The Volvik Georgia Women’s Open celebrates its 20th birthday this month, with the event back at Roswell’s Brookfield Country Club for the third straight year, with Volvik serving as host for the third time.
The tournament will be played July 13-14, with Druid Hills assistant professional Karen Paolozzi returning to defend her title. Paolozzi is one of the country’s top female club professionals and competed in last month’s Women’s PGA Championship in New York.
The Georgia Women’s Open was held for the first time in 1995, and was played at Canongate courses in Peachtree City and Newnan until moving to Callaway Gardens in 2012. Brookfield, which hosted a tournament on the LPGA Tour in the late 1970s and early 1980s, served as host for the first time in 2013, with Volvik coming on board that year as title sponsor.
The tournament expanded its playing field last year, allowing golfers from outside Georgia to compete for the first time. Players from several states, mainly from Tennessee, competed in the 2014 event. With several weeks left before the entry deadline, the tournament had attracted players from Pennsylvania and Illinois, along with two former Georgia residents who have played in the tournament previously.
Paula Pearson-Tucker, now living in Miami, was a Georgia Women’s Open regular when she lived in the state, and finished as low senior pro in the tournament last year.
Former Milledgeville resident and ex-Clemson golfer Ashlan Ramsey, finished fifth in the Georgia Women’s Open in 2011 at Summer Grove, and will be back in the field this month, competing in the professional division.
The tournament has had a mix of professional and amateur winners in its 20-year history, with a number of the most prominent names in Georgia women’s golf over the past two decades among the champions.
Caroline Peek Blaylock, who played several years on the LPGA Tour, won the event three of its first six years, including the first two in 1995 and ’96. Krissie Register, who grew up in Roswell and played out of Brookfield, won twice as an amateur in the late 1990s before turning professional. Register was part of an NCAA champion Arizona team, with 1998 Georgia Women’s Open champion Summer Sirmons, now an Atlanta area teaching pro, also part of an NCAA championship team during her years at Georgia.
Angela Jerman, a teammate of Sirmons on the 2001 championship team and a former LPGA Tour player, is expected to return to the tournament field this year. Jerman finished second in the Georgia Women’s Open as an amateur in 2001 and tied for third, one shot out of a playoff in 2009 as a pro, but has not played much in recent years, tying for eighth in her most recent tournament appearance in 2011. Jerman is married to Highland Country Club head pro Todd Ormsby.
Diana Ramage, who also played on the LPGA Tour, won the tournament in 2005 and ’07, and is one of several former Auburn golfers to have won the Georgia Women’s Open. Courtney Swaim Trimble, now the head women’s golf coach at Louisville, won over Jerman in 2001, and Margaret Shirley, who coached as an assistant at both Auburn and Georgia, has three Georgia Women’s Open titles to match Blaylock.
Shirley, who recently became the Executive Director of Atlanta Junior Golf, has been a consistent presence in the tournament since her days in junior golf. Shirley won the Georgia Women’s Open in 2006 while a member of the Auburn women’s team and again in ’08 shortly after she graduated. From 2003-10, she finished fifth or better seven of eight years, but missed the 2011 and ’12 tournaments before returning to score her third win in 2013 at Brookfield.
Last year, Shirley was a contender late into the final round, but wound up sixth after a disappointing finish. A few months later, Shirley won the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, an event in which she lost in the match finals the previous year.
The Georgia Women’s Open has had six different winners, the past six years, beginning with Mariah Stackhouse in 2009. Stackhouse had yet to begin her sophomore year in high school when she won in a playoff at Summer Grove, and came close to a repeat title the next year, finishing two shots behind Emilie Burger, then a member of the Georgia women’s team. Shirley, an assistant coach at Georgia at the time, was second that year.
The most recent playoff in the tournament came in 2010, when current LPGA Tour player Dori Carter defeated current Symetra Tour player Lacey Agnew.
Kendall Wright, who is also playing on the Symetra Tour, won by four shots at Callaway Gardens in 2012, with Shirley taking first by a five-shot margin at Brookfield the next year.
In her first appearance in the Georgia Women’s Open, Paolozzi edged Roswell’s Jessica Haigwood by one shot last year with a 4-under 140 total. Haigwood, a member of the women’s golf team at Augusta State, played at Brookfield during her high school career at Roswell, and has been runner-up the last two years after a fourth place showing in 2012.
Paolozzi, Haigwood and Shirley played in the final group in the second round of last year’s tournament, and between them had 25 out of a possible 27 pars on Brookfield’s front nine. The back nine featured several swings in momentum, with Haigwood leading by three shots with five holes to play.
Haigwood hit her tee shots in the water on the par-5 14th and par-3 15th and Paolozzi made up two shots on her on both holes to take the lead. Shirley was only two back of Paolozzi after birdies at 12 and 14, but struggled down the stretch. Trailing by two with two holes to play, Haigwood birdied the long par-4 17th and almost forced a playoff missing her birdie try on the 18th.
Shirley, Haigwood and Wright have been consistent contenders in the tournament in recent years, along with Carmen Bandea, a frequent challenger over the past decade but never a winner.
Bandea, who has played on the both the Symetra and Canadian tours, has finished in the top five each of the last five years, tying with Haigwood for second behind Shirley two years ago. She also was second in 2007, losing in a playoff to Ramage at White Oak. Bandea tied for fourth last year, three behind Paolozzi.
Wright was third last year, finishing two in back of Paolozzi after a final round 68. She has finished fourth or better five of the last seven years, including her win in 2012, and has not been out of the top 10 during that span.
Along with Agnew and Jean Reynolds, Wright is playing on the Symetra Tour this year, with that tour playing in Rochester, N.Y., two days after the Georgia Open ends. The Georgia Women’s Open will also lose several of the state’s top amateurs to the North and South event at Pinehurst, with Stackhouse and incoming UGA freshmen Rinko Mitsunaga and Bailey Tardy playing there.
The field is divided into several divisions for the amateurs, with two Championship flights and two flights for players not in the championship division, along with two senior amateur flights and a senior professional division.