Champions Golf Club, with a winner’s pedigree that dates to its co-founders, offers 36 holes to counter next week's reduced daylight
In a year when nothing has felt the same, the U.S. Women’s Open will be no exception. But one certainty this year is that those involved will be happy to know that a trophy will be awarded by week’s end.
“Every 15 minutes, seemingly the decision you had made needed to be updated or changed,” said Matt Sawicki, senior director, championships at the USGA. “But it’s really been a collaborative effort to put this championship together.”
Champions Golf Club in Houston was scheduled to have hosted the 75th edition of the U.S. Women’s Open in June on the club’s Cypress Creek course. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the USGA to reschedule the tournament for Dec. 10-13 and use the Cypress Creek and Jackrabbit courses.
“Champions Golf Club signed up for a championship that was going to be hosted in June 2020,” Sawicki said with a slight laugh, as if he – despite being one of the tournament leaders – can’t believe what has happened, “and here we are in December, conducting this championship over 36 holes, with very limited daylight in the midst of their busy holiday season.”
Cypress Creek, a 1959 Ralph Plummer design, owns a long history with the USGA and the PGA Tour, having hosted the 1967 Ryder Cup, the 1969 U.S. Open, the 1993 U.S. Amateur, plus multiple editions of the PGA Tour Championship and the Houston Open. The U.S. Women’s Open will be the first LPGA event to be played in Houston since the mid-1980s and only the second time that the Women’s Open will be played in Texas.
Jack Burke and the late Jimmy Demaret, both major champions and members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, established the 36-hole club in 1957. Burke and his wife, Robin – a fine player in her own right and captain of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team – are on the executive committee for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. It’s a committee that includes 14-time PGA Tour winner Hal Sutton, a Champions member and major champion. Steve Elkington, another major champion, also is a member of the club.
Champions is known as a players-first club in Houston, and now for 2020 it will be at the forefront of the women’s game.
“Champions has an illustrious golf history,” Sawicki said. “When you take all these factors – a terrific golf course, a community in Houston that expressed a tremendous interest in engaging us and hosting us in their city and a golf course community and ownership that has a commitment to the players and wanted to ensure an exemplary player experience … all of that led us to Champions.”
Before the spring, nothing could have led the USGA to think that its premier women’s event would occur so late in the season. On April 3, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to tighten its grip on the world, the USGA announced that the U.S. Women’s Open would move to December.
Playing two courses for the first two rounds was a necessary adjustment for a tournament that will begin 11 days before the winter solstice, Sawicki said. When the USGA plays the Women’s Open during June in a typical year, it already uses the maximum amount of daylight hours, he said.
“Considering it’s a December championship, we were just two weeks away from the most limited period of daylight in a calendar year,” he said, “so the only way we could conduct a championship of 156 players was to play it over 36 holes.”
The 156-player field will feature 20 amateurs (including Rose Zhang, who won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur), nine past U.S. Women’s Open winners, seven Texas natives, and the three other major winners this year (Sophia Popov, Mirim Lee, and Sei Young Kim). World No. 1 Jin Young Ko will be making her 2020 major-championship debut after having played her native Korean LPGA earlier this year.
There will be a two-tee start on both golf courses, and each course is different in its offering: Cypress features massive greens, and Jackrabbit offers smaller putting surfaces and tight fairways.
“You think of a U.S. Open golf course, and they are always hard anyway. These golf courses are very different,” said Stacy Lewis, who grew up in the Houston area and won her 13th LPGA title this summer, at the Ladies Scottish Open. “That will be the biggest challenge.”
Sawicki said the goal posts for the USGA, as it relates to challenges – even as the event inches ever closer – are continuing to move. There will be no fans onsite, despite the fact that the PGA Tour’s Houston Open allowed 2,000 spectators per day last month.
Although Sawicki conceded that the USGA’s challenges are not unlike so many around the world adjusting to new routines due to COVID-19, there’s much still to be reviewed and worked through. Watching the rise and fall of cases in the Houston area and the restrictions placed on the USGA has invoked “continually changing circumstances,” he said.
“Our goal all along has been to hand out the trophy,” he said. “We’ve focused our efforts on making [the event] memorable off and on the golf course for the players. That’s been our measuring stick for 2020.”
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