Quail Creek Country Club in Naples, Fla., now knows two rogues in nature, the one you can see and touch and smell, and the other, invisible in its form, but just as insidious for the uncertainty and anxiety it produces. To have faced them both in the short span of four years seems unlikely and cruel, but there is no way of skirting that reality. We might all understand if the folks at Quail Creek are feeling a bit cursed.
When Hurricane Irma tore through the southeastern United States on Sept. 10, 2017, Quail Creek’s 400 golf members awoke the next morning to unimaginable destruction. Their two prized golf courses were completely underwater and their tennis center all but destroyed. More than 4,000 trees—some of them old and enormous—were felled, and every bit of sand in the bunkers was completely washed away. Less than a month from hosting the first USGA event ever to be played in Collier County, Quail Creek had to surrender its staging of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, which was moved to Houston. It was a crushing disappointment.
Hope and enthusiasm arrived again when the USGA awarded Quail Creek the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. Sixteen members sat on the championship committee and more than 60 were busy organizing various portions of the championship. The tournament layout, comprised of the back nines of the Quail and Creek Courses, was in prime condition after what was jokingly dubbed the “Irma-vation.”
Set to begin on Saturday, the U.S. Women’s Four-Ball was to be Quail Creek’s delayed moment in the spotlight. Instead, the USGA’s first championship of the 2020 season and the golf club have been halted in their tracks by an unseen enemy: the COVID-19 coronavirus.
On March 17, the USGA made the difficult but then-obvious call to cancel the Women’s Four-Ball and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball for men, essentially erasing their existence for a year. The results of qualifying were rendered moot, with competitors told that they would have to attempt to qualify all over again for the 2021 Four-Ball championships.
“Heartbreaking decisions,” USGA Senior Managing Director of Championships John Bodenhamer, said in a statement this week. “We considered postponement, but looking ahead at when playing them might be possible later in the year, and at the possibility of having to identify alternative venues to make that happen, we did not feel postponement was an option.”
Of course, the members of Philadelphia Cricket Club, where the men’s Four-Ball was set for May 23-27, were disappointed in their own right. But there was an entirely different level of frustration and sadness felt at Quail Creek.
“The wind was kind of taken out of our sails when we got that call from the USGA,” Chad Schultenover, the general manager and COO of Quail Creek, said this week. “We kind of knew it was coming, and I didn’t think that it would hurt as bad, but when we got that call, we realized it was gone.
“It wasn’t like it was postponed. You don’t know when you’ll get another opportunity to host again. I feel terrible for Quail Creek. I don’t know too many clubs that have had USGA events scheduled and had them canceled twice.”
The answer: none.
It seems to reason that the USGA will consider giving Quail Creek yet another shot at hosting, but those discussions haven’t happened yet. “We realize the USGA is working on bigger stuff right now, and we are, too,” Schultenover said.
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After the initial disappointment, Quail Creek members quickly turned to more pressing questions. The club has remained open for play, with extensive safety measures being taken, and Schultenover said no members have tested positive for the virus. But there were certainly many worries being expressed.
“People were asking if the club was going to survive,” Schultenover said. “I’ve told them, yes, we’ll get through this. We just don’t know how long this is going to last. That’s the biggest unknown.”
Schultenover said he and the club’s director of golf, Jon Balyeat, had a rather melancholy discussion earlier this week about how the club would have been bustling with activity and excitement as players arrived. Under the current circumstances, could he imagine the event still being played this week?
“No, I really couldn’t,” he said quickly. “That would be bizarre. How would you social distance? It’s 93 degrees in Florida right now and everybody would be wearing masks outside? Our perception has changed about trying to put on events. Everyone’s safety is the focus.”
• • •
The loss of the USGA’s Four-Ball championships is painful on many levels.
Entering their sixth year in 2020, the events have become the signpost for many top amateurs that their competitive seasons have officially begun. The format, too, has become highly popular among golfers, given its unique nature in a sport prone to celebrate the individual. Sixty-four two-person teams of all ages—often either close friends or college teammates—play two stroke-play rounds, with the top 32 reaching match play. Scores are determined by best ball of the pair on each hole.
“You always hear about European teams and everyone else over there playing four-ball,” said Meghan Stasi, a four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion from Fort Lauderdale. “They were so used to four-ball, and we really lacked that in the U.S. But we’re seeing a lot more of it now. It’s really fun and unique.”
Stasi, 41, and her playing partner, Dawn Woodard, were preparing to play in their sixth straight Women’s Four-Ball, and it was to be Stasi’s 41st appearance in a USGA event. She was particularly looking forward to competing in her home state at Quail Creek, where a friend who is a member was going to caddie for her.
