MANATEE -- Roughly six weeks after the annual Guardian Retirement Championship, an LPGA Symetra Tour event, Sara Bay Country Club will host another prestigious women's tournament.
The 85th edition of the Florida State Golf Association's Women's Amateur begins Saturday with the first of two rounds of stroke play. The top 32 players advance to the match-play portion of the tournament, which begins Monday and wraps up Wednesday with the championship match.
"Whether it's the Junior Florida Cup matches that we have coming up or the Senior Fourball or the ladies, we are honored that they ask us to host here at Sara Bay," said Daren King, Sara Bay Country Club's head golf professional. "We're huge supporters of junior golf, amateur golf. It's been a great marriage probably for the last six, seven, eight years at least. I've been here 13, but it seems
like we're getting more and more. They ask us to host more and more here at the club. It's a real honor. And our members are very supportive of that stuff."
This year's tournament won't produce a repeat champion. Mallory Viera, of Howey-in-the-Hills, defeated Orlando's Yuanru Yin in 20 holes for the title in Vero Beach last summer. She is not listed in this year's field.
The tradition-rich Sara Bay is in prime shape, King said.
"We pretty much, year round, try to keep the golf course in tournament condition," King said.
The undulating greens make for a stern test as players need a sublime short game to master the Donald Ross layout.
Among the hopefuls in this year's field are several Manatee County players. They include Bradenton's Rachel Carlson, Mika Liu, Jennifer Neville and Jaime Oleksiew. Lakewood Ranch's Lauren Lamm also is in the field. Liu, Gabrielle Correia and Caroline Lennox are IMG Academy trainees who are in the field.
Neville, who recently completed her redshirt senior year at St. John's University, is the lone local entrant who won a match in last year's tournament.
She got past the stroke play part and won her round of 32 match in 19 holes over Ponte Vedra Beach's Nicolette Donovan. Neville later lost to No. 1 seed Ashley Holder, of Orlando, in the quarterfinals. Holder succumbed to Yin in the semifinals.
Neville is a member at Bradenton Country Club, which was designed by Ross and carries similarities to Sara Bay.
"I think it's definitely going to benefit her," King said. "They have a little bit more undulation inside of their greens than we might have. I think she's very comfortable here. She's grown up playing here as far as being on a reciprocal (agreement) and Donald Ross (Memorial Invitational)."
Bradenton Country Club head pro Bobby Guiendon has seen Neville's game improve during the past two years.
"What I've seen from Jennifer is kind of the normal progression that a good player makes through college," Guiendon said. "Your game matures a little bit. You get to learn a little bit about yourself and how you handle different tournament situations. I really think that she's kind of become very comfortable with her abilities and with her sort of competitiveness to the point where she's been able to have some good results in tournaments. So I think that's what a lot of players, Jennifer included, kind of benefit from in college. That sort of overall maturing of their game and just becoming sort of tournament savvy."
Tee times start at 8 a.m. Saturday off Nos. 1 and 10, with the final tee time slated for 9:57 a.m.
The tournament is open to the public. Visitors may get a preview of what this year's U.S. Open conditions will resemble. Pinehurst No. 2, another Ross design, uses a similar shaved, domed greens look.