Fans get up-close glimpse of golf’s rising stars at Old Waverly

Fans from all over the country visited Old Waverly during the USGA Women’s Amateur, which gave fans an up close and personal view to the best emerging amateur golf talent in the world

Through the past week Old Waverly Golf Club has welcomed scores of golf fans to West Point ‘as the 119th United States Golf Associations Women’s Amateur Championship concludes today, putting the spotlight on some of the best female amateur golfers in the world.

From volunteers and staff coming from as far away as California, players coming from other countries and locals from across Mississippi making the short drive to Clay County, the event is the third USGA Women’s event hosted by the course in its history and will see the championship in match play held today.

The final round today will see Albane Valenzuela take on Gabriela Ruffels. This will be the second final appearance for the 21-year-old Valenzuela, who finished second in the amateur final two years ago in San Diego, while it will be a first for her Australian challenger, who is a senior at Stanford.

As fans watched match play decide who would advance to today’s final, the level of play coupled with the allure of the course made for a memorial experience for a wide range of golf fans.

Sheila Haynes is an Old Waverly member and praised both the course and its owner George W. Bryan for creating such a great environment for golfers of all ages, while putting a special emphasis on promoting events like the USGA Women’s Amateur.

“Mr. Bryan is a huge advocate of women’s golf and that’s why he loves having women’s golf events and these championships,” she said. “The average age of these girls is 19 and they’re from all over the world and the best amateurs and what’s so cool is they all come here, Australia, China, California, everywhere and a lot of them it’s their first time and they are amazed it’s in Mississippi.”

A golfer herself, Haynes talked about the parts of the course that were both difficult and enjoyable to her, with the common thread for many being the challenging 18th hole.

“Number 11 is just a long par four and the rough is really tall, and 18 is tough, too, it’s a big dog leg and if you hit your drive too far straight you’ll go through the fairway and down the big hill. If you hook it a little you end up in the water.”
Haynes said her favorite hole was number six.

“On the women’s tee you hit a little iron and lay up into the green, but 18 used to be my worst favorite hole,” she said with a laugh.

Along the 14th hole, E.M. Fox — who traveled from just north of Little Rock, Arkansas — watched with friends as Ruffels and her match challenger Andrea Lee competed in the semi-finals on Saturday. Despite the heat, the group was able to find shade and said the event was second to none.

“This is great because we’ve been watching it on TV and it’s wonderful to be here,” she said. “It’s so much more exciting in person.”

Fox, like many other golfers, pointed to the 18th hole as her favorite.

“This is just a hidden gem, it’s a wonderful surprise hidden here,” she said. “It’s just great for the community of West Point.”

Fox and her friends all said they regularly follow USGA events and were impressed with the level of competition on display at Old Wavily through the week.

“These young women can play,” Fox said. “They can hit it hard and they can putt. They’re fun to watch, they look like they are ready to turn pro at any time.”

While the morning temperatures with a 8 a.m. start time didn’t seem to be high, the humidity was a factor for many. But according to Jason Swick, a weather staffer for the USGA, there were not many heat-related issues through the week as fans and participants from all over the world may have been experiencing humidity in the Deep South for the first time.

“I live in Orlando, so when everyone was saying it was hot and humid, I was saying it feels like home,” he said. “I was surprised we didn’t have more heat related issues this week.”

Rain also played a factor, but through the week, Swick said those on the course got lucky.

“[Rain] delayed us by half an hour [Saturday] morning so we moved the tee times up and it was a great call and [Friday] it was a little more than we would have liked.

“We had two tenths of an inch fall just north of here and we get two inches,” he added. “That’s just the luck of the draw in the summer, but I think we got very lucky Monday through Friday morning.”