Taffy Brower raves about the Women’s International Four-Ball trophy. It’s a magnificent piece, and one that the 79-year-old is proud to have her name on – right next to partner Alexa Hammer, with whom she won the event in 2011.
Louise Suggs, an LPGA founder, appears first on that list of winners. World Golf Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias, Peggy Kirk Bell and Betsy Rawls all won it, too.
“Just having been able to play in the same tournaments as those marvelous players,” said Brower, who went into the Florida State Golf Association’s Hall of Fame in 2014. “At the time I thought I was such a big shot, but now I look at it and I say, ‘Wow, I got to play in the same tournaments that they played in, and these were big-time players.’”
This is common among the winter tournaments that make up what historically has been known as the Florida Orange Blossom Circuit. The Women’s International Four-Ball, which dates to the 1940s, is the fourth stop on a tour of central and south Florida that also includes the Citrus Golf Trail Ladies Invitational in Sebring (originally called the Harder Hall Women’s Invitational), the Women’s South Atlantic Amateur (or Sally) in Ormond Beach and the Jones/Doherty Championship in Fort Lauderdale.
Because of the FSGA, the Women’s International Four-Ball remains intact for this year’s 77th competition, to be played February 14-15 at the Wanderers Club in Wellington.
In 2011, participation was so low that the Boynton Beach duo of Brower and Hammer was one of only two teams to enter. After two days of matches, Brower and Hammer defeated Mary Hanyak and Marianne Springer, of West Palm Beach, for the title. After that, the tournament might have just faded away.
There isn’t much precedent for a state golf association to revitalize a national amateur event like the Women’s International Four-Ball, so the FSGA was ahead of the curve in its effort to bring new life to the tournament while simultaneously preserving its history and maintaining its international field.
“I think the format itself is just really appealing for our players, because it incorporates a little bit of a team aspect, and you don’t have to be on your game 24/7 throughout the event.” — Ryanne Haddow, FSGA director of women’s golf
“I was very glad because I knew we were probably not going to have another tournament,” Brower said of the association’s efforts.
The FSGA didn’t rush things in the transition. The tournament wasn’t played in 2012, and when it returned in 2013, the FSGA had moved it about one hour north from Orangebrook Golf Course in Hollywood to the Wanderers Club.
“It’s its own event,” said Ryanne Haddow, the FSGA’s director of women’s golf, “but it’s an extension of what we do between all of our women’s events, especially. We have a pretty good foundation from our other tournaments, between our Women’s Mid-Am, our Florida Women’s Open, our Women’s Am to kind of build this event going forward.
“I think we’ve used a lot of that history that we have to put toward this. The unique part is now, going forward, how do we get more international presence in it?”
In 2022, the FSGA lowered the handicap requirement for the championship and middle divisions, with championship entry requiring a combined team index of 10 or less and middle requiring a team index of 20 or less. The goal was to increase the caliber of players entering the field.
The format of the tournament also changed under the FSGA’s direction. Previously a five-day match-play tournament, the Women’s International Four-Ball now is a two-day, 36-hole stroke-play event. No net division exists, and the tournament isn’t flighted. The 2024 tournament includes teams from 15 states and Canada, and Haddow hopes those numbers will keep increasing.
“It’s very much a championship feel to it,” Haddow said.
Since the FSGA stepped in, Haddow said the tournament has averaged 46.5 entries, with a full 48 two-woman teams (36 of which make up the championship division) registered for this year’s event.
In Florida, Haddow notes, four-ball is a big hit among the women’s golf community. The FSGA introduced a Women’s Senior Four-Ball Championship in 2021 in addition to its Women’s Four-Ball Championship for Florida residents.
“I think the format itself is just really appealing for our players,” Haddow said of partner golf, “because it incorporates a little bit of a team aspect, and you don’t have to be on your game 24/7 throughout the event.”
That’s especially true for a tournament that falls early in the year.
“I think people generally like a partners tournament, especially if it’s the middle of winter and you haven’t played, you can look at your partner and say, ‘Your hole!’” said Tara Joy-Connelly who teamed with Meghan Stasi to win the Women’s International Four-Ball in 2013 and 2014.
Joy-Connelly, 51, was the Florida Women’s Amateur of the Year in 2015 and went into her home state of Massachusetts’ Golf Hall of Fame in 2021. She has made more than 30 U.S. Golf Association starts and first played the Women’s International Four-Ball in the 1990s. Because of the format, this one has always been about the camaraderie, she said. And because of its position on the schedule, the vibe was a little looser.
“By then you’ve seen everybody, you’ve probably played with everybody,” she said. “You really knew what you were up against and you knew, at the end, everybody was a little bit fatigued and ready to have a good time and play some four-ball.”
Joy-Connelly also wonders whether its position on the schedule didn’t contribute to low participation before the FSGA stepped in. It’s hard for many women to take a month out of their lives to play golf in Florida. About the time the USGA took over the Women’s International Four-Ball, Joy-Connelly also was noticing a shift happening as women’s amateur golf skewed younger and younger.
“The career amateur started going away, and kind of everybody that had played Division I in college, they all gave the pro thing a try,” she said. “The shift definitely changed it a little bit, I would say. Not that the tournament lost its luster; I think it just lost the ability to have people stay and play four weeks in a row.”
Joy-Connelly, a member of the Amateur Golf Alliance’s Board of Directors and an advocate for putting more women’s mid-amateur tournaments on the schedule, points out that the FSGA’s resurrection of the Women’s International Four-Ball still put the FSGA at the forefront when it came to women’s golf. She points to other moves such as the association’s Women’s Senior Four-Ball and the decision to cultivate a national field for the Florida Women’s Open as other signs of that.
“When it was resurrected – between the FSGA’s resources, the course, they provided breakfast and lunch both days, the practice round – it just went off on all cylinders, and then it was just word of mouth,” she said. “They have a strong presence, and they were happy to do it. Everyone, I think, in the mid-am and senior community appreciated that.”
Top: Since taking over the Women’s International Four-Ball in 2013, the FSGA has seen entries continue to rise. Courtesy FSGA
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