Wichita Country Club returns to the spotlight

The casual pace of member activity at Wichita Country Club suggested Tuesday could have been like many other weekdays at the east-side facility.

Soft music played in the clubhouse while a small number of female golfers made their way to the course, accompanied by a steady morning breeze that fended off the late summer humidity.

But around every turn was evidence of the next milestone in the 110-year-old club's rich history. Two workers steadied themselves on the awning of a large green scoreboard near the first tee, displaying the U.S. flag and those from five other countries.

Inside the pro shop, a colorful merchandise display occupied a prominent spot in the middle of the room. And near one of the club's front entrances, a sterling Revere bowl sat atop a registration table, waiting to be claimed.

The bowl will be awarded Sept. 30 to one of 132 golfers who will compete in the 24th U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur. The six-day championship, conducted by the U.S. Golf Association, begins at 8 a.m. Saturday on the 6,209-yard, par-72 layout.

Less than 18 months after announcing Wichita Country Club as the Women's Mid-Amateur host site, the USGA will conduct its 20th championship in Kansas and third at WCC. The USGA had previously selected The Philadelphia Cricket Club in Flourtown, Pa., to host this year's championship. But due to an accelerated time line for a planned course renovation, the club asked to be released from its obligation.

So while 41 years have passed since the state's oldest private club hosted a USGA event, the planning time for this one was abbreviated.

"We have 16 host committees that are chaired by club members and a couple staff members," said Cary Cozby, WCC's chief executive officer and golf professional. "We've been meeting throughout the year. There's been a lot of work behind the scenes that's not visible to our membership.

"Where it started to become visible was Sunday, when we started putting the carts on the paths."

While hosting such an event creates temporary inconveniences for members, the Women's Mid-Amateur, for golfers 25 and older, adds to the club's already strong tradition. The first USGA championship at Wichita Country Club was the 1955 U.S. Women's Open, won by Fay Crocker. In 1969, Curtis Person Sr. successfully defended his U.S. Senior Amateur crown.

Wichita Country Club, which produced former USGA president Judy Bell, has also been the site for many other prestigious amateur tournaments. Former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman won the 1960 Trans-Mississippi title, and longtime tour player Lanny Wadkins captured the 1970 Western Amateur at WCC.

"It continues to be recognized as a good test of golf," said Duke Evans, a longtime club member who played for Oklahoma State when it won the 1963 NCAA Championship at WCC. "It's a good thinking course, and that's the ace in the hole. The women will have to go back to the strategy it was designed for."

The Women's Mid-Amateur field features 112 golfers who qualified in 25 sectional tournaments across the country in late August and early September. Twenty players, including defending champion Martha Leach of Hebron, Ky., were exempt from qualifying by virtue of their play in past USGA championships. Leach is a younger sister of three-time U.S. Women's Open champion Hollis Stacy.

After practice rounds Thursday and Friday, the competitors begin what they hope will be a six-day journey toward a title.

"It's good for the game, it's good for the city and it's good for women's golf," Cozby said. "I like having it here from a pride standpoint for the club. Not many places get to host a national championship."