In recent years, Wisconsin has played host to the best golfers in the world (2017 U.S. Open and three PGA Championships), the best female golfers in the world (two U.S. Women’s Opens), the best senior golfers in the world (2007 U.S. Senior Open), and the best amateurs in the world (2011 U.S. Amateur).
Coming in 2019: the best young female amateurs in the world.
SentryWorld in Stevens Point, an esteemed Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, will be the host site of the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, July 22-27.
“I think it’s a great track for this demographic,” said Tracy Parsons, the championship director for the United States Golf Association. “It’s in a beautiful part of the country. SentryWorld is a good, solid test. There are lots of options to challenge the 156 players so that we can narrow it down and ultimately determine our champion.”
First conducted in 1949, the U.S. Girls’ Junior is open to female amateurs who have not turned 19 on or before the final day of the championship and have a handicap index not exceeding 9.4. The list of champions includes Hollis Stacy, Mickey Wright, Nancy Lopez, Inbee Park and Lexi Thompson.
Sentry Insurance plans to pull out all the stops to ensure that the championship leaves a lasting impression on the contestants, officials and spectators.
Uniforms will be provided free of charge to volunteers, there will be free admission for spectators and the course will be closed for up to two weeks prior to the championship so that the turf conditions are perfect when the players arrive for their practice rounds.
“Let’s face it: Stevens Point is not Monterey Peninsula,” said Stevens Point native Mike James, general manager of SentryWorld and vice president of Sentry Services. “Going out to Monterey for these girls (the 2017 championship was at Poppy Hills), what a thrill that is. Coming to Stevens Point, they’re like, ‘Where are we going?’ I would say the same thing if I lived in California.
“Our goal when they step on the grounds for the first time is that they say, ‘Oh, I see why we’re here now.’”
SentryWorld opened in 1982 and has a proud tradition as the state’s first destination golf course. It’s a parkland gem known for its beauty, challenge and superior conditioning. The course underwent a top-to-bottom renovation in 2013 and ’14 under Jones, the original designer, and course architects Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi.
“It really brought the golf course to a new level,” said Danny Rainbow, the director of golf. “It was a very good golf course before, but it’s really at the forefront now for an event like this. The golf course is obviously very, very important to the USGA. It’s the most important thing.”
Parsons, who also conducts the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, said SentryWorld would provide tremendous flexibility for the two days of stroke-play qualifying and for match play.
For example, the short par-4 11th likely will be played all the way back during stroke play to avoid pace of play issues, but during match play the tees will be moved up so it will be a drivable par 4. The par-3 12th, over water, has a wide teeing area, so different angles and hole locations “will give it a different look every day,” Parsons said.
Fox Sports will televise the final two days of the championship.
“That will be very helpful for us to get our brand out, which has been overshadowed by Erin Hills and Whistling Straits,” James said. “They do a fantastic job. They’re unbelievable at what they do, so I get it. But it’s something like this that can help get SentryWorld to keep pushing up toward the top.”
SentryWorld hosted the 1986 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, which holds the entry record of 1,085 for that championship, conducted annually from 1977-2014. James said he hoped the U.S. Junior Girls’ Championship would rekindle a mutually beneficial relationship with the USGA.
“It’s a long-term process that we have in place,” he said. “I think a U.S. Open is not something that would be realistic, but I would love to see a Women’s Open or a men’s Senior Open. Those are the big ones that probably a lot of other places want. We’ll be patient."