By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — An estimated 40 young women golfers from Western New York and worldwide will convene at Niagara Falls Country Club this week for the first-ever Women's Porter Cup.
Participants will arrive on Tuesday to register and take in a pracrice round. Assuming the weather cooperates, the first round of competition in the three-day, 54-hole tournament will begin Wednesday, with the champion crowned on Friday.
While the Porter Cup has enjoyed a long, successful run with the men's and seniors' tournaments, the man chairing the inaugural women's event admits this is still quite possibly an experiment.
"I think we're cautiously optimisitic about the future of the tournament," said tournament director Brian Oakley. "It's a trial balloon that we're just putting out there to see if we get the reaction. I'll have a much better feel after the tournament's over."
For a first-time tournament, organziers feel they've recruited a decent pool of competitors. Among the players are some talents from across the U.S. including Grace Na of Oakland, California, a two-time All-American at Pepperdine University, and Casie Cathrea, who has committed to Oklahoma State and, even before beginning her NCAA career, has qualified for the U.S. Women's Open.
"These are the up and coming stars," said Oakley. "Some of these girls are regional champions, high school champions... we've got a well-rounded field of people that are sophomores and seniors in the college ranks as well."
There are also several Western New Yorkers slated to compete including Ashleigh Frieday (Grand Island), Gaelin Carrig (Buffalo), Katharine Creighton (Buffalo), Rene Sobolewski (Buffalo), Chelsea Dantonio (Lancaster), Catherine Peters (Clarence Center) and Michelle Hanes (Elma). There are also a handful of competitors from just across the border, with Kendra Bishop of Niagara Falls, Ont. and Lauren Wardrope also committed to play.
How did Women's Porter Cup organizers track and convince these ladies to commit to a first-time venture?
"The first thing we did was we had a good database from the men's tournament," Oakley said. "We had the coaching contacts for all the women's colleges (teams), so that was the first blast we sent out, and that was pretty much 400 colleges across the United States.
"It's a different animal. Ladies' golf is not exactly the same as men's golf in the collegiate level. It was put to me by one college coach that he calls all his men's players in prior to the summer and says, 'What's your agenda?' 'What tournaments are you playing?'"
Oakley added that based on conversations with coaches, women collegiate golfers don't necessarily set such summer plans, in great part because many of them don't know of many options, and thus they focus on what's available in other seasons.
"I think the women's side needs a little more of a calculated approach, a little more investigation and due diligence on our part go know how to get to these young ladies," he said.
The men's Porter Cup, which will be held late next month, can market itself as a tournament where then-rising stars such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott passed through on their way to the PGA Tour.
It's hard to say whether the inaugural Women's Porter Cup will be one of the stepping stones for a future Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer or Karrie Webb. Only time will tell if this tournament will become a must for women golfers serious about developing toward a pro career.
Oakley is, however, encouraged by the feedback from the ladies who could not participate, citing reasons ranging from scheduling conflicts with other tournaments, other personal needs, or simply not knowing about the tournament until it was too late.
"There's a couple of girls playing in the British Amateur Open that couldn't make it but said 'you know what, given another opportunity I'd like to be considered,'" he said.
Learning how to recruit women amateur players to this event proved educational for planners. Oakley says they'll take this experience and use it when preparing to recruit in the future.
"I've already started a list for next year, whether that's premature or not."For more information on the Women's Porter Cup, visit the link at www.portercup.com.