By Rhonda Glenn, USGA
Museum Moment: The U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Turns 35
Mar 22, 2012
In 1977, when the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship was founded, the national climate encouraged new opportunities for women.
The Economic Opportunity Act, prohibiting employment discrimination, had been signed into law in 1964. The Office of Economic Opportunity, which was created under the act, prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. Two years later, the order was amended to include gender on the list.
The OEO actively pushed businesses to hire women and before long, it wasn’t uncommon to see women in previously all-male jobs, from climbing utility poles to anchoring television news programs.
In 1972, two landmark laws affecting women were passed. Both houses of Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, but the ERA eventually failed to gain ratification before its June 30, 1982 deadline. A second law, Title IX, was more successful.
June 25 marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a law requiring American colleges and universities that receive federal funds to offer equal opportunities to women. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in all aspects of education. Its application to athletic programs, however, gained most of the attention.
The day before Title IX’s 40th anniversary, the final of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links will be played at Neshanic Valley Golf Course in Neshanic Station, N.J. No doubt many of the WAPL contestants enjoy college golf scholarships as a result of the Title IX legislation. From 1972, when Title IX was passed, to 2001, the number of female college athletes who compete annually has increased from 31,852 to 150,916 – almost a five-fold increase.
When the Women’s Amateur Public Links was added to USGA competitions, it became the sixth women’s championship to be added since the U.S. Women’s Amateur debuted in 1895. Since 1930, each decade of the 20th century had seen the USGA initiate at least one new women’s competition. In 1932, the Curtis Cup Match was founded. In 1949, the USGA started the U.S. Girls’ Junior. In 1953, the Association began conducting the U.S. Women’s Open at the request of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which was unable to provide sufficient prize money.
In the 1960s, the USGA added two women’s events: the Senior Women’s Amateur in 1962 and the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in 1964.
The WAPL joined the lineup in 1977. The 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links marks the championship’s 35th anniversary. It had an interesting birth and in the 1970s, the combined efforts of the USGA Women’s Committee, the USGA Executive Committee and the USGA staff made it happen.
In July 1975, USGA staff member Frank Hannigan notified the Women’s Committee that the idea had been “warmly endorsed” by the USGA Public Links Committee and asked for the Women’s Committee’s views. The following month, USGA President Prescott Bush asked the Women’s Committee to endorse the idea. When the Women’s Committee approved a national public links championship for women, USGA executive director P.J. Boatwright Jr. suggested dates and outlined the match-play format. Entry fees, Boatwright said, should be $10. The new 1977 championship was announced and the waiting began.
As the June entry deadline approached and entries trickled in, the atmosphere surrounding the WAPL at Golf House was tense. Would there be enough entries to justify the new championship? Would it validate the effort to set up 27 qualifying sites around the country?
When the entry deadline arrived and results were tallied, “the astonishing reality was that this championship had attracted a field of 686 players – more than the combined fields of the 1977 Women’s Amateur, Women’s Open, Senior Women’s Amateur and Girls’ Junior,” says the USGA Media Guide.
Those in charge were astounded. First, the WAPL was a new championship that would need time to build interest. Some states didn’t even have organizations to assist women public course players or conduct sectional qualifying – in fact, the entries were drawn from just 24 states. The reaction from players had been overwhelming.
And so, full of enthusiasm, the WAPL field had a great kick-off at Yahara Hills Golf Course (East Course) in Madison, Wis. Of the 120 qualifiers, 32 advanced to match play. On July 3, 19-year-old Kelly Fuiks of Phoenix defeated Kathy Williams of LaCrescent, Minn., 1 up, in the 18-hole final to become the first WAPL champion. Fuiks repeated as champion in 1978.
In 1979, reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lori Castillo, 18, of Honolulu, began her two-year reign as WAPL champion when she edged Becky Pearson of Miami, Fla., 2 up, in the final. Castillo won again in 1980.
The USGA Museum has items from both Fuiks and Castillo in its collection. The Wilson R-90 sand wedge used by Fuiks in the inaugural WAPL and the driver used by Castillo to win the 1980 championship are on display in “The Age of the Superpowers” gallery in the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.
Both champions have remained in golf. Fuiks, now Kelly Leadbetter, is married to famed instructor David Leadbetter and teaches part-time at the Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Castillo is active in the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association and is head coach of the University of Hawaii women’s golf team.
Over the years, the WAPL has drawn as many as 1,000 entries. The record of 1,085 was set in 1986. Some WAPL champions, such as Michelle Wie (2003) and Yani Tseng (2004), have gone on to make a mark in professional golf.
Since 1977, 35 years ago this June, thousands of contestants have enjoyed the benefits of playing in a championship that was once considered a long shot for success, a championship that continues to lure public-course players into a national arena.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the Women’s Amateur Public Links was added to USGA competitions in 1977, it became the sixth women’s championship to be added since the U.S. Women’s Amateur debuted in 1895. The first championship, won by Kelly Fuiks (pictured), attracted a field of 686 players – more than the combined fields of the 1977 Women’s Amateur, Women’s Open, Senior Women’s Amateur and Girls’ Junior. (USGA Museum)
In 1979, reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lori Castillo began her two-year reign as WAPL champion when she edged Becky Pearson of Miami, Fla., 2 up, in the final. Castillo remains active in the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association and is head coach of the University of Hawaii women’s golf team. (USGA Museum)
After a warm endorsement from the USGA's Public Links and Women's Committees in 1975, USGA executive director P.J. Boatwright suggested dates and outlined the match-play format. Entry fees, Boatwright said, should be $10. After two years of planning, the inaugural WAPL was held at Yahara Hills Golf Course (East Course) in Madison, Wis. (USGA Museum)