left is Cora Jane Blanchard, Chairman of the USGA's Women Committee, from Medinah, Minnesota, to Cora's left we have Kendra Graham, USGA Director of Rules and Competitions for the Women's Open, and to her left is David B. Fay, who is the Executive Director of the USGA.
Cora Jane, what do you look for this week in this Women's Open? I know you're excited to be here as are other members of the Women's Committee.
CORA JANE BLANCHARD: Well, it's such a special course. We've been here before. It's a proven test of skill; so that will be interesting. The wind will be interesting, especially if it howls like it has the last couple of days. I think the champion that becomes identified at the end of the week is going to be a wonderfully strong player and a most appropriate champion.
RHONDA GLENN: Kendra, I want you all to know she is a very fine player, and I played with her on Media Day and she is at the top of her game.
Setting up the course, what were you trying to do with the golf course this week?
KENDRA GRAHAM: Well, Rhonda, our goal every time we set up a golf course for a Championship is to challenge the best players in the world, and to take what the architect laid out for us and use every single club in the player's bag. And whatever features have been designed by the architect, make sure we bring those into play in our setup, be it fairway bunkers or the prairie.
In this case we were so lucky, we had this beautiful jewel, and as C.J. mentioned, we have been here before. It is a championship layout, and to really borrow a phrase, all we did was polish the jewel. I think it would be easier to say that I have made more trips to Prairie Dunes than I have any golf course in setting up a Women's Championship. That's because we had the ability because we had the type of grasses to do a lot with the fairway contouring.
And it was a lot of fun and a challenge, I think because of the factors that you have to take into consideration, and first and foremost is that being wind, and to make sure that you don't get the fairways too narrow; that you're asking the impossible, but certainly to still challenge the players and bring all of these architectural features into play.
RHONDA GLENN: David, you've been involved so much with the women's side of the game, as well as the other side of the game since you've become Executive Director. How do you see the growth of the Women's Open since you've first came into this position?
DAVID FAY: Oh, it's dramatic. It's dramatic in terms of the fan interest, in terms even of level of play. Not that we didn't have great players in the past, people like Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls, Louise Suggs, but the number of great players that we are seeing today.
I think that when you look at the rivalries at the top of the women's game, Annika and Karrie and Se Ri and Juli, it's really great stuff to be witnessing the growth of women's golf. But not just at the professional level, you see it at the Junior programs, you see it at the collegiate level, and certainly, I'm sure we're going to continue to see this growth. The organizations involved in the game of golf have committed themselves to making the game more accessible to more Americans and so many of the programs, so many of the USGA programs are targeted to young women.
RHONDA GLENN: Thank you.
Q. In the last conference I asked about not using some of the back tees in this championship at Prairie Dunes, particularly I'm interested in No. 3 which is maybe one of the most picturesque back tee boxes; it creates a blind shot. Can you talk about what went into the decision of not using the tee box?
KENDRA GRAHAM: I think it goes back to the fact that we want to have a variety of holes. We want to have short par 3s, long par 3s. We want to have short par 4s, long par 4s, to the extent that we can, and certainly that holds true for the par 5s, also.
I think that was such a great opportunity there to have a short par 4, to have that little club in the player's hands going into that green that's small and so well bunkered. And obviously, it's not like you are lengthening it that much by going to the back tee because of the elevation, but we just really liked the look from back there. It provided what we wanted, and so, we didn't feel the need to go to the upper tee.
Q. My question is more general in regard to something that happened last week at the Senior Open. Jim Thorpe talked about the need to get more black players involved in the game and felt that the programs that are out there now, the First Tee which the USGA was involved in, was not going to make it. Can you talk about your desires and goals of trying to get more black women into the game?
DAVID FAY: Well, I was with Jim last week. In fact, I went to the Congressional breakfast and we had a rather lengthy discussion, and I think one of the things he was saying in his comments was he what was not criticizing those programs. He was actually bemoaning the lack of caddie programs. He was saying that's how he got involved in the game; so just to make that clarification.
But to your question, through the First Tee, through the you USGA's For the Good of the Game Program, a number of programs are being targeted, as I just said, toward women and it happens that a number of them are programs for women of color. I think this is a subject that is facing the game of golf, not just for the women, but for the men, also, because there really are not that many men of color playing the game, either, at the highest level.
But, you know, these junior programs, it's going to take time. You're basically planting the seeds and you may see the harvest ten years from now. But I have noticed that you see more players of color who are coming up through the Junior ranks and even now playing in the college ranks.
Q. David, can you address the struggle you have of getting girls involved in the game, as opposed to boys and where the disparity is between the two, if it is a struggle at all?
DAVID FAY: Well, the numbers would tell you that there are more boys that play, for example, in the Boys' Junior than the Girls' Junior. But you can say that in just about every sport.
I think the thing that's terrific about athletics today for girls is that they have so many opportunities to play so many different sports. I come from New Jersey. The fact that young women are playing ice hockey and they are playing lacrosse, those are sports that were not really available to them years and years ago. In that respect, we all have to salute Title IX.
I think that young women have the opportunity to play so many different sports, and golf has to work at capturing their interest. But I think that in terms of raw numbers, I'm not -- I don't think you can get into a raw numbers game at this point because you can't isolate golf versus any other sport. I think that you would see the number, that trend would be the case in any sport.
