Donna Andrews at the 1994 Nabisco Dinah Shore (Donna Committee)
When the Donna Andrews Invitational tees off in June, Steve Washburn will have completed his transformation from golf dad to tournament director. Much research and effort have gone into the role, and the fact that he wore the first hat makes him that much more qualified to wear the second.
If 2019 is going to be the year of female golf – and it’s looking pretty good, considering that the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur is slated for April and that the U.S. golf industry-driven #inviteHer campaign continues to resonate – then the creation of the Donna (as it will be affectionately called) is perfect timing. In fact, Washburn likes to joke that Augusta stole his idea. Officials at host Boonsboro Country Club in Lynchburg, Va., were deep in the planning stages for their own women’s amateur event when Augusta announced its event, to an unsurprising amount of fanfare.
The Donna, too, has roots in a long-running men’s event. Boonsboro has hosted the Fox Puss Invitational since the late 1960s, and Washburn, a player in his own right, has played it several times. When his daughter, a junior-college golfer at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, N.C, asked him why there wasn’t a women’s equivalent, Washburn realized he didn’t have a good answer.
“With a daughter graduating college – she has no aspirations to go any further –what do you do for all these women players who are really good but not good enough to go to the pro level?” Washburn reasoned.
Boonsboro Country Club
It was hardly as simple as recognizing a need for such an event and simply creating it. Lucky for all involved, Washburn is on the golf committee at Boonsboro. That helped him find support for the event and get the committee’s backing. Women’s committee member Becky Hawkins, a 10-time club champion at Boonsboro, helped get female members on board. The 54-hole national amateur event is now firmly on the calendar for June 23-25.
Washburn ticks off three things that give the Donna staying power: a beautifully classic venue in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains; the southern hospitality deeply rooted in Southwest Virginia culture; and a connection to major winner Donna Andrews.
Andrews, a seven-time Virginia Women’s Amateur champion, grew up in the Lynchburg area, playing at Boonsboro. Her parents are still members there.
Beyond that connection, Washburn has seen the magic Andrews holds with young females entering the game. When injury cut short his daughter Danielle’s equestrian aspirations, the Washburns turned to golf. Andrews’ mother Helen helped connect Danielle with Donna and the transformation was swift from there.
“She took a girl who had played with dad in the summers occasionally and turned her into a fairly competitive college golfer in six to nine months,” Washburn said.
The first lesson consisted of a solid hour and a half spent on the range at Pine Needles, where Donna Andrews is the lead instructor. There was a break for lunch then an invitation back to spend the rest of the afternoon honing her game. Danielle was hooked and went on to play a year at Sandhills, which culminated in a T-41 finish at the 2017 NJCAA National Championship.
Part of the impetus behind the Donna was to create a way to honor Andrews --something past a simple plaque in the pro shop. As Washburn puts it, “Something that’s more living and breathing that would honor her legacy to the game for a long period of time.” Coincidentally, Andrews became the first female to be inducted into the VSGA Hall of Fame in 2017.
One of the first commitments for the 2019 event came from another standout Virginia-based female golfer: 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Lauren Greenlief
The Donna will feature four divisions: a championship division plus fields for juniors, mid-amateurs and seniors. It was important to Washburn to attract all ages, and that reflects a trend in many other women’s events. The Ione D. Jones/Doherty Championship, played two weeks ago in Ft. Lauderdale, drew three times the number of seniors that it did mid-amateurs and juniors.
Carolyn Keeling, another Boonsboro member who is overseeing communications and marketing, can hardly overstate the personal touch that the Andrews family brings. Donna has been very involved in the planning stages. Her mother Helen will even hand-paint 18 silk flags with the event’s logo to fly during tournament week.
“The legacy that she has left behind is incredible,” Keeling said of Donna. “We’d like to eventually have that immediate name recognition.”
Keeling was instrumental, too, in the tournament’s tagline: The future of golf is female. Washburn thinks it couldn’t define the goal any better.
“We’re all sitting around and it just came out,” Washburn remembers of initial tournament conversations. “As a whole group, the people that are on this committee believe that.”
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KEEPING HER COMMITMENT
: Elizabeth Wang
wasn't glued to the TV last year during Masters week. She didn't even find out about the new Augusta National Women's Amateur until members at Pacific Palms Golf Resort in Industry Hills, Calif., her home club, told her about it. Talented young players like Wang are a treasure at their home courses, so the 18-year-old was understandably the first player who came to mind among members.
At the time, it didn’t feel very real to Wang.
“My expectations weren’t very high because I’ve never been in that position,” she said, referring to her No. 54 position in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. As it turned out, Wang qualified for an invitation by being one of the top 30 Americans in the rankings, and was over the moon to receive it.
Until she checked Harvard’s spring competition schedule. The ANWA overlaps the Matchplay Madness event that Harvard will play in Princeton, N.J., on April 6-7. Wang being a freshman for the Crimson, you might say she feels an above-average level of responsibility to do what’s best for her team. Upon receiving her ANWA invitation, Wang immediately went to head coach Kevin Rhoads, who gave his blessing for Wang to go to Augusta. Still, Wang didn’t feel good about bailing on her team, especially with only three events on the spring schedule. She declined her ANWA invitation and will instead play with her team that week.
“I definitely think that with collegiate golf, it’s definitely a team thing,” she said. “I feel like there’s responsibilities that I have just outside of my own individual pursuing of goals.”
Wang’s ranking – and stock – rose with a trip to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. She defeated Jennifer Kupcho
, the reigning NCAA champion, in the first round. Wang also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open in 2018, making the cut and finishing 34th.
So far, Harvard suits her, and it makes sense that she’d want to fulfill her obligations there. Wang has yet to declare a major, but thinks she might pursue something government-related. She gushed about a nurturing climate even as she admitted it took weeks to muster enough courage visit a professor during office hours so she could better understand a concept in one of her classes.
“Everyone has the goal of working toward more knowledge and learning,” Wang said. “It’s such a positive atmosphere.”
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MAN OF THE MOMENT
: A common thread connected the best amateur performances on both coasts this weekend, and that was swing instructor George Gankas. He works with both Oklahoma State sophomore Matthew Wolff, who brought his unusual yet powerful swing to the Waste Management Phoenix Open for his PGA Tour debut
, and top junior golfer Akshay Bhatia, who won the Jones Cup in a playoff
Gankas caddied for Wolff at TPC Scottsdale:
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TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH
Amer Ari Invitational, Waikoloa (Hawaii) Kings’ Course, Feb. 7-9
The big guns go to Hawaii to start the spring season. Among the teams in the field is Oklahoma State, which won twice in the fall and is No. 1 in the Golfweek
/Sagarin College Rankings.
Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Del Mar River Course, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Feb. 10-12
The spring opener for many schools in the Midwest, including reigning SEC champion Arkansas. This one has been a staple on the calendar for several seasons.
• • •
STAT OF THE WEEK
: MAKE ROOM FOR MID-AMS
The 78-man Jones Cup field included nine mid-amateurs – among them U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Kevin O’Connell and runner-up Brett Boner. That said…
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TWEET OF THE WEEK