Fairfield (September 6, 2020) It hasn’t been the kind of year you’d wish for when you’re turning 125.
Thanks to COVID-19, Brooklawn Country Club’s quasquicentennial celebration has been muted to put it mildly. But good news came this month when the USGA, which had previously cancelled the 3rd U.S. Senior Women’s Open scheduled for July of this year, and meant to be the centerpiece of the club’s 125th festivities, announced that it would award the 2021 event to Brooklawn.
“We were never able to really celebrate this year,” said Championship Chair Rick Ryan. “So our birthday party will be a little later. We won’t blow out the candles until August.”
August 19-22, precisely, the dates of Brooklawn’s fifth national championship and, Ryan points out, it’s third Open. Besides the 2003 Girls’ Junior and the 1974 Junior Amateur, Brooklawn has hosted the 1979 Women’s Open and the 1987 Senior Open.
It will also be the first year that World Golf Hall of Fame member Annika Sorenstam, winner of 72 LPGA events and 10 majors, will be eligible to play in the Senior Women’s Open. Should she play, she would join a field that is likely to include Defending Champion Helen Alfredsson, and fellow Hall of Fame member and inaugural Senior Women’s Open Champion Laura Davies.
That’s one of two things about which the club has its fingers crossed. The other is that by August new protocols and presumably a vaccine will make fan attendance possible. (This month’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot will be conducted sans fans).
“We’re hoping there will be fans of course,” said club President Robert Duran, “but whatever we do and what the USGA does, it will be safe. Having fans would be ideal because we see it it as a great opportunity to showcase Brooklawn to the greater community and for that matter to the nation.”
This month’s decision was not automatic. “We got the heads up that it might be possible,” said Ryan, “but we never assumed it was done until we got the contract.”
The decision to accept, he pointed out, required a second board vote. The first, in 2018, specifically related to 2020. But, said Duran, both the board and membership were on board.
“The membership really bought into hosting our fifth USGA event. When the COVID crisis came along and it was cancelled we understood, but we were disappointed. So when we got the opportunity to host again, the membership fully embraced it.”
There was no vote of the membership, but Board members, who had an early heads-up that the 2021 championship was a possibility, took members’ pulses individually. “They asked, ‘What if we have the opportunity again?’” said Duran. “I don’t remember a single one coming back and saying they got any pushback.”
The USGA was also pleased. “We could not be happier to still have the opportunity to host our 3rd U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship at Brooklawn,” said John Bodenhamer, USGA Managing Director, Championships.
The club, which has also hosted many CSGA events, including the 2019 Connecticut Women’s Open, takes an enlightened approach to making its highly-rated A.W. Tillinghast golf course and club facilities available to such events. Data helps feed that attitude. “I told members of the board to Google Brooklawn, to Google Brooklawn and U.S. Senior Women’s Open,” said Ryan. “The exposure is amazing. The USGA told us that the cancellation itself delivered 234 million impressions!”
For Brooklawn’s staff the “return” of the championship will involve planning for several scenarios, given the uncertainty of pandemic protocols. “It definitely will not be easier,” said General Manager Bill Shaw, whose first year at the club has seen rounds rise by almost a third over average. “But even with the increase in play Superintendent Peter Bly has managed the set up maintenance in such a manner that you would never know we are doing a third more. The course is in its usual pristine condition. Our main objective now,” said Shaw, “is to provide a COVID-safe and healthy environment for the USGA Staff, USGA volunteers, players, caddies and possibly spectators, as well as our staff and members. Our current practices will be expanded with a higher degree of training for the greater number of people that will be on property—with or without spectators.”
Shaw, Professional Jim Fatsi, and Bly (who has served the club for 43 years and four championships) all hope for a more “normal" environment.
“It would be better with spectators as golf is no different that any other sport,” said Shaw, noting that at the Senior Women’s Open the USGA has allowed spectators to walk the fairways with the players and experience each shot up close. “So it would be great to have fans. However, we will be ready either way.”
That involves re-energizing the team: four vice-chairs and 20+ committee chairs. "We were so far ahead of things, but we can’t be complacent now," said Ryan. "We'll get cracking again in the fall."