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Notebook: Champions' Herculean Effort Draws Raves November 16, 2017 | Houston, Texas By Ron Driscoll, USGA

The maintenance staff at Champions G.C. removed more 30 inches of rain from Hurricane Harvey to get the course ready. (Chris Ortmeier/Champions GC)

U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Home

When Champions Golf Club owners Jack Burke Jr. and Robin Burke approached their golf course superintendent, Chris Ortmeier, about the club hosting the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur on short notice, the course was not far removed from having rescue boats patrolling some of its flooded fairways, and the painstaking task of removing inches of silt from the course was ongoing.

Champions had been hit hard by nearly 3 feet of rain from Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 26-27, but the original host site, Quail Creek Country Club in Naples, Fla., had been forced to close after it was battered by Hurricane Irma just two weeks later. The Burkes knew they were asking a lot, since Ortmeier wasn’t sure at the time whether the course would be ready for the club’s member-guest, and now he was being asked to get ready to host a national championship. Within a couple of days, though, he was on board with hosting the 31st Women’s Mid-Amateur, which is taking place five weeks after Quail Creek was originally scheduled to host the championship.

“Fast forward seven weeks [from the initial conversation with the Burkes], and the Cypress Creek Course is in the best shape I have seen it since arriving a little over three years ago,” said Ortmeier, 33, in an article he wrote for a regional superintendents’ publication. “As cantankerous as Mother Nature was in August, she came through in the clutch.”

A perfectly timed cool front “made it relatively easy to achieve the desired speeds and playing conditions,” said Ortmeier. “Not only were the temperatures perfect, but we went 10 days without more than a 20 percent chance of rain, which rivals winning the lottery for a superintendent with push-up greens in Houston.”

Though a few areas of out-of-play rough are still scarred by the propellers from those aforementioned rescue boats, Champions has proved an outstanding venue, and the course conditions have drawn rave reviews from veteran Women’s Mid-Amateur players.

“If you didn’t know the story as to how we got here, you wouldn’t have known that they only had six weeks to get ready,” said Dawn Woodard, a three-time medalist who was competing in her 16th Women’s Mid-Amateur. “Champions will go down as one of the top two or three of any I’ve ever played, not only the club, but the members and the staff. They have totally embraced the whole thing, and you can tell they just love golf.”

Woodard had no doubt that the complete embracing of this championship starts at the top.

“It’s a tribute to Mr. Burke and Robin and the respect that everyone has for them,” said Woodard. “It shows through the members and everyone else. Everyone just hit the ground running, and you wouldn’t have known that this wasn’t planned two years ago.”

In just 2½ years, the club will host the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, which it has been planning for since it was announced in January 2016. 

Robin Burke’s Competitive Nature         

Robin Burke is the club’s vice president and she captained the 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team. Make no mistake, though, that she would love to be competing this week. Burke reached the Round of 32 in this championship in 2016 at The Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa., and she is also a past Curtis Cup competitor and the runner-up in the 1997 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

John Leach, the husband, coach and longtime caddie for his wife, 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Martha Leach, can attest to Burke’s competitive nature. Burke and Leach have squared off eight times in USGA match-play competition, splitting the difference with four wins apiece.

“They were playing each other at Eugene Country Club [in 2002], and Martha had beaten Robin two years earlier in 20 holes,” recalled Leach. “So here we were on the first hole, and Robin was 20 yards short of the green, and Martha was about 25 feet from the hole. Robin proceeds to hole her shot and she walks up on the green and says, ‘That’s for two years ago!’ Of course, she was laughing as she said it.”

On another occasion, the two were playing the 18th hole of a match with Burke 1 up. Leach had a 12-foot putt to send the match to extra holes, but she missed it. She looked up and Burke was not on the green.

“We were saying, where’s Robin, and she was on the first tee. She said, ‘I was sure you were going to make that putt.’”

The longtime friendly rivals talk twice a month, and both are looking forward to the ninth “rubber match.”

Extra-Hole Record Falls

When Mary Jane Hiestand edged Shannon Johnson in 19 holes in the semifinals on Wednesday, it marked the 13th extra-hole match of the championship, which broke the record for extra-hole matches, 11 such matches in 2004. There were 10 extra-hole matches in 2011.

Two of the matches this week went 23 holes (four-time champion Meghan Stasi over Tara-Joy Connelly in the Round of 16, and Thuhashini Selvaratnam over Melissa Loh in the Round of 64), which is one hole short of the championship record. Hiestand won both her quarterfinal and semifinal matches in 19 holes on Wednesday.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at

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