Ellen Port is perhaps best known for her seven U.S. Golf Association championships (four U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs and three U.S. Women’s Senior Amateurs). But the 59-year-old Port, who didn’t take up the game until she was in her 20s, still remembers the first national title she won. It was the 1994 Women’s TRANS National Golf Association Amateur Championship.
Port claimed the TRANS title the same year she made her debut on the U.S. Curtis Cup team. Twenty years later, Port captained the Americans to victory in the Curtis Cup.
“Personally, I hold all those associations in such a high regard because I didn’t have the luxury—I knew nothing about golf,” she remembers. “And I didn’t have junior golf. All I had was the Western and the TRANS and really, the North & South.”
The TRANS became the Ladies National Golf Association in 2019 and next month, Port will play in the first LNGA Mid-Am Senior Championship. The new event will be played April 18-21 at Anthem Country Club in Anthem, Arizona. The LNGA Amateur retains its usual late-July slot and will be played at the Country Club of St. Albans in St. Louis.
Male mid-amateur and senior players can tee it up all over the country most weeks of the year if they choose to do it. Those kinds of opportunities haven’t existed for female players who compete as amateurs into their mid-20s and beyond, but that’s starting to change.
“We don’t need 40 of them,” Port noted, “we need four or five of them.”
Port is thrilled to see an historic organization like the LNGA get behind this sector of women’s golf. The first TRANS Amateur was played in 1927 at Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Missouri. Names like Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias and Betsy Rawls dot the early pages of the organization’s history books.
Now it’s evolving to meet the current needs of women’s golfers.
“If we could just four or five reoccurring awesome events so that mid-ams coming out of college and people can say, ‘Gosh I’ve got something I could work for,’” Port said. “Because you can’t take the competitiveness out of a person, they want to keep competing.”
Add the LNGA Mid-Am Senior to a lineup that includes fall USGA events – the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur – plus the Amateur Golf Alliance Women’s Amateur, a tournament open to female amateurs age 23 and over that was played for the first time in 2020, and the North & South Women’s Senior Amateur.
The World Amateur Golf Ranking points on offer at the LNGA’s new event makes it perhaps even more attractive.
“We realized that the USGA was looking for a few high-level playing events that are WAGR events,” LNGA President Joanne Walker said. “So this championship, having the inaugural mid-amateur and senior, is offering another WAGR event to those two age groups. There’s just not that many out there so we felt like this was a good fit for the players and for the organization to provide that opportunity.”
Sue Ewart, a former women’s college golf coach at Long Beach State who sits on the LNGA’s Board of Directors, said the LNGA Mid-Am Senior Championship grew from feedback that came from a handful of seniors who played in the LNGA Amateur at Tennessee Grasslands in Gallatin, Tennessee, in July 2020.
“We were picking their brains and they said we love this championship but we’re not competitive with these kids anymore. Is there any way we can get a second set of tees?” Ewart remembered.
When the LNGA added the new Mid-Am and Senior Championship to the schedule, it retired the Senior Four-ball. There’s a cap of 120 players for the LNGA Mid-Am Senior Championship, and ideally that will include half seniors, half mid-ams. The mid-amateurs will play the tournament at roughly 6,250 yards while the seniors will play it at about 5,900 yards.
“I remember when I was a mid-am player, I was looking for things to play in,” said Ewart, who was a member of the USGA Women’s Committee from 1994-2004 and the Rules of Golf Committee from 2005-2008. “You’re kind of caught – it’s too hard to compete with the college players or the young juniors and you’re not old enough to play with the seniors.
“It’ll catch on.”
The tournament schedule isn’t the only thing changing at the LNGA. The St. Louis-based Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association has stepped in as the administrative body of the LNGA, an organization that didn’t have any real physical space. In fact, before MAGA stepped in, the outgoing LNGA president would ship boxes of equipment – trophies, banners, tournament operations gear – to the incoming president. MAGA officials can also help with tournament software and logistics.
The LNGA Mid-Am Senior Championship’s spot on the schedule is a big bonus – and important if its going to draw a strong field.
For Megan Stasi, a four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champ who competes frequently not just in her home state of Florida but nationally and internationally, it’s nice to not have to have to make a decision about what to play because two major events overlap.
“During the summertime, everything just goes into overload,” Stasi said. “A few weeks in July are always overlapping with four or five different tournaments. You can only pick one. If it’s the North and South, if it’s the Florida Am, they always seem to overlap and you can never really play in more than one.
“I think it’s a great idea to do April. There’s nothing really else to play in for the mid-ams and seniors except maybe locally.”
Now, Port notes, it’s time for players to throw their support behind the event.
“Now it’s it up to us,” Port said. “If we don’t play in it, it will go by the wayside. . . . The next three or four years are going to be important.”