For the first 55 or so years of the LPGA Tour, Georgia was a vital part of the tour’s history, both as the host of a number of tournaments as well being home to some of the top players in women’s professional golf.
A tournament played at Sunset Hills in Carrollton was on the schedule of the first official LPGA Tour season in 1950, and Atlanta native Louise Suggs, one of the tour’s founding members, was among the winners that season.
The Titleholders was held for the first time at Augusta CC the following year, and continued as one of the LPGA’s most prestigious tournaments until the mid-60s, when it quietly came to an end. Later in 1951, Atlanta’s Druid Hills GC hosted the U.S. Women’s Open, and two years later the nearby Capital City Club was the site of the Western Open, one of the tour’s top events at the time.
The tournament in Carrollton did not last past the mid-’50s, but by that time two more tour events had started in the state. A tournament in Thomaston lasted only one year, but Sea Island GC was the host of an annual event for a decade until 1963, with the County Club of Columbus also the site of an LPGA tournament from 1959-61.
There was no LPGA tournament in Georgia in 1967, but the following year a new tournament began at one the more recent additions to the Atlanta golf scene – Canongate GC, located just south of the city. The tournament changed sites twice, moving to Indian Hills in east Cobb in 1970and to Brookfield CC in Roswell in ’77.
In the home city of Coca-Cola, the tournament’s first title sponsor was Pepsi in 1971, but that didn’t last long, and the tournament to continue to exist under the name of several brands of beer before an Atlanta car dealership put its name on the title in the tournament’s final year of existence in 1984.
Nestle moved into the Atlanta market the next year as the title sponsor of the grandiosely title World Championship of Women’s Golf, which had been played for several years in Cleveland with a different sponsor. The tournament lasted for five years, with Atlanta resident Rosie Jones winning in 1998, the next to last time the event was played at the PineIsle Resort at Lake Lanier, a course that no longer exists.
The U.S. Women’s Open returned to the state in 1990, with Atlanta Athletic Club serving as the site after previously hosting both the men’s U.S. Open and PGA Championship. The tournament was plagued by weather problems and encountered other issues, and there was no LPGA event in Georgia in 1991 for just the second year since 1950.
Atlanta remained a target host city for the tour despite the two tournament exits in the 1980s, and a Japanese sponsor emerged in 1992 as title sponsor for a tournament at Eagle’s Landing, a quality private club south of the city in McDonough. The sponsor bailed after one year, but the tournament held on until Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A rode to the rescue with the event on the verge of going out of business after 1994.
With a quality host course and strong local backing, the tournament became one of the more popular stops on the LPGA Tour for the next decade, but Chick-fil-A pulled its sponsorship following the 2005 tournament, and after one more year with a non-local sponsor, the tournament ended after 2006.
There has not been a tournament in the state since then, and it doesn’t appear likely that there will be one in the immediate future.
In the intervening years, the LPGA schedule has taken on a much more international flavor, with 12 of the current 33 events played outside North America. Other than limited field tournaments at the beginning and end of the schedule in Florida, the tour has all but abandoned the Southeast, as tournaments in Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas have also disappeared from the schedule.
Apart from an event in Virginia at a former PGA Tour site and two stops in the Southwest, the tour’s American portion of the schedule is concentrated almost entirely on the West Coast and upper Midwest, although this year’s U.S. Women’s Open will be played in Charleston, S.C.
In addition to the absence of an LPGA event in Georgia in more than a decade, there have been very few Georgians playing on the tour in recent years. The state once had a fairly healthy representation of LPGA players, some of whom moved here (Jones and Nancy Lopez) and a number of native Georgians or those who grew up here, most of whom played in college in Athens.
Georgia’s once national championship caliber program has noticeably slipped, and only a handful of female golfers from the state have made much of a mark in the pros since the LPGA Tour left Atlanta more than 10 years ago.
There are only three Georgians on the tour this season, two of whom had to return to the qualifying process to retain their status.
