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Location Ideal For 2004 Women’s Open

Championship Course Was Built For A Woman, Owned By All-Female College

By David Shefter, USGA

South Hadley, Mass. - Perhaps it is appropriate that the 2004 U.S. Women's Open, scheduled for July 1-4, is being played at The Orchards Golf Club.

For starters, the Donald Ross-designed course was established for a woman. Elisabeth Skinner developed such a penchant for the game that her father, Joseph, who earned his fortune in the silk business, decided to construct a golf course on 200 adjacent acres to his estate. Elisabeth Skinner would go on to become one of New England's best female amateurs.

Eventually, Joseph Skinner sold the course to Mount Holyoke College in 1941 for a modest sum of $25,000. Mount Holyoke happens to be an all-female institution where some of the nation's brightest and most well-connected young women have passed through its red-stone halls. One of the school's alums is Lillian Ross (1932), the daughter of the course architect. Other alums include poet Emily Dickinson, Frances Perkins (first woman to be appointed to a presidential cabinet), Gloria Johnson-Powell (first African-American woman to attain tenure at Harvard Medical School) and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein.

But its alum Joan McAnaney Fay (1973), the wife of USGA Executive Director David Fay, who helped bring the USGA and The Orchards together.

 
USGA Executive Director David Fay answers questions from reporters at Women's Open Media Day on May 24 at The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, Mass. Fay's wife, Joan, attended nearby Mount Holyoke College and helped spark the USGA's interest in the course as a site for the 2004 Women's Open. Mount Holyoke bought the golf course in 1941 from Joseph Skinner. (USGA Photo Archives)

Back in the mid-1980s, the USGA was looking for a site to host the 1987 U.S. Girls' Junior. Joan Fay casually told her husband about her former college course and that it might be strong enough to host the championship. David Fay made some inquiries and on his first tour of the facility, he discovered a rustic gem.

"It truly is a special place," said Fay, who spoke at U.S. Women's Open Media Day on May 24. It is not just a nice course, it's a great course.

Michelle McGann, now a LPGA Tour regular, went on to capture the 1987 Girls' Junior.

Seventeen years later, the USGA is returning again to the Pioneer Valley, but this time the event is much grander in scope. When Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., withdrew from hosting the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, it set off a chain of events that would lead to The Orchards landing the '04 Women's Open.

Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, outside of Portland, Ore., which had the 2004 Women's Open, agreed to move up the championship a year, leaving a vacant spot for 2004, which The Orchards filled after extending an invitation to the USGA.

The Orchards will play 6,473 yards and to a par of 71 for the championship. To prepare the course for the world's best female players, nine new tee boxes were constructed, the practice facility expanded and an entirely new drainage system installed. Since 1999, when the course entered into a 25-year lease with Arnold Palmer Golf Management, a total of $1.5 million in improvements have been made. Just over half that money was used to restore the course to Ross' original design.

When Ross was hired, he actually built nine holes in 1922, then added a second nine seven years later. The course became known as The Orchards for the rows of apple trees that Joseph Skinner planted there over the years.

While many of Ross' design principles - crowned greens are his signature - were incorporated into the layout, don't expect The Orchards to be Pinehurst No. 2 North. Matt Manzi, the superintendent, says the rustic course is more of a hybrid.

"It's not really a links course, but it's not a parkland, either," said Manzi, who was hired six months ago from Minebrook Golf Club in Hackettstown, N.J. "It's kind of a rustic type of place that's a little rough around the edges. There's fescue on the outside. A lot of it is tree-lined and there's really not a bad-looking hole out here."

One of the strongest holes on the course is the par-4 14th, which some feel is the signature hole. The elevated tee offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area as well as the fescue that lines the rough on the right side. The fairway has subtle undulations and the deep-faced bunkering and the slightly elevated green that's pitched from back to front is strong testament to the Ross design philosophy.

"It does have similar characteristics to Pinehurst . but it probably closer resembles Salem (Mass.) Country Club (site of the 2001 Senior Open)," said Manzi. "A lot of the greens are perched up and there's some elevation changes on the back side. It's an amazing layout. One after another, they are all just great holes."

David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. Contact him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.