Southwestern Amateur adds a women championship
By Shawn Allen

What happens when a 104-year-old tournament and one of the best golf clubs in the Southwest United States decide to shake things up? It adds 72 of the best women amateur golfers in the world to an already prestigious event.

The Southwestern Amateur Golf Tournament, held annually during the second full week in June, has a regaled 104-year tradition that has attracted some of the best amateur golfers in the world. From the 1970’s to now, the likes of Craig Stadler, Jay Haas, Mark O’Meara, Corey Pavin, Ryan Palmer, Nick Watney, and JT Poston have been crowned champions.

In 2020, a men’s championship will be conducted as per usual over the last century. But for the first time ever, a women’s 72-hole champion will also be crowned.


For 90 years, the Southwestern Amateur rotated courses around the Southwest US until 2010, when Executive Director John Ranslem approached the board at Desert Mountain Golf Club with an idea. “What if we made [Desert Mountain] the home of the Southwestern Am?” he asked. “So we got an initial five year contract.” The event has been a big success for both the tournament and the golf club. “And now, this year, we have continued our partnership by changing our format.”

The Cochise Course (Desert Mountain photo)

Desert Mountain is one of the premier golf clubs in the US, and according to Ranslem, maybe all of the world. It boasts seven golf courses: Renegade, Cochise, Apache, Geronimo, Chiricahua, Outlaw, and No. 7. The Jack Nicklaus designs are set in Scottsdale, AZ, amidst the Sonoran Desert and at the foot of the McDowell Mountains.

The club has been the home to multiple professional tournaments including the Champions Tour Charles Schwab Cup in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Golfers will play the Cochise and Chiricahua courses, known for their risk/reward par-5’s, the dramatic desert rock outcroppings, and elevation changes that give stunning vistas of the metro Phoenix area.

Many of the 144 golfers (with a preference going to the players traveling the furthest to play) will be given complimentary housing at member houses, and all of them will be afforded the use of golf carts through the tournament. They are guaranteed five rounds of golf -- two practice rounds and 54 holes of tournament golf -- prior to the cut before the final round.

The first three rounds will be split between the two courses with the waves of golfers teeing off on the first and tenth tee in the morning (to ensure that players play in comfortable temperatures). Then on Saturday, golfers who made the cut will finish the tournament on the Cochise course.

Ranslem informs the decision to change the event: “It’s time for a change. Women are excelling in the world at everything else. Their games are wonderful. So we want to be ahead of the curve.”

2020 Southwestern Amateur

June 17-20, 2020

Desert Mountain Golf Club
Cochise and Chiricahua Courses

Field Size: 144 (72 men, 72 women)

Max Index: 1.4 men, 3.2 women

Sure, golf can feel stodgy. It’s not an unearned reputation, and Ranslem sees it as a personal honor to gently push back against the accepted norms of traditional golf. “We saw that the players at the Palmer Cup [a mixed field event] were having a ton of fun playing with each other.”

Then Ranslem gets even more candid. “We want this to be the most fun tournament out there.” Isn’t that the point of golf? To play and have fun, and what more fun is there than to play with golfers who you don’t normally play with and get a free stay in multi-million-dollar homes?

While the Fall is primarily collegiate events, and the Spring is dominated by the professional tours and collegiate championships, the Summer is the time when elite amateurs travel the country looking to compete against the best players. Ranslem understands that and wants to leverage that to the Southwestern Am’s favor. “The best players want to play with the best players, and we want the best men and women in the world in our tournament,” he says.

For his part, he has taken the tournament to the Golf Coaches Association of America and the Women’s Golf Coaches Association, pitching both organizations on the new format. Those pitches were met with enthusiasm, which is his goal. Engaging men’s and women’s programs, together, is a dynamic that most tournaments do not employ.

But he and the board needed to add new voices to make and inform decisions. They added four women to the tournament’s board of directors: Tina Barrett, Erin Groeneveld, Ellen O’Hara, and Diane Thomas. It’s more than just adding access to competition, but it is adding equal voice to the process.

Ranslem says Barrett, a former LPGA member and current men's and women's head coach of the NAIA's Ottawa Spirit, has been “instrumental” in the marketing of the event, and more importantly, what the tournament needs to do to be a success for women golfers.

He admits that modifying a longstanding tradition can elicit a “fear of change”. Changing the status quo always does. But fear is the enemy of success. Ranslem, and the rest of the Southwestern Am Tournament officials, are excited about offering new opportunities and a new dynamic to a historic tournament and game.

And frankly, fun.

ABOUT THE Southwestern Women's Amateur

72-hole stroke play championship for national- level female amateurs with a handicap index of 3.2 or better. After 36 holes, the field will be cut to the low 36 and ties. The SWGA Selection Committee will select players to compete based upon exemptions, playing resume and rankings.

The SWGA reserves the right to invite amateurs of national and international reputation, as well as other amateurs "of note", to enter into the tournament. Applicants are urged to submit their entries with golf resumes of accomplishment in major tournaments and other competitive record information.

View Complete Tournament Information

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