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MASHPEE, Massachusetts – Though the Women’s Stroke Play Championship for the Baker Trophy was moved from the beginning of summer to the end of summer this year due to COVID-19, the competitive spirit was just as high for the 70th playing of the Championship Proper.
The two-day, 36-hole event features a Championship Division and Tournament Division and began Wednesday with players ages 15-73 competing through the mist and rain at The Club at New Seabury (Dunes Course). The players will complete on the Ocean Course during Thursday’s second and final round.
After Day 1, four-time champion Shannon Johnson (Thorny Lea GC) has the lead with an even-par 70, but Catie Schernecker (The Country Club), Krystal Knight (Bradford CC) and Molly Smith (Vesper CC) are all one stroke back after turning in solid rounds themselves.
Shannon Johnson, who played in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship last month, is no stranger to the Women’s Stroke Play Championship, having won it four consecutive years between 2015-2018. However, she had never seen New Seabury before Wednesday and had to make more adjustments on the fly.
“It’s important to pick a line and just kind of trust it and make good swings at those targets,” said Johnson, who made the quarterfinals at this year’s Mass Women’s Amateur Championship. “When you can do that and trust it, it can feel like a slow round, but sometimes it’s fun to play new courses.”
Johnson, who finished runner-up to Hannah Ghelfi in last year’s Championship Proper, is attempting to become the third player in event history to win five times. Those who have accomplished that feat: Joanne Goodwin (1955-59, 1971-72), who was inducted into the Mass Golf Hall of Fame in 2014, and Tara Joy Connelly (1997, 2006-08, 2010, 2013-14).
“It will be fun to see how it finishes up tomorrow,” Johnson said.
Johnson had back-to-back birdies on the fifth and sixth hole to go even on the front nine. Despite a bogey on the 15th, she made birdie on the 162-yard, par-3 17th, hitting a 5-iron onto the green and making the putt to pull even.
“It was a consistent round, nothing too crazy,” Johnson said. “I had a couple bad swings off the tee, but I was able to recover pretty well.”
Molly Smith, a 16-year-old sophomore at Westford Academy, has a trick up her sleeve when she wants to improve her putting.
After facing some struggles on the greens this year, she brought out the two-hander long putter, using her left hand on top like a broom and the right hand to swing the club. Smith said her father, Phil Smith, uses a long putter and got used to the swing after using a full-sized putter when she was little.
“I’ve always gone back and forth when I’m struggling just for my tempo,” Smith said. “I’ve been struggling with my putting for the majority of this year, so I finally got to the point where I’m like, ‘let’s trying something else.’ So I started putting with it over the weekend, and then it worked out pretty good so I put it in the bag.”
The results were promising for Smith, who made birdie twice on the front nine after hitting six greens in regulation, plus one on the fringe. Smith said she hadn’t seen the course before but was able to lock in by just sticking to a rhythm of getting the yardage, picking the club and trying to hit it straight.
“I pretty much made everything I needed to make on the front side,” Smith said. “On the back nine, I wasn’t getting it as close so it was more of a grind.”
The event date change was also helpful for Smith and her older sister, Morgan Smith (Mount Pleasant GC), who shot 8-over. “Normally, we would be in school today, so it was nice to come play at this event.”
Chelsea Curtis (George Wright GC), a Mass Golf Board Member, grew up in the village of New Seabury right near the golf course.
Curtis was a highly-talented junior golfer who at age 16 won the 2003 Women’s Stroke Play Championship. Curtis attended Cape Cod Academy and Georgetown University and spent two years playing on the FUTURES Tour, the women’s developmental tour now known as the Symetra Tour.
Now 33, Curtis lives in South Boston and runs her own software consulting business, but she’s still an amateur competitor. And with the Women’s Stroke Play Championship coming to New Seabury this year, she’s spending the entire week with her family, who still lives in New Seabury. In fact, her brother, Chris, caddied for Chelsea, who shot 8-over and is T9 overall.
“It is strange being on the other side at this point,” Chelsea Curtis said. “I hadn’t played what is now the back nine, which used to be the front nine, ina long time, so it’s definitely different, but it’s great to get down here.”
The players are switching courses Thursday, as they’ll take on the Ocean Course, the other 18-hole course on the property. This course, also flanked by housing properties at several points, is much more exposed to the elements as holes 2 and 3 run right along the ocean, with several fescue-lined “Links-style” holes.
But as a bonus, the Ocean Course was recently renovated between September 2019 and this past Memorial Day Weekend. Hepner Golf Design completed an eight-month project that involved a full bunker renovation, new drainage to firm up the course, work on aesthetics, expanding fairways, recontouring greens, and relocating cart paths.
“His whole goal was really to bring more of the ocean to the Ocean Course,” said Jim Clay, Director of Golf at New Seabury. “It got very green out there, and we wanted to be more back to the links, ocean-style goal course.”
Specific changes include regrading the first and ninth holes to enhance views of the Atlantic Ocean from the entire first hole. This forces players on the first hole to keep it on the first fairway instead of playing the ninth and getting a similar approach shot.
The 9th and 16th are among the recontoured greens that previously had dramatic slopes that hindered the green speeds. They’ve been softened a bit now, allowing for more hole locations.
“The membership has loved the fact that we kept the core design elements of the golf course,” Clay said. “We didn’t go an change their baby that they grew up playing. But we added some design elements to make them think around the golf course. It’s little details that make you truly enjoy the oceanside experience that you didn’t quite get before.”
Diane Nessralla (CC of Halifax) has the lead in the Tournament Division, which played the Dunes Course at 5,626 yards, while the Championship Flight played at 6,041 yards. Nessralla, a longtime mentor to Megan Khang, an LPGA Professional from Rockland, shot an 8-over 78 to take a two-stroke lead in the division.
Cathy Flatley (South Shore CC), who tied for the top net score at last year’s Keyes Cup, is two strokes back, shooting a 10-over 80.
Lindsay Cone (Granite Links GC) took a commanding lead in the Net competition, earning a net eagle and two actual birdies en route to a net score of 7-under 63. Cone, who is fifth overall at 3-over in the Gross competition, is a former Team USA World Cup skier and competed in the Mass Women’s Amateur for the first time last month.
To learn more about her story, CLICK HERE
Fern Langella (Indian Pond CC) has the top net score in the Tournament Division as her six net birdies and a net eagle on the third place her at even-par 70.
There was plenty different about the 70th playing of the Women’s Stroke Play Championship for The Edith Baker Trophy this year, and not just the prolonged name. The event is usually the first Women’s Championship of the season, but was pushed back due to the pandemic.
Competitors still affectionately call it “The Baker”, but either way, its namesake was a visionary who found a way to bring the camaraderie of golf together with its competitive spirit. This Women’s Championship dates back to 1950 and was started by Edith Noblit Baker, one of the state’s most elite competitors who stands as one of only two competitors in Mass Golf history to have won more than two straight Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championships.
A five-time winner of the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship, Baker first won the title in 1925 before capturing three-straight titles from 1927 to 1929. Her final championship win came in 1932. It would be 18 years later when Baker would make another mark on golf history.
During the summer of 1950, Baker, who served as president of what was then known as the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts (WGAM), officially introduced a new tournament called the Edith Noblit Baker Trophy with the clear purpose of “advancing the sociability of the game and a renewal of acquaintance.”
Baker’s vision coupled with hard work and a keen organizational and business sense help accomplished just that and the event has grown into one of the most competitive and popular stroke-play events on the Mass Golf calendar.
“It’s always an event that everybody tries to put in their calendar,” said Shannon Johnson, the Day 1 leader. “It is pretty competitive.”