Katie Burnett of Brunswick, who played in college at South Carolina, was a top 100 player on the tour from 2013 to 2017, but fell to 139th last season, making only four of 20 cuts. Her best finish was a tie for 19th in Dallas, an event which was shortened to 36 holes by weather, and she had just one other top-25 finish. Burnett’s best season came in 2016, when she finished as runner-up in an event in Hawaii and ended the year 73rd on the money list.
Burnett qualified for the tour in her first attempt and regained her playing privileges in the new Q series late in 2018, tying for 15th in the 144-hole qualifier played at Pinehurst over two weeks.
Joining Burnett in the Q Series was Valdosta’s Dori Carter, who has played on the tour since 2011. Her best season came in 2014 when she made 20 of 26 cuts and placed in the top 10 twice to finish 70th in earnings, but she has been outside the top 100 since. Playing with limited status last year, Carter got into only nine tournaments and made six cuts, but other than a tie for 32nd in an event in Michigan, did not have another respectable finish.
Carter, who played her college golf at Mississippi and won on the Symetra Tour as a pro rookie in 2010 and the Georgia Women’s Open in 2011 placed 33rd in the Q Series. Only the top 20 finishers are exempt for 2019, and Carter will again play a limited schedule this season.
A few Georgians have also played on the tour over the past decade, but the only one other than Burnett or Carter to last more than a year or two is Riverdale’s Mariah Stackhouse, who will begin her third season on the tour next month.
Stackhouse, the state’s most heralded junior golfer in several decades, starred in college at Stanford, leading her team to the 2015 NCAA title with a clutch performance in the deciding match in the finals. Stackhouse, a member of the victorious U.S. Curtis Cup team in 2014, enjoyed a solid rookie season in 2017 and followed that up with a successful sophomore showing last year, finishing 67th on the money list with $273,260.
In her second season, Stackhouse made 20 of 26 cuts with six top-20 finishes, including a pair of top 10s. She enjoyed a stretch of consistent top finishes through the U.S. portion of the schedule in the late Spring and Summer before struggling in the closing events in Asia.
Stackhouse has made one appearance in her home state as a professional, placing second in the 2017 Symetra Tour event at Atlanta National before moving up to the LPGA Tour on a full-time basis.
Finishing just ahead of Stackhouse on the 2018 money list at No. 65 was LPGA veteran Jane Park, who has settled in the metro Atlanta area in Woodstock. Park won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and made the U.S. Curtis Cup team in 2004 and has been a consistently successful LPGA player since joining the tour in 2007, but is still looking for her first victory.
The Americans on the LPGA Tour have been overshadowed by a strong, deep contingent of Asian golfers in recent years, but 2018 was a relatively successful year for U.S. women’s golf, with nine different players scoring victories, along with Canada’s Brooke Henderson and Mexico’s Gaby Lopez.
Lexi Thompson, the top U.S. player, closed out a tumultuous year with a win in the season-ending Tour Championship to become the only American in the top 10 on the final money list. Danielle Kang, sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda, Angela Stanford and Marina Alex all finished among the top 20, with Brittany Lincicome just outside the top 20. Michele Wie was also a winner in 2018, but her season was derailed by injury, a seemingly annual occurrence for the one-time phenom.
Thailand’s Ariya Jutanagarn and Korea’s Sung Hyun Park were the lone three-time winners on the tour in 2018,with Henderson and Japan rookie Nasa Hataoka winning twice each. The only European winners in 2018 scored surprise victories in majors, with Sweden’s Perniila Lindberg taking the former Dinah Shore and England’s Georgia Hall capturing the Women’s British Open. Jutanagarn and Park, who placed 1 and 3 on the money list, won the U.S. Women’s Open and Women’s PGA respectively, and also ended the year 1-2 in the Rolex Rankings.
The most prominent venue for the LPGA this year is Hazeltine in Minnesota, which will host the Women’s PGA after previously hosting two Women’s Open, two U.S. Opens, two PGAs and the 2016 Ryder Cup. The CC of Charleston will be the site for the U.S. Women’s Open, which will be played earlier than usual this year (May 30-June 2).