A Second Chance

Eisenhower GC at Air Force Academy, where 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior was canceled due to Covid, is awarded the 2023 national championship; CGA to serve as ‘host group’; 2 USGA events now set for next year in Colorado

By Gary Baines – 3/17/2022

The very day that the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior, scheduled for Eisenhower Golf Course at the Air Force Academy, was officially canceled due to Covid-19 safety concerns, Colorado officials involved with the event were already talking about prospects for the 2023 Girls’ Junior coming to Eisenhower.

On Thursday, the USGA made official what was speculated — in an informed way — 23 months ago. The Association announced that the 2023 Girls’ Junior, set for July 17-22 that year, will be contested at Eisenhower’s Blue Course. It will be the first USGA championship to be held at a course affiliated with a military academy.

“(USGA managing director of championships) Mark Hill made it very clear in telling us unfortunately the 2020 event was canceled that they would very much like to reschedule,” CGA executive director Ed Mate said in a phone interview on Thursday. “And he mentioned right out of the gate that 2023 was the best option from the USGA’s standpoint. So it was kind of understood from the very beginning. It was the outcome we were looking for; it just took us a while to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s to get it done.”

Eisenhower’s Blue Course features formidable greens, stellar scenery and plenty of wildlife.

At the time of the USGA’s cancellation of the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior, the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Girls’ Juniors had already been awarded — to Chevy Chase, Md., and Bowling Green, Ky., respectively — so the 2023 was the next open date for the championship. 2020 was the only year since the inception of the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1949 that the championship hasn’t been held.

“There was overwhelming enthusiasm when we announced that we would be bringing a USGA championship to the Air Force Academy, and like so many things impacted by the pandemic, it was incredibly disappointing to have to cancel,” championship director Tracy Parsons said in Thursday’s release. “We couldn’t be more excited to have another date set on the calendar and are incredibly appreciative of Eisenhower Golf Course and the Colorado Golf Association for their continued support of the Girls’ Junior.”

The CGA will serve as the “host group” for the championship, partnering with the USGA in many respects, just as the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado had been scheduled to do in 2020. The JGAC, founded by the CGA and the Colorado PGA, was disbanded at the beginning of this year, with each organization now running various junior golf events and programs in the state.

In many respects, most notably fundraising, the CGA’s role for 2023 will be very similar to what the JGAC’s role was expected to be in 2020. Specifically, the JGAC had been charged with raising about $400,000 for the 2020 event, and roughly that amount of fundraising has now fallen to the CGA. In that regard — and others — the CGA received a big jumpstart for this event rather than having to begin from scratch.

“We had a nice head start on fundraising, which we carried over (from 2020),” Mate said. “We’re very close to getting that all raised. We have a few more significant ‘asks’, but being able to carry forward what we started in 2020, we’re going to be in really good shape. We hope to have all the money raised this year so we can just focus on execution next year.

“And all the committee chairs that had been identified to take a lead volunteer role are being re-asked. The wheel had very well been invented, so we’re just pumping it up with air again.”

The way Mate explains it is that the CGA is going to be the responsible party for the all the administration leading up to the tournament. Once the tournament starts, it will be handed over to the USGA, the Eisenhower staff and the volunteers.

Ashley Harrell, the CGA’s managing director of golf operations, and Colorado Golf Hall of Famer — and former USGA Executive Committee member — Christie Austin are serving as co-chairs of the CGA’s Planning Committee for the event. The committee is already holding monthly meetings to comb over the budgets and logistics.

Besides the additional planning time now in place, the delay from 2020 to 2023 may have worked out better for the folks at the Air Force Academy’s golf facility as putting green and pavilion projects have since been completed. “The campus there is better equipped to host than they would have been in 2020,” Mate said. “I think that worked out for the best as well.”

While much is the same as far as the “host group” role in 2020 and ’23, there will be some changes made. Leading up to 2020, the JGAC was planning ancillary activities that would transcend the competition itself, most notably a “Golf in the Park” event and a Women’s Leadership Summit. Those events won’t happen in 2023.

“The biggest difference is the USGA post-Covid is rethinking some of the outside-the-ropes events — the players’ dinners and keynote speakers and gathering people,” Mate said. “They’re kind of moving away from that formality for all their championships. The feedback from players has been, ‘We don’t miss those things. We’d rather just do things that are more on our own terms, our own schedule.’ The players are there to play golf.

“So some of the stuff we had planned for 2020, we’re not going to bring back — like the idea of a Women’s Summit, Golf in the Park and some of these other extracurricular things outside the championship proper. Frankly I think that will allow us to deliver a better championship without being distracted by some of these other things. They’re all well-intended ideas, but we’re definitely going to be more focused.”

The U.S. Girls’ Junior has been held three times in Colorado — in 1957 at Lakewood Country Club, 1965 at Hiwan Golf Club in Evergreen and in 1982 at Greeley Country Club.

With Thursday’s addition, two USGA championships are scheduled for Colorado in 2023, with the U.S. Amateur set for Cherry Hills Country Club and Colorado Golf Club serving as the second stroke-play course for that event.

All told, Colorado has hosted 33 USGA championships to date, with the most recent being the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Colorado Golf Club. Now upcoming, in addition to the 2023 U.S. Amateur (Aug. 14-20) and the ’23 U.S. Girls’ Junior are the 2025 (and possibly another) U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

This will mark the eighth time two or more USGA championships have been held in a single year in Colorado, with the previous instances coming in 1959, ’65, ’76, ’82, ’90, ’93 and 2008. In fact, in 1982 four USGA championships were conducted in Colorado — the U.S. Women’s Amateur (The Broadmoor), the Curtis Cup (Denver CC), the U.S. Girls’ Junior (Greeley CC) and U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur (Kissing Camels).

The clubhouse at Eisenhower GC.

“If you were planning it from scratch, you probably wouldn’t plan two championships (in the state) in the same year,” Mate said. “But it just makes it that much more exciting to have that attention on golf in Colorado in one year. And the two tournaments are so different — the U.S. Am and the Girls’ Junior — and they complement each other nicely.” 

The U.S. Girls’ Junior attracts 156 of the top female golfers in the world, age 18 and under.  

Coloradans — current and past — have a rich history in the championship, which dates back to 1949. World Golf Hall of Famer and current part-time Colorado resident Hollis Stacy won the event a record three times (1969, ’70 and ’71). Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Carol Sorenson (Flenniken) claimed the title in 1960. Fellow Hall of Famer Barbara McIntire was a two-time runner-up (1951 and ’52), the latter when she lost to Mickey Wright in the final. Another Coloradan, Maggie Martin (Giesenhagen) finished second in 1961, as did 2019 Colorado Golf Hall of Fame inductee Lauren Howe in 1974, when she lost to Nancy Lopez in the title match. The next two years, Howe was the stroke-play medalist in the event. Nancy Abiecunas, who grew up in northern Colorado, was runner-up in 1999. One-time University of Denver golfer Kimberly Kim played in the championship six times — and was a finalist in 2009 — and Coloradan Becca Huffer five. Colorado native Jennifer Kupcho, now the No. 49-ranked player in women’s golf, made her U.S. Girls’ Junior debut in 2013.

Winners of the event, besides the aforementioned, include Lexi Thompson, Ariya Jutanugarn, Inbee Park, Amy Alcott and JoAnne Carner.

In recent years, the winner of the U.S. Girls’ Junior has earned a spot in the following year’s U.S. Women’s Open.

(About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2021. Email: ColoradoGolfJournal@mac.com)