By JOHN REITMAN

foR the courier

All the practice rounds in the world could not have prepared Cheryl Fox what awaited her last week for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

The director of golf at Fostoria Country Club in the summer, and at Gator Trace Golf and Country Club in Fort Pierce, Florida during the winter, Fox secured a spot in the inaugural event at historic Chicago Golf Club by finishing second to Martha Leach in a June 18 qualifier at Scioto Country Club in Columbus.

Leach, from Hebron, Kentucky near Cincinnati, went on to finish as the low-amateur with a four-day total of 6-over-par 298. Laura Davies won the event at 16-under-par, lapping runner-up Juli Inkster by 10 strokes.

In preparation for the tournament, Fox practiced as much as she could locally, but nothing in this neck of the woods was an adequate fill-in.

“Chicago Golf Club was amazing,” said the 51-year-old Fox. “I don’t know how to go from the courses I play to that. I don’t play on greens that roll 12 (on the Stimpmeter). The conditions there were so hard; there was no way I was prepared for that.

Regarded as the oldest 18-hole course in continuous operation on the same site and one of the five clubs that founded the USGA in 1894, Chicago Golf Club is 200 acres of pure, unspoiled links golf. Its long, wispy fescue and 5 acres of lightning fast, sloping greens can easily make one forget the course is on the western edge of an area that is home to 9 million people.

Built in 1893, the course originally was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald two years before he won the inaugural U.S. Amateur at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. The layout was reworked in 1921 by Macdonald disciple Seth Raynor.

A Princeton-educated engineer, Raynor still was relatively new to golf, but eventually went on to design more than 50 other classics, including Mountain Lake in Lake Wales, Florida, Metairie Country Club in Louisiana, the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Florida, Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Dunes Course) in Pebble Beach, California, and the Old White Course at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.

Chicago GC sports more than 100 bunkers and 5 acres of putting greens, many of which are square in design, and all of which have more movement than a Major League curveball.

Fox had a triple-bogey on the first hole on the first day and carded an opening round 84. She recovered on Day 2 with a 74 for a two-day total of 14-over-par 160 and missed the cut by two strokes.

“I was only in the fescue once in two days,” she said, “and my threesome never lost a ball.”

Still, Chicago is a brutish layout made even harder by the USGA for the tournament’s 50-and-over competitors.

A trademark of all Raynor designs are severely sloping greens that pitch mostly back to front. The USGA raised the mowing heights on the approaches in advance of the tournament, making it harder for players to utilize the ground game or even putt from just off the green.

“Even though it is wide open, it is extremely hard,” Fox said.

A native of Tiffin, Fox began playing golf after she graduated from Tiffin Columbian High School in 1984.

“I played volleyball, basketball and softball,” she said. “The first time I played golf, I didn’t like it. I hit the ball sideways a lot; kind of like I did in Chicago.”

A natural athlete, Fox quickly picked up the game and started working at Gator Trace in 1994. She turned pro a year later, qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open in 1999 and has spent much of her summers since competing in various state tournaments, including the Michigan Women’s Open, Tennessee Women’s Open and Ohio Women’s Open, where she won the senior division at this year’s event at Eagle Rock in Defiance. She was the overall winner of the Ohio Women’s Open in 2006.

The U.S. Women’s Open has been held every year since 1946 and the U.S. Senior Open since 1980. Although she did not make the cut in the first Senior Women’s Open, Fox was happy to be part of this historic event for women’s golf.

“I’m not in that circle, but I know a lot of women worked very hard to get that,” she said. “It’s long overdue. I’m not sure why it took as long as it did for the USGA to recognize this. I know for some of those women, this was 10 years too late.”

John Reitman is director of news and education for TurfNet, an Orlando, Florida-based news service for the golf industry. He can be reached at jreitman@turfnet.com.

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