May 14, 2014 10:32:06 AM
WEST POINT -- Chris Jester admits the Handa Cup initially was "foreign" to him.
Jester, the PGA Director of Golf for Old Waverly Golf Club, knew all too well about the success of the 54th U.S. Women's Open Golf Championship in 1999 at Old Waverly, but he wasn't well versed about the history of the Handa Cup.
It didn't take long for Jester to learn about the significance of the international team competition that will pit U.S.-born LPGA Legends against internationally born LPGA Legends in 36 holes of head-to-head stroke-play competition. Once he did, Jester realized women's professional golf's return to Old Waverly could neatly be tied into one of the area's biggest sporting events in recent memory.
"It is really special because we had the 1999 Women's Open," Jester said. "We're going to have a huge connection to that. Most of the players will have played in that. Because we had such a huge turnout for that, I think we had 100,00 people for the week. I think people are going to remember that and it is going to bring back the connection to that."
On Thursday, organizers will hold a media day for the ninth ISPS Handa Cup, which will be Sept. 25-28 in West Point. The World Team defeated Team U.S.A. for the first time last year with a 27-21 victory.
The 12-player U.S. team will include LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez and Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, who won the U.S. Women's Open at Old Waverly. Inkster shot a record-tying 16-under-par 272 to win the event by five shots over Sherri Turner and by seven shots over Kelli Kuehne.
Inkster was a member of nine U.S. Solheim Cup Teams, an international team match-play event that pits the top American LPGA players against Europe's top women professionals. The Californian recently was named as the captain of the 2015 U.S. Solheim Cup Team.
In an effort to help the U.S. Handa Cup Team regain the annual title, Inkster said her Handa Cup debut will be timely on a course where she has experienced success.
"I am so looking forward to playing the Handa Cup," said Inkster, an LPGA Tour career Grand Slam winner and the highest point winner among American players in Solheim Cup history. "Everything at Old Waverly is first class."
Lopez, Inkster, Turner, Kuehne, Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak, and Karrie Webb were among the notable LPGA professionals who competed in the 1999 U.S. Women's Open. The event, which Old Waverly founder George Bryan worked hard to bring to West Point, attracted more than 101,000 people for the week and featured 1,500 volunteers.
Jester, who was working in the golf business in Jackson in 1999, feels the one-time event is a "good fit" for Old Waverly. He started working at Old Waverly Golf Club the next year and understands how well the area supported the event and how the players enjoyed their experience in Mississippi. While the Handa Cup isn't as prestigious as the U.S. Women's Open, Jester believes the area and the state will embrace a special event. He said the club didn't learn it would play host to the event until the beginning of the year.
"Will we get 100,000 people in the week? Probably not," Jester said. "We think we're going to get a lot of spectators. I think if we get the word out and let people in the area know what is going on we will get them out."
In Handa Cup competition, players compete in stroke play within each match and team points are awarded for wins and ties. Team captains and rosters will be finalized this month. Many of the participants on both teams -- the international team also will feature 12 players -- will be Hall of Famers.
The Legends Tour is the official senior tour of the LPGA. The tour began in 2000 by LPGA professionals to showcase the talents of some of the greatest women's golfers of all time. The Legends Tour has more than 120 members, including 12 LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame members. Legends Tour players have more than 675 combined LPGA Tour victories, including 70 major championships. In its 13 seasons, The Legends Tour has awarded more than $11 million in prize money and helped raise more than $14 million for charity. The Legends Tour has hosted events in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Japan, and Australia.
"It is going to be very high quality golf," Jester said. "These ladies can still play. I think it is going to be a real neat event. You're going to be able to get up close and personal with them. It is not like the whole course is going to be roped off and you're going to be 100 yards away from them hitting shots. You're going to be able to interact with them."
Jester said there will be a pro-am that will give individuals a chance to play with the Legends. Grounds passes are $10 per day and will be available for sale at locations throughout Mississippi, as well as online at www.thelegendstour.com and www.oldwaverly.com. A clubhouse pass may also be obtained for $25 per day.
For ticket, event, volunteer, or sponsorship information, contact Jester at 662-295-2943, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on The Legends Tour, log on to www.thelegendstour.com.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.