Since it was first played in 1995, the Georgia Women’s Open has spotlighted the state’s top female golfers, with many of the prominent women’s competitors in Georgia winning the event during that span.
Caroline Blaylock, Diana Ramage, Mariah Stackhouse, Dori Carter and Ashlan Ramsey all made it to the LPGA Tour after winning the tournament, and top amateurs and college players like Krissie Register, Summer Sirmons, Courtney Swaim, Laura Coble, Margaret Shirley, Emilie Burger and Jessica Haigwood are also among the list of past champions.
Ji Eun Baik has gone on to the Symetra Tour after her victory last year, and has been joined on that tour by 2018 low amateur Bailey Tardy. With the Symetra Tour playing in Indiana and upstate New York just before and after the Georgia Women’s Open , neither Baik nor Tardy is expected to be in the field for the 2019 Georgia Women’s Open, which will be played July 15-16 at Achasta GC in Dahlonega.
Achasta will be hosting the event for the first time after Brookfield CC in Roswell was the tournament site five of the last six years. Brookfield is hosting a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier one week before the Georgia Women’s Open, and 2017 host Pinetree recently was the site of the Atlanta Open for the Georgia PGA.
With one week remaining before the entry deadline, Baik and Tardy were not the only prominent female players from the state to be missing the field list.
The only past champion signed up as of Friday, July 5th was three-time winner Margaret Shirley Starosto, who has been the tournament’s strongest supporter among the state’s top players. Shirley has been competing and contending in the tournament since she was a high school golfer in the early 2000s.
She won the Georgia Women’s Open in 2006 and ’08 at White Oak and Summer Grove respectively, both while she was a member of the golf team at Auburn. She won the tournament again as an amateur in 2013 at Brookfield, shortly after concluding stints as a college assistant coach at both Georgia and Auburn.
Shirley made three straight appearances in the finals of the USGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship between 2013 and ’15, winning in 2014, and was a member in 2015 of one of four Georgia trios to win the USGA Women’s Team Championship since 2005. But after five years as an executive with Atlanta Junior Golf, Shirley is out of the golf business, with her Linked In profile describing her as a stay at home mom in Woodstock.
This will be Shirley’s first appearance in the Georgia Women’s Open since she finished in the top 10 in 2015. But she remains a competitive player, as evidenced by her showing in last year’s U.S. Mid-Am, where she qualified for match play and won her opener 8&6 before losing in the second round.
Other than Shirley, however, there are just a handful of players in the field as of July 5 with any record of success in the tournament.
Jesisca Welch of Thomasville, who has played on the Symetra Tour, tied for second at Brookfield in 2015, a distant seven shots behind Ramsey, a former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world whose golf career never took off. Welch also recorded a top-10 finish at Brookfield in 2016, and should be among the players to beat at Achasta.
Melissa Siviter, a native of England who played in college at Georgia State, has settled in the Atlanta area and has twice tied for ninth in the Georgia Women’s Open.
While several of the state’s top current and recent college golfers are not in the field one week out from the entry deadline, there is a decent representation of college players already signed up.
Among them is Jenny Bae, a freshman starter this past spring on the UGA golf team after graduating early from high school in Gwinnett County, and UGA signee Caroline Craig. Mercer signee Emily Haigwood, whose older sister won the tournament in 2017, is also playing, as is Carol Pyon, who started as a freshman at Mercer this past season, and Mercer golf team member Tiffany Kim.
Florida State’s Kayla Jones and James Madison’s Kate Owen, both from metro Atlanta, are entered, along with recent Troy State graduate Sarah Harrison from Augusta, recent Northwestern graduate Janet Mao from Johns Creek and former Ole Miss golfer Katy Harris of St. Simons, who is playing professionally. Mao is also listed as a professional.
Harris, Harrison and Jones all competed in last year’s Georgia Women’s Open, tying for 13th with scores of 147. Jones also tied for 13th in 2016.
The Georgia PGA has allowed players from out of state to compete in the tournament since 2014, with North Carolina’s Megan Wallace winning in 2016, and Alabama’s Sydney Legacy second last year behind Baik, who is a rookie on the Symetra Tour.
Baik, who played in college at Mississippi State after competing in high school in Coweta County, is one of four Georgians currently competing on the Symetra Tour. She is 67th on the money list with a top 10 finish recently in Auburn, Ala.
Tardy turned pro midway through her senior season at Georgia after playing in Gwinnett County in high school. She also tied for 10th in the tournament at Auburn as well as an event a few weeks ago in Illinois, and is 56th in earnings.
Newnan’s Jean Reynolds, a Symetra Tour veteran, had a pair of top 10s early in the season and is 34th on the money list. Min Seo Kwak, who plays out of Berkeley Hills in Duluth, already has six top 10s this season and is ninth in earnings. The top 10 earn exempt status for the 2020 LPGA Tour, with Kwak looking to return to the LPGA Tour after playing several seasons there.
With one week left to enter, tournament officials hope that some of the players who have been contenders in recent years add their names to the list of competitors.
The Georgia Women’s Open field will be playing on a Jack Nicklaus Signature design that is known for its quality conditions and enjoyable, moderately difficult layout.
The course will play just under 6,000 yards for the players in the championship and just under 5,000 for those not competing in the championship flight. The Chestatee River runs through almost the entire length of the course, impacting play on a majority of the holes, some significantly more than others.
Despite its location near the north Georgia mountains, Achasta has little in the way of elevation changes, with mostly generous fairways offset a bit by the frequent presence of hazards along the way.
The greens complexes are on the gentle side with surprisingly minimal bunkering for a Nicklaus design, and the bent grass putting surfaces are typically in excellent shape.
With only a handful of holes with serious length, Achasta should offer plenty of scoring opportunities for the top players in the field, although there are also plenty of chances to encounter the many hazards in play.
The front nine includes a pair of par 3s in the 150-yard range with water in play on both, as well as a risk/reward par 5 with water a concern both off the tee and just short of the green. The opening nine concludes with a difficult, dogleg left par that requires a solid, accurate tee shot to avoid the river down the left side, which also has to be crossed on the approach shot.
The back nine begins with a straightaway par 4 with a pond off the right edge of the fairway, followed by the longest of the par 3s. The 13th is an interesting, short par 4 with both sand and water a factor, along with one of the tougher greens on the course.
Perhaps the most imposing course at Achasta is the par-5 15th, with the Chestatee River again in play on the first two shots. The river angles through the fairway and will force a decision for shorter hitters on their second shots.
Achasta closes with a perilous par 4 that features a pond off the right side of the fairway that also hugs the right edge of a sloping putting surface.