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Why the U.S. Women's Open is better than the men's

By Jennifer Mario, Contributor

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. You read the title and said, "No way." The men's U.S. Open has Tiger Woods, the women's has ... who again?

Alexis Thompson
Twelve-year-old Alexis Thompson made headlines and lots of new fans at the Open.
Alexis ThompsonKids Get a Front Row SeatCatch the Spirit Tent

The men routinely hit their drives 300 yards. The women, what, have a really exciting short game?

No comparison, you're thinking.

But clearly you're not a mom, or you might think differently. Because if your task wasn't just to entertain yourself but also to provide a day of fun for the kiddies, while also educating them in the game of golf along the way, then you would know that in fact, there is no comparison.

The U.S. Women's Open rocks. And here's why: Kids are welcome.
Not just welcome, but recruited.
After all, when you think of a professional golf tournament - thousands of spectators sitting in hushed silence as the No. 1 player in the world lines up an 8-footer to determine who wins half a million bucks - you might not think, "Hey, that's a great place to bring my toddler!"

But when it comes to the U.S. Women's Open, the USGA begs to differ.

It not only allows children at the U.S. Women's Open, but actively encourage their presence. How? Kids 17 and younger get in free. The front row in all the grandstands is clearly marked: Kids Only. A tent is set up at the entrance of the grounds giving away free hats, free lunches, stickers, bag tags, buttons, scavenger hunts, you name it.
You think the men's version does all that? I've been there. Short answer: No.

So why the royal treatment at the Women's Open?

"We just don't have the ability to do as much of that at the men's open," says Marty Parkes, senior director of communications for the USGA. "It's so big and so crowded - this is really the event where we try to do that."

Twelve years ago, Judy Bell, then the first female president of the USGA, decided on the kids-first strategy as a way to market her product.

"Catch the Spirit" is what they call it. The goal is to expose a new generation of golfers to golf's history, heroes and lessons. But the main event is the U.S. Women's Open. Youngsters pass through the (air-conditioned) Catch the Spirit tent in order to receive free admission, pick up goody bags, and have fun at their own instructional and entertainment clinics, their own putting green, and taking advantage of a kids only "inside the ropes" tour during practice rounds.

I saw some suspiciously old-looking kids at the tournament, I'll be honest.

"This is great," Kim Lopuszynski of golf-happy Raleigh, N.C. says. She and her husband brought their 8-year-old daughter, Alexis. "We've been to the both the men's opens that were at Pinehurst, and we didn't see anything like this. This is really kid-friendly. It gets the kids involved. The biggest thing we want for her from this is to increase her interest in the game and hopefully to take a liking to it and get good at it, and maybe this will be her someday."

That day may come sooner than we think. Alexis' favorite player at this year's open? That would be the other Alexis: the youngest player in the field, Alexis Thompson, the 12-year-old who this year broke Morgan Pressel's record for youngest to qualify in a USGA event.

This year's open had an unprecedented number of teenagers in the field; could Catch the Spirit be having a more direct effect than we thought?

Parkes says, "We really don' t know the effect for five to 10 years, of course, but you do have an awful lot of young teenagers playing in this event, and the kids can really relate to that. You don't see that anywhere else in pro sports. The fans feel a real affinity to the players that are out there."

What about the players themselves? What do they think of all these kids running around, potentially fidgeting in their view lines or bawling during their backswings?

"I think it's fantastic," says Morgan Pressel, who took her first dive earlier this year in Champions Lake as the winner of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. "The USGA does a wonderful job with their whole Catch the Spirit campaign. It's great to see all these little kids walking around: They're coming out to watch us and they're really having a good time. It's so cute, I love little kids."

How does it feel to be the inspiration for all those little ones? "That's a cool part of where I am," she says. "I have the ability to possibly influence some younger players to play the game, and that's really cool."

"We know we're competing with other forms of entertainment; we understand that," Parkes says. "So we feel like if we can offer a good deal for a family to come out here, it's a great way to expose kids to our product and hopefully we'll be able to keep some of them in the fold over time."

Jennifer MarioJennifer Mario, Contributor

Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). A graduate of Duke University, she lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina with her family.

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