Jacquelyne Eleey (Georgetown Athletics Photo)
PLYMOUTH, MA (May 31, 2018) – Even elite amateur events – and even those that have crossed the half-century mark – can’t afford to ignore obvious areas of growth. It’s what prompted this question during a recent meeting of the Hornblower Memorial Amateur
committee: How come we never have any women play?
Once committee members began debating the question, they realized that elite female amateurs might feel as if they couldn’t play the event that’s now in its 54th year. Rather than spell it out on a tournament application, the committee decided to simply open the doors. It prompted a second conversation: Who can we get to play?
The Hornblower Memorial, a 36-hole event with a cut to the top 60 after the first round, is played annually at the Donald Ross-designed Plymouth (Mass.) Country Club. It’s mostly filled with top regional players like 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale
. Many of the players are members of Plymouth Country Club.
, a recent Georgetown graduate, doesn’t have a membership, but her reputation still is known around Plymouth’s fairways. Eleey, from nearby Quincy, Mass., struck up a friendship with Plymouth member Tom Hammill, who would occasionally invite her to the course for a round. Two years ago, she played in a Wednesday afternoon game and was medalist. As tournament committee member Joe Arsenault tells it, Eleey birdied No. 7, the No. 2 handicap hole, then made a hole-in-one on No. 8.
“She played two of our most challenging holes in 3 under par,” Arsenault said.
When the committee issued Eleey the invitation, she gladly accepted. It’s another opportunity to play Plymouth, and it’s a challenging event for Eleey to add to her schedule in the run-up to LPGA Tour Qualifying School later this summer. With Eleey in, the Hornblower committee decided to extend another invitation to Shannon Johnson
, runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. Johnson, a 34-year-old from nearby Norton, Mass., quickly agreed, liking what it meant for her sport.
Shannon Johnson (USGA photo)
“These are elite golfers,” Arsenault said. “We’re thrilled because this is going to open up a whole new group of players, I hope.”
Eleey has lived on the outskirts of Boston her whole life. She attended North Quincy High School for two years before transferring to the Taft School, a boarding school in Connecticut. It was more for academics than golf, but the whole experience helped her mature as a person.
Eleey first saw Plymouth Country Club when she played an American Junior Golf Association event there as a junior golfer. She has since welcomed any invitation to go back.
“It makes you think, and it’s a golfer’s golf course,” she said. “If you shoot a good number, that means you played a really good round.”
Eleey was in the airport headed to the Big East Conference Championship when she got a text from Hammill. He told her he had some exciting news so Eleey, whose flight was delayed anyway, called immediately.
“When he told me I was really excited and nervous and everything, mostly I was really excited to play in it,” she said. “It’s such a prestigious tournament to play in. If you’re a good amateur, you know about it and you want to play it.”
Eleey is coming off a senior college-golf season in which she won three times, including at the Big East Conference Championship. Georgetown advanced to NCAA Regionals, but missed the national championship. That leaves Eleey in the transition stage between college golf and professional golf.
The Hornblower will be a totally new experience for her. The nerves she felt in the days leading up to the event stemmed from playing a longer yardage than she is used to. Plymouth is a par 69, but will play just over 6,300 yards. Eleey, of course, will play from the same yardage as the rest of the field.
That’s the most frequent question tournament director Mike Ellis has fielded. Otherwise, the support for Eleey and Johnson has been huge.
Ellis has been the steward of this event, revived by his father in 1965, for more than two decades. He has always had an eye on growth for the tournament. At first that meant creating a senior division at the Hornblower to accommodate all the aging loyals, who return year after year, to make way for up-and-coming players. Eventually, tournament committee conversations landed on gender. There is no male-only clause on the application, but no female had ever played.
“My feeling is, we want the best of the best,” Ellis said.
The addition of Eleey and Johnson adds another layer to the history of this championship. The name “Hornblower” comes from the family that created Plymouth Country Club in the early 1900s.
When Ellis’ father, A. Linwood Ellis (nicknamed Skeet), dug an old trophy out of a closet one rainy day, it sparked a history lesson. The Hornblower family had hosted an elite amateur event at Plymouth in the 1930s, but it ended when World War II began. Skeet Ellis lobbied for the tournament’s revival, and in 1965 the Hornblower Memorial was reborn as a public event for the top regional amateurs. It has been played ever since.
For his part, Mike Ellis isn’t sure what kind of statement the addition of Eleey and Johnson will make, or if other tournaments will follow suit. He’s just looking forward to watching them play.
“I said you know, maybe it’s time.”