The U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston in Charleston, S.C., is still four months away, but enthusiasm in the historic city is already, well, historic.
Combine the most important trophy in women’s professional golf with one of the top travel destinations in the U.S., and one of the results is 1,700 volunteer positions filling up in near-record time last fall. Championship director Matt Sawicki, who was in town this week, was having dinner at a local Italian restaurant when he met someone who told him he was going to volunteer.
“Sorry,” Sawicki reluctantly told him. “Too late.”
The volunteers will be coming from 42 states and three other countries, and the wait list now numbers 140. Such is the attraction to the first major golf tournament in the “Holy City,” especially in the springtime, when the weather is fantastic and there is so much else going on, such as Spoleto, the two-week arts festival. Ticket sales to the Women’s Open are also brisk, with about 100,000 spectators expected.
“This is the biggest event in women’s professional golf, so from that standpoint alone, we're thrilled to be able to host it,” said Perrin Lawson, vice president of business development for the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I’m most excited about the opportunity to see the best women golfers in the world compete on a really great course. It’s just such an intimate venue, you’ll easily be able to walk the entire course and get up close to the players and see how fantastically talented they are.”
This will be the first U.S. Women’s Open contested on a Seth Raynor design, which are known for their intriguing template holes based on famous Scottish holes. The template holes at “Wappoo Links,” as members call the course after the fronting creek, do not disappoint, particularly the 177-yard 11th, which is a raised and reverse Redan green with a huge false front and two massive bunkers. The tee box, which sits at the same height as the green, is located on an old Civil War battery that helped protect the city.
“It really starts with the course and finding one that will define a national champion, making a player use every club in their bag and testing their mental and physical resolve,” said Sawicki. “But the second part is community. We have to find an engaging community that will support the championship, and everyone here is engaged. The atmosphere will be electric.”
Although the Country Club of Charleston is a private club, it’s very representative of the type of courses found throughout the Lowcountry, as it winds along tidal wetlands brimming with wildlife. With the broadcast going out to 120 countries, the championship will no doubt whet the appetite for even more visitors to the area, which amounted to almost 7 million in 2017. The expected impact of the Women’s Open on the local economy is estimated at $30 million.
“People traditionally think of Charleston from the historic significance, the cultural heritage and the food, so it’s great that we can shine a light on the recreational opportunities that we have here,” said Lawson. “Golf is a huge contributor to the recreational component of the city, and the Women’s Open will shine a light on Charleston to further establish ourselves as a golf destination.”
Locals are already counting the days.
Tom Cunneff is a South Carolina-based freelance writer.