Augusta National Golf Club, which had no female members until 2012, will host a new women’s amateur championship starting next year.
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship will be a 54-hole tournament to be held annually, with the first two rounds to be played at Champions Retreat before the event heads across town to Augusta National for a Saturday final round preceding the Masters.
The announcement of the tournament – the first event for women in the club’s 84-year history – is the first major change under the club’s new chairman, Fred Ridley, who succeeded Billy Payne in 2017.
“Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts left behind a legacy of always trying to contribute meaningfully to the game of golf,” Ridley said. “The Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship embodies that principle, and we believe this event will have a significant and lasting impact on the future of the women’s game.
“Our hope and expectation is that this event will further energise those who already love the sport and inspire others through the dream of competing at Augusta National.”
It was a shock announcement, on two levels. Work behind the scenes began on this event back in October and lips were sealed. Secondly, Augusta National’s attitude towards women from 1933 to 2012 meant there were no female members of the club.
One of the first women to be admitted as a member of the club was former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She was an interested, and smiling, spectator in the press conference as Chairman Ridley revealed Augusta’s newest event to the world.
The 54-hole, stroke play tournament will feature an international field of 72 players. Awarding winners of other recognised championships and using the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking will determine the invitees.
"We don't know how many (tickets) there will be, and we don't share that information, but we do intend for this to attract, hopefully, a significant number of people." – Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley.
After two rounds there will be a cut to the low 30 scores, with the final round taking place at Augusta National when an amateur champion will be crowned for the first time ever at the home of the Masters.
It is highly unlikely that the winner will receive a green jacket.
“The green jacket certainly is an iconic part of the Masters Tournament and is awarded to the champion,” Ridley said. “We plan to have a very distinctive award in trophy for the winner of this event, and we think in time that that will become iconic as well as it relates to this championship.”
The chairman then laughingly confessed: “We don't know (what it is) yet. We got to work on that. But I can assure you it will be very, very nice.”
The ultimate aim of the event is to attract a world class field of female amateurs, but it will clash with the first women’s major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, which may force the game’s leading players to choose which tournament they play in.
Ridley says he doesn’t foresee a problem after discussing the new tournament concept with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan.
“Mike understands our motivations for doing this,” Ridley said. “Our motivation to try to help grow the women's game.
“I think he also understands and agrees wholeheartedly that from a big picture this is a win for women's golf, and I think he also understands that in time it's going to be a win for the LPGA.”
Ridley said the plan is televise the event globally and set up a lottery for tickets.
“We don't know how many (tickets) there will be, and we don't share that information, but we do intend for this to attract, hopefully, a significant number of people that want to come to the National, to come to Augusta National to watch these great women players,” Ridley said.