MANATEE -- The Women's Southern Golf Association sought a host with historical heft for the 100th playing of its flagship amateur tournament.
Southern Manatee County's 89-year-old Sara Bay Country Club, a Donald Ross-designed course with ties all the way back to Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, was an obvious choice.
"Because it's a special year, we really wanted a special course," said Karen Koerner, the tournament's publicity chair. "Their history kinda parallels ours. It all just fit. ... This country club was looking for a historic tournament. They asked us to send a list of all the places we've played and all the champions we have had in 99 years."
The 100th WSGA Amateur will be played Monday through Friday at Sara Bay. Forty-eight of the South's top women's amateur players will tee it up for a round of stroke-play qualifying Monday followed by four days of match play for the final 32.
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They will be vying to become the 100th name on the perpetual championship trophy, joining past winners and current LPGA stars Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson.
"It's one of the most prestigious amateur tournaments to win. It's the tradition," said Ginny Zanca, the WSGA's finance chair.
The WSGA comprises 15 states in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia along with the District of Columbia.
The first WSGA Amateur was played in 1911. There were no tournaments in the war years of 1918 and 1942-45.
Sara Bay traces its history to 1926, when it opened as Whitfield Estates Country Club. It rose to prominence right away as the host of a fabled match between Hagen and Jones, an early sales manager at the club.
This year's tournament will be the WSGA's first visit to Manatee and Sarasota counties and the 10th to Florida.
Coincidentally, Bradenton is on a two-year winning streak after Hally Leadbetter, a Rollins College junior and the daughter of famed swing coach David Leadbetter, won in 2013, and IMG Academy's Mika Liu claimed the crown last year.
Both Leadbetter and Liu are in the field this year along with IMG's Hannah Haythorne, Jaravee Boonchant. Rinko Mitsunaga and Rino Sasaki and Sarasota's Nicole Polivchak.
"Last year's event was very special," said the 16-year-old Liu, who will try to become the tournament's first repeat champion since Sarah Lebrun Ingram in 1994. "I was very determined and very motivated at the time. I just kept fighting, and it was huge win for me."
Liu, a sophomore who has committed to national champion Stanford, enters the WSGA Amateur just as motivated this year. She joined Mitsunaga, a senior headed to Georgia, to win the inaugural USGA Women's Amateur Four-Ball Championship on May 13 in Bandon, Ore., then took the crown at the AJGA Thunderbird Invitational on May 25 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"What got me through was my putting was on fire," Liu said. "My entire game is coming together. My putting has been very consistent. I've been hitting all my short putts and making some long putts for birdie."
Other championship contenders include 2008 champion Lucy Nunn, 28, now an assistant coach at the University of Houston; 24-year-old Rachel Carpenter of St. Simons Island, Ga.; and Kristine Odaiyar, a Stetson University sophomore.
This year's tournament also marks the start of a new division, the Mid-Amateur, for women 25 and older. Forty-eight players will follow the same format as the Amateur tournament players.
"The women are getting a little older and want to play from a little bit shorter," tournament chair Judy Allardice said. "The distance is about 6,200 for the Amateur and 5,600 for the Mid-Amateur. Everybody is excited to be our first winner."