As a child growing up with a pair of golfing parents, Deena Thatcher never actually pictured herself playing in the Women’s Lincoln Highway Tournament with her mom, Patti Simester.
But for the past 17 years, they have both represented Rock River in the oldest women’s golf tournament of its kind in the country. They will both tee it up again this weekend – Patti for the 42nd time, Deena for the 18th – at the 91st installment of the venerable event.
“We play golf together all the time,” Thatcher said, “and she’s not just my mom, she’s my best friend. That makes it so special for both of us.”
“I used to beat her,” Simester joked, “but that’s in the past. It’s even better because she didn’t even like golf growing up, and now we get to play together 2 or 3 times a week. It means a lot to me, and to her.”
Simester, who golfs every day of the week, first picked up the game when she married her husband, Bill. The two were married in November 1966. The following spring, Bill bought his new bride clubs, balls, shoes and a bag. She’s been playing ever since.
Bill has been into golf nearly his entire life; the basement of their house just down the road from Rock River is a shrine to his love and passion for the game. He started caddying at Rock River when he was 10, then played on the high school golf team. Patti, who was born in Rock Falls and grew up in Polo, never had the chance to play competitively in the age before Title IX.
Surprisingly, Deena and her brother, Don, weren’t interested in their parents’ favorite pastime growing up. Instead, the two spent summers playing baseball and softball, and swimming at the Rock River pool.
“Bill and I would trade off,” Simester recalled. “Bill would go golfing while I watched the kids, then he’d get done and watch the kids while I golfed. When they got old enough, we’d just leave them at the pool and go golfing together.”
“We grew up at that pool,” Thatcher chimed in. “We both got certified to be lifeguards, and I also gave swim lessons when I was in high school.”
A teacher like both her parents, Thatcher took up the game at 25 because she was looking for something to do during her summers off.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I figured I might as well try golf,” she said. “Luckily, Don and I had good genes; we’re pretty athletic, and we both pick up on things pretty quickly. It was fun, and I was hooked.”
The two will get to navigate their home course in this year’s LHT, the first time the club has hosted since 2004. Coincidentally, it’s also the club’s 100th anniversary this summer, so the historic tournament will be a special commemoration of Rock River’s historic season.
Both women were quick to mention the hard work club members Sandi Ivey, Cory Lawrence and Annette Lawrence, and Rock River employee Katelynn Prescott have put into making preparations for the LHT.
“I think the course is in the best shape it’s ever been in,” Simester said, “and those ladies have done a wonderful job putting this thing together.”
While neither buy too much into the home-course advantage, Simester and Thatcher both say it’s been easier to get ready for this year’s tournament because of their familiarity with the surroundings.
“Usually when we play practice rounds for this at other courses, I’ll take a lot of notes,” Thatcher said. “I just realized the other day that I haven’t written anything down this year. We just know the course, all the rolls and strategy involved in playing it.”
“But just because we know it,” she added with a laugh, “that doesn’t mean it’s going to show up in our play.”
While both women have a bit of a competitive streak, it rarely rears its head when they’re playing the LHT. Simester has only ever golfed for fun, and is just as happy when her competitors do well as when she does.
The de facto tournament historian is also pleased to see the new generation taking the reins. She’s played rounds this summer with Sterling’s Ember Schuldt and Megan Vandersee – “It just fun to watch them hit the ball a mile,” she said with a smile – and looks forward to a bright future to the tournament she’s spent her life playing.
Like her mom, Thatcher looks forward to the LHT every year for reasons other than the chance to win a golf tournament.
“For me, I get excited to play every year, just to see the ladies from the other teams,” Thatcher said. “It’s more of a social thing, and golf is just a little part of it. I think that’s what this tournament means to all of us, and that’s why we all love it so much … and why it’s been going for as long as it has.”
Born: Rock Falls
Grew up: Polo
Family: Husband Bill, daughter Deena, son Don
FYI: Didn’t pick up golf until marrying Bill in 1966. … Played in each of the last 41 Women’s Lincoln Highway Tournaments, one of the longest streaks in tourney history.
Born and raised: Rock Falls
Family: Daughters Madison (10) and Katie (8)
FYI: Started playing golf at 25, after playing softball growing up. … Will tee it up in her 18th LHT this weekend. … Best finishