The moment that Yuka Saso’s birdie putt found the bottom of the cup on the final playoff hole to close the U.S. Women’s Open Sunday was the moment when Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club went on the clock for the 77th edition of the tournament.
The work to prepare for the fourth U.S. Women’s Open hosted on the historic Donald Ross design has been ongoing for a while now as one of golf’s majors makes its return to Pine Needle for the first time in 15 years.
The U.S. Women’s Open comes to Pine Needles next June 2 to 5, for the first time since 2007 when Christie Kerr claimed her first major championship. The other Women’s Opens that Pine Needles hosted were in 1996 and 2001. The four Women’s Opens are the most hosted by one single course.
“First and foremost, the USGA is about running great championships and identifying great champions,” Pine Needles President Kelly Miller said. “The course stands up for that.”
The USGA expects the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open to be a return to normal after conducting its last two Women’s Opens under COVID restrictions.
“We’re looking at having a normal championship again. We’ve had a couple COVID championships at the Olympic Club and in Houston at Champions Golf Club,” said Allison Burns, the senior championship manager for the 2022 Women’s Open. “We’re really looking to turn the page here with Pine Needles and get back to normal with that fanbase that is just so close to us here in the Sandhills.”
In the time since the last Women’s Open was hosted at the Southern Pines club, the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open was the last USGA championship hosted at the club. Next year’s U.S. Women’s Open will be the seventh USGA championship contested at Pine Needles.
“Pine Needles has been one of those sites that have always identified the best of the best,” said Reg Jones, the managing director for open championships. “You think about Annika (Sorenstam), Karrie Webb and Christie Kerr; you’re looking at some of the greats of the game. That says a lot about the championship test.”
A field of 156 professional and amateur women’s golfers will make up the field and play the course with slight changes from the 2007 championship. Renovations to the course’s greens and bunkers were overseen by Kyle Franz in 2016 as the putting surfaces were changed.
“The biggest difference obviously is going to be the conversion of the greens from bentgrass to bermuda,” Miller said. “The greens are much firmer and have much more contouring in them when Kyle Franz redid Pine Needles.”
Other changes to the course in recent years are the addition of new tee boxes and tightening of landing areas in the fairways to test the players off the tee, Miller said. Those changes were made in conjunction with the USGA in preparation for the upcoming U.S. Women’s Open.
“That from a setup standpoint, our team likes,” Jones said of the changes. “It requires a different level of shotmaking because of the challenge the positioning plays in trying to work your way around the golf course.”
As much as the course’s reputation for being a fair test has helped attract the championship’s return, Miller said that the lasting legacy of Peggy Kirk Bell and her relationship with the governing body for golf has led to the record number of Women’s Opens.
“But all this wouldn’t happen without Mrs. Bell’s involvement and what she meant to women’s golf. She was a great fan of the USGA,” Miller said.
When the championship returns to the area next year, Bell’s absence will be felt. She passed away in 2016.
“We will miss having Peg with us. This will be the first Women’s Open Championship without her, but she will be here in spirit with us,” Miller said.
To build up excitement for the championship, the USGA is hosting a community event in Downtown Southern Pines on June 24 starting at 10 a.m., for an arrival event for the Harton S. Semple trophy from San Francisco. The event will have hands-on activities such as the epic putt contest, and will be the first of several community events to raise awareness for the upcoming event.
“We’ll be having events and celebrations throughout the year and this is really the kickoff event for all of that,” said Julia Pine, assistant director of championship communications with the USGA.
“It’s really just an awareness drive for us to let the community know that we are going to be really involved over the next year, would love the support and are really just here to engage with them.”
The date of the event will also be the start of ticket sales, and public volunteer registration. More than 900 volunteers have already registered, with the marshal program signups from local clubs set to begin in the coming weeks, with the rest of the volunteer force expected to be filled before the end of the month.
“We first are starting with our volunteers. We’re trying to recruit 1,400 volunteers,” Burns said. “We already have 900 signed up of the 1,400 we are trying to recruit. It’s very exciting to have that backbone of the championship getting ready and sorted.”
Jones said that with the initial rollout of ticketing on June 24, there will be a limited amount of premium ticket offers that he said will draw local interest.
“I think that they will be really popular and people in the Sandhills will take special interest in,” he said.
Contact Jonathan Bym at (910) 693-2470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.