A $100,000 purse. Two days of great golf on a beaut of a course tucked into the ominous Pennsylvania mountains. Coverage on the Golf Channel. Charity contributions to the Autism Foundation. Complete with one of the best playoffs I’ve ever seen and a champion who is an Olympian. All spearheaded by a 28-year-old Princeton Tiger.

Valley Country Club
Valley Country Club, Sugarloaf PA, Venue of the Pennsylvania Women’s Open

The Pennsylvania Women’s Open, which took place on May 25 and 26, was a grand success. I had the privilege of playing in it. I ended up T33 with a first round 79 and a second round 74, which I’ll admit aren’t the best numbers, but considering those darn tricky pins, it was not bad.

I loved playing, but my highlight of the tournament was actually getting to caddy in the playoff for my friend Clariss Guce. I could tell you all about the super-awesome, two-hole, birdie-packed, adrenaline-pumping playoff… or you can just watch it on the Golf Channel

Long story short, my player, California’s Guce, was beat (caddy error?) when Mexico’s Olympian, Alejandra Ianzea knocked in her second thirty-foot birdie putt in a row for the win. The crowd went up in a roar when she holed the putt. It was great fun for all, even the losing caddy!

Second Place finisher, Clariss Guce signs autographs for young fans at the PA Women's Open.
Second Place finisher, Clariss Guce signs autographs for young fans at the PA Women’s Open.

The Pennsylvania Women’s Open is just one of many state opens around the country, that in my opinion, until now, have gone under appreciated for their support of women’s golf.

My foray into state opens began with The Ohio Women’s Open in Defiance, Ohio in 2013. This year the Ohio Women’s Open took place at Eagle Rock Golf Club on June 12th and 13th.

Despite being a short little course, Eagle Rock will beat you up and take your lunch money if you don’t hit it straight. It was my fourth year playing, and this year Eagle Rock did indeed beat me up and take my lunch money. I was battling to defend my 2016 title, but alas, Ohio State Buckeye talent Jessica Porvasnik had other plans and she took the gold this time. Next time!

I first and foremost, love the Ohio Open because it’s a chance to defend my state- my territory. The Symetra Tour never plays in Ohio, and so it’s a big deal to me to play on my home turf. But, I will also admit that, despite making over 30 cuts on the Symetra Tour, my one win at the Ohio Women’s Open tops any single paycheck that I’ve ever made on tour. The $6,000 Ohio Women’s Open Championship check even topped the paycheck that I pocketed with my one made cut on the LPGA this summer!

May family out to watch me compete on home turf at Thee Ohio Women's Open! From Left to right... Aunt Jill, Me, Caddy Dad, Pseudo Cousin Sherry, Infamous Uncle Grub
My family out to watch me compete on home turf at The Ohio Women’s Open! From Left to right… Aunt Jill, Me, Caddy Dad, Pseudo Cousin Sherry, Infamous Uncle Grub

Although my personal state open experience encompasses only Ohio, neighboring Pennsylvania, and Michigan, my fellow professionals tell me of more. There’s the Texas Open, the Maryland Open, the Colorado Open, and beyond. I remember when my pal Becca Huffer hoisted the Colorado Trophy in 2013 for a smooth $11,000. State opens are a beautiful thing.

Their appeals are many. First, it’s a place to play for players who, for whatever reason, be it a bad week, a bad year, no money, or whatever, have no status on either the Symetra Tour or the LPGA. At the state opens, no-status players have one of their few chances to keep their competitive game sharp while they wait to try again at Q-school for better tour status next year.

Another big plus is that generally, state open entry fees are less than Symetra entry fees. Opens usually run you anywhere from $200 to $300 while a Symetra entry fee is $500. The field is not as deep at a state open as that at a tour event, and so you’re chances of turning a profit are perhaps a bit better. Opens are also usually just a couple days, thus, it’s also not quite the full expense travel lodging week.

Whether your goal is to stay sharp and prepare for the LPGA, make money, or both, either way, state opens are a green light.

Kate Scarpetta Symetra Tour
Kate Scarpetta, PA Women’s Open organizer | Photo: Symetra Tour

No doubt, all of these benefits crossed Kate Scarpetta’s mind when she first decided that she was bringin’ back the Pennsylvania Women’s Open. The PAWO had been dead since 1995.

One hot day last August, after Scarpetta had played her first ever round at Valley Country Club, she found herself sitting in the clubhouse, pencil in hand, sketching out her dream of hosting the PAWO at Valley CC on the back of a restaurant placemat. But at this point, it was just a dream with no money.

Enter Tony Salvaggio, owner of the company Computer Aid. Kate had only heard of Tony through friends but she got the nerve to reach out to him while she was golfing with LPGA friend Brittany Benvenuto in the Arizona Women’s Open. Benvenuto told her to go for it.

Kate called Tony. Tony was in. And just like that, a first-time tournament director found her good as gold sponsor.

Shockingly, the purse was the ‘easiest’ thing to secure. It’s what happened first,” Kate told me when I asked her a few questions.

Getting the word out, finding a date that fit the ever more packed touring pro’s schedule, and convincing pros that a new tournament was worth their time, were a bit tougher. But then again, that big purse was there to make things that could have been harder, a good bit easier to coax.

Champion Alejandra Llaneza accepts her $20,000 Championship check from the PA Women's Open Tourney staff.
Champion Alejandra Llaneza accepts her $20,000 Championship check from the PA Women’s Open Tourney staff.

The purse was of course twice as much as the men’s Pennsylvania State Open- something that Scarpetta felt passionately about.

“I really wanted to prove that equal pay is something that’s not impossible in golf. It’s shameful how far behind the women are compared to men. And it’s sad that there is no fire being built to change anything. TV is the big hurdle. But you can’t make that argument with a state open. The gap needs to close and we have to figure it out.”

And Scarpetta did figure it out. She credited her highly skilled team of helpers and her ability to shamelessly fundraise as keys to her success. But truly, to have such a successful show of it for a newly revived event is a testament to Scarpetta’s fearlessness.

She said her motivation came from both not having many places to play herself, but also from knowing that, “Beneath the Symetra Tour is a surplus of talent–the byproduct of Title IX, tremendous junior programs, and international growth–but there is a dearth of options and they’re all quite expensive. I wanted to try to add something that was better.”

Well, from all of us players, we thank state open directors like Kate everywhere for giving us another option and keeping the dream alive!


 

Allie WhiteAllie White from Lancaster, Ohio, is a professional golfer and golf journalist. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Journalism at Ohio University. With four years of experience on the Symetra Tour, a cut made at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open, and a 2016 Ohio Open Championship, White hopes to continue her golf career during her academic breaks.
“I grew up on an 88-acre farm in Southeast Ohio and currently live in the same area with my dog Finley where I cheer like crazy for all of my favorite Ohio sports teams. I love to play my guitar, listen to music, watch movies, and read good stuff!

My two biggest golf dreams are to play in Toledo Ohio’s LPGA event and to make it back to another US Open. I’m still hunting for that first hole in one!”

Follow Allie online on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Images: Feature photo of 2017 PA Women’s Open Champion, Alejandra Llaneza, courtesy www.pawomensopen.org
Other photos: Allie White

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