Savannah, Ga. – For the last three months, the Judy Bell Trophy, which is given biennially to the winner of the USGA Women’s State Team Championship, has sat in different parts of Laura Coble’s Augusta, Ga., home. Coble has placed the beautiful gold/silver bowl everywhere from the dining-room table to the kitchen – anywhere the trophy could easily be visible.
Coble even invited a few friends over recently and everyone took turns drinking various libations from the cup, a tradition that is played out with many of sports’ most treasured trophies.
In a few weeks, Coble will have to return the prize she has helped Georgia claim twice since 2005.
The good news for Coble is she won’t have to travel too far for the chance to reclaim the trophy.
It’s just a 108-mile ride down U.S. Route 20 from Augusta to The Landings Club for the Ninth USGA Women’s State Team Championship on Oct. 4-6, where Georgia will look to win its third title, but first on home soil.
Only once in the brief history of this unique championship has a state won this title at home. That came in 2001 when Minnesota cruised to a nine-stroke win at Woodhill C.C. in Wayzata.
On the men’s side, two states – Minnesota (2001) and Texas (2007) – have won at home.
Georgia is the only state to have claimed multiple Women’s State Team titles. And while different players have contributed to the victories, Coble has been the constant for both championships.
In 2009 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Ind., Coble teamed with Dori Carter and Mariah Stackhouse. Stackhouse, now 17, has made a verbal commitment to Stanford University for 2012 and she was chosen to play for the USA at the Junior Solheim Cup in late September. Carter, who turned pro later that year, is now on the LPGA Tour. She will caddie for Coble at this year’s event.
Six years ago, Coble teamed with Kyu Ri Ban and current LPGA Tour player Jean Reynolds at Berkeley Hall in Bluffton, S.C.
This year, Coble will again have two new faces in 14-year-old Rachel Dai of Suwanee and 17-year-old Amira Alexander of Alpharetta. Dai won this year’s Georgia Girls’ Junior title and Alexander was the runner-up in the 2010 Georgia Women’s State Match Play Championship, an event Coble has won eight times.
“There’s no greater honor,” said Coble, 47, on defending the title at home during media day for the Women’s State Team Championship on Sept. 1. “It’s very special to be the host team and the host state.”
Coble certainly is no stranger to The Landings, which is located on Skidaway Island, just south of downtown Savannah. Six years ago, she won the Women’s Southern Amateur on the Deer Creek Course, beating Remijin Camping in the final. She has also played in U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur qualifiers at the club, which boasts six golf courses.
Steven Freund, the executive general manager for The Landings, said the club, one of the largest privately owned facilities in North America, has been eagerly awaiting this moment to shine in the national spotlight.
“Passion for golf streams through the veins of the club,” said Freund, who added that The Landings Women’s Golf Association boasts 600 active members, the largest single-site golf association in the country. “And that doesn’t include every woman golfer on this island.”
The Women’s State Team Championship will be contested at the 6,076-yard, par-72 Palmetto Course designed by Arthur Hills. Some members will tell you that it’s the most challenging of the six layouts.
Matt Sawicki, the director of the Women’s State Team Championship, said at media day that he doesn’t expect the course to play to its “full” yardage for any of the three rounds of the competition. Just as at other USGA championships, Sawicki plans to move tee markers up and back to give players different looks and challenges.
“We may even in the latter stages of the championship throw a surprise or two to the players with our par-4s and par-5s out here,” said Sawicki, who works in the USGA’s Rules and Competitions Department. “The way we set it up, [the players] are going to have to think their way around the golf course.”
Coble won’t disagree with that assessment. After playing the course at media day, she knows careful course management will be paramount to success. Coble said her decisions off the tee on the par-4 and par-5 holes will be made based on where the USGA sets the hole locations.
But more importantly, Coble expects to have her game in fine form for the competition. She took a nine-month hiatus from competitive golf, from last year’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur to this year’s Women’s Southern Amateur in Atlanta, eschewing the Florida Orange Blossom events in January for house projects and work. Her 17-year-old daughter Katherine has entered her senior year of high school and Coble is assisting in the college search.
Coble, an 11-time Georgia State Golf Association Women’s Player of the Year, still has had a respectable summer in limited action. She advanced to the second round of the Women’s Southern, losing a 20-hole match to Elizabeth Brighwell, and was runner-up to current Auburn assistant coach Margaret Shirley at the Georgia Women’s Match Play.
She’ll warm up for the Women’s State Team Championship by competing in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach, Va. Coble was the runner-up in that championship to Martha Leach in 2009.
While she desperately wants to win an individual USGA championship, Coble has sentimental feelings for the Women’s State Team. Two years ago, she was highly emotional even before the first ball was struck. She mentioned her daily phone calls with 2005 non-playing captain Pat Clarke, which helped her keep her emotions in check. Kurt Faxon, one of the co-general chairmen (Billy Bayfield is the other), was at Sycamore Hills as a future sites representative and he noticed how excited Coble was to win the title.
When Georgia finally did achieve its goal, Coble was in tears as the team celebrated by popping champagne near the 18th green.
“I knew what it meant to win a national championship,” said Coble.
Come the first week of October, Coble would be more than happy to have a little déjà vu.
“That would be nice,” she said. “Go ahead and put the name on the trophy. Of course we want to keep it.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer and championship content manager for the USGA. E-mail him at email@example.com.