“I’m bummed, for sure,” Stasi said, “but everyone’s health and safety are more important.”
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Stasi says she’s old-school and keeps a written calendar for all of her upcoming golf events, and it is usually packed for the summer. “I’ve had to scratch so much off of it, I just threw it away,” she said.
She reeled off all of her planned tournaments for 2020, including a couple of trips overseas—the highlight of which would have been representing the U.S. at the Curtis Cup in Wales in June. The match against Great Britain and Ireland has been postponed to 2021.
As of now, there are literally no tournaments on Stasi’s schedule that she knows for certain she will play, but she also reasoned, “It’s one thing to be an amateur and do this for the love of the game. But for the professionals, I can’t even imagine what they’re going through right now.”
• • •
The beauty of the USGA Four-Balls comes in their diversity of age and experience among the competitors, and on the opposite end of the spectrum from Stasi are Jasmine and Janae Leovao—15-year-old twins from Oceanside, Calif.
The Four-Ball would have been their first exposure to USGA competition after they qualified in impressive fashion on Feb. 19 by shooting a six-under-par 66 at Mountain Falls Golf Club in Las Vegas. Their father, Jan, watched them make an eagle and five birdies, and said he “couldn’t stop smiling” on the five-hour drive back home to San Diego County.
“In the moment, I don’t know that they understood the magnitude of the event and what they did, but I did,” Jan Leovao said.
Born one minute apart on Cinco de Mayo in 2004, and now owning nearly identical plus-1 handicaps, the Leovao sisters are members of The First Tee Pros Kids Academy in San Diego, and they felt they would be representing their entire community at the Four-Ball. Jasmine got a taste of a big-time event last September when she was selected to play in PGA Tour Champions PURE Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach that involves kids from The First Tee. She was paired with veteran Tom Pernice Jr., whom she said was fun and knowledgeable, and hopefully won’t mind taking a back seat to a furry friend when it came to Jasmine’s favorite Pebble experience.
“We went on 17 Mile Drive, stopped at this scenic spot, and I got to feed squirrels,” Jasmine said. “They sat in my lap and ate a biscuit.”
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The twins definitely had extracurricular plans for the Four-Ball in Florida.
“Disney World,” Jasmine said with a giggle. “It was just a thought, but Janae and I were planning on it.”
Quipped their dad: “I was not.”
The sisters were disappointed by the lost opportunity at the Women’s Four-Ball, but they shrugged good-naturedly, and Janae said, “I think it really helps that we know we can qualify. Next time, we’ll just work that much harder to make it and win.”
Jillian Bourdage has nearly been to the pinnacle of Women’s Four-Ball. Last year, the 18-year-old and her best friend from high school in Florida, Casey Weidenfeld, reached the final before losing 2-and-1 to Duke teammates Megan Furtney and Erica Shepherd.
“One of the best weeks of my life,” said Bourdage, who reached and lost in the final of the U.S. Girls’ Junior two months after the Four-Ball. “It’s always so much fun playing in USGA events, and there’s nothing like playing alongside your best friend. We were really looking forward to this year.”
As returning finalists, the pair was exempted into this year’s Four-Ball. Bourdage said she and Weidenfeld learned of the cancelation when they were hanging out together. “We were both really sad,” she said. “No tears, because we know appropriate measures had to be taken to keep everybody safe.”
• • •
As with everyone facing unprecedented circumstances because of the coronavirus, the golfers have adapted to a new way of living as positively and constructively as they can.
Bourdage, set to begin her college career at Ohio State in the fall, is wrapping up both online high school and local college classes that will give her an impressive 46 credits before she ever steps on the campus in Columbus. The valedictorian of her high school class, she also is in the final stages of earning her pilot’s license and will be among the youngest in the country to do so.
Always musically inclined, the Leovao twins are practicing their instruments—Janae plays the cello and Jasmine the viola—while learning new songs on the piano. Their favorite tunes? Anything Disney, of course.
Stasi, meantime, has more real-world issues. She and husband Danny have owned a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Shuck n Dive, for 22 years, and, in no small feat, they’ve been able to keep the business open and all of the workers employed during the pandemic. Since she has no idea when she’ll play a competitive round again, Stasi has taken on a few remodeling projects at home and work.
Right now, the only strokes she’s recording are with a brush.
“I didn’t think I’d ever say this,” she offered with a laugh, “but I’m literally sitting here watching paint dry.”
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