But certainly, more young women are gravitating to golf today than at any time in the past, and I think you're going to continue to see more and more gravitate to it, because there are a lot of opportunities. If you want to aspire to get to the highest level, if you want to be a professional athlete and you're a female, there are really only a few sports that you can really make, I think, a good living off of, and one would certainly be golf. Another would be tennis, maybe basketball. But my daughters swim. They are not going to be able to make a career out of swimming.
I think I feel very good with the trend in the upward movement in the number of young women and young girls playing golf.
KENDRA GRAHAM: To piggyback what David is saying, I think we are starting to see a little bit of a change in the game. If you look at the numbers of girls or women who are entering USGA Championships, now you are talking about the players who are playing at the highest level. But also, when we went to the two stages of the local qualifying and sectional qualifying of the Women's Open, quite frankly, was dumbfounded at how many teenagers under 20 qualified through local to get to sectional qualifying. I think that just shows that by providing the opportunity to try to qualify for the Women's Open -- because we had more qualifying sites, it was more convenient -- the players went and played and they got through. They are good players, and we've got, obviously, a good number of young players in our field here this year. That's just because there's more girls playing. They are becoming, obviously, quite proficient, and I think we are just going to see this trend grow and grow and grow.
Q. You guys have mentioned this course as being a jewel, and it has hosted several USGA events in the past. Why did it take this long to get this kind of stroke-play championship here?
CORA JANE BLANCHARD: I'm not sure I have an answer for it that. It just may be we were waiting for an invitation. Judy Bell, I believe, had a great influence in this line.
RHONDA GLENN: It's true. We go out not just shopping for golf courses, but the USGA has to be invited to bring a Championship to a site. So it really has to originate with the club itself.
DAVID FAY: We were asked the same question in 1999: Why it take us so long to get to Pinehurst No. 2. There's no real good answer, other than I think it was worth the wait, and I think it was the case this week for Prairie Dunes. It's an outstanding golf course, one of the best in the country.
Q. What are your present goals for women's golf and where do you want to see this go over the next five to ten years?
CORA JANE BLANCHARD: I think it's almost what you were asking about the girls. The difficulty is keeping these girls in the game till they become women, and this is not unique to our country.
I've been in contact with my counterpart in the Ladies Golf Union and she said when we get together in August at the Curtis Cup, she would like to discuss with our committee how to keep girls interested and avid about the sport, because they are having the same problem.
I mean, they are just getting -- maybe there's more role models now than there were, and that perhaps will bring in and keep in women golfers, and 10, 15 years from now, every person in this championship will have a zero handicap or a plus handicap. There's an awful lot of them here right now. There's more opportunity job-wise being given to women, too. It's just blossoming. I don't know how to add on any more than that.
KENDRA GRAHAM: Well, I think as David mentioned earlier, these programs have been started: For the Good of the Game, the LPGA Girls Golf Club, the First Tee Program, and it's going to take time. But I think the more we can expose girls and women to the game and have it become more of a mainstream sport, I think that's the biggest thing. There's a playing field ; there's a basketball court every time you turn around in a school yard or someone's backyard, at a playground.
And what For the Good of the Game is doing with the grass roots program and the First Tee and LPGA Girls Golf Club is getting golf accessible, getting it right there in their P.E. classes, in their clubs that they are members of. The more they are exposed to it, the more accessible it is.
And I don't mean accessible; I just mean easy. It's easy to go play, just as easy as it is to go kick a soccer ball around and go shoot hoops. That's when golf is going to take off and grow.
We're getting it to a place where programs are just starting to flourish, and it's just going to happen. We just have to be patient and we just have keep at it.
Q. You mentioned accessibility in one way. I'd like to ask you the other way. The affordability/accessibility of golf courses nowadays are such that maybe girls that you're targeting in your programs or the LPGA is targeting in their programs cannot, in fact, play on those courses because, a, they don't have the access because inherently men try to shun girls or women from playing certain courses; b, and does the affordability of the sport itself, have you identified those issues and are you addressing those?
RHONDA GLENN: The affordability, I know we made a deal with the Golf Course Managers of America.
DAVID FAY: Rhonda's right. We have one program which is working with the Golf Course Owners of America, whereby Juniors who are enrolled in these programs can play certain golf courses that are publically owned and that are part of the Golf Course Owners Association of America for one buck. Now that's pretty affordable.
Now yes, it's almost more of a statement. There's no disputing that golf is a rather expensive sport compared to others, but there are opportunities and there are golf courses who are reasonably priced. In this area alone, I was looking at the publication that the Hutchinson Chamber of Commerce put out, and there were a number of golf courses that were very reasonably priced.
Certainly, one of the things that we all recognize in the game is that golf is a bit more costly than some other sports. But I think that the programs that we are involved with, some of the ones that we have mentioned already are trying to address that issue, and that's the best we can see, which we are trying to deal with it. But we can't go out there and ordain that golf courses shall cost "X" for a green fee; you can't do that.
But I have to say that this program in conjunction with the National Golf Course Owners, and my hat is off to them, to allow kids to play a round on a golf course for one buck. And there are a number of them and we can give you the listing of them. That's a pretty good start.
RHONDA GLENN: Also, if you'll drop by my desk in the back of the media center, we have a number of USGA projects, For the Good of the Game Program where we are actually helping to fund construction of golf courses, not the traditional 6,500-yard length but the smaller golf courses which do give access to girls, as well as boys, for very low rates and encourage them to play and actually say: We want your children to come out and play. I have a list of those programs. If you would like to drop by, we can give it to you.
Thank you very much, Cora Jane, Kendra and David for being with us. We'll have a great week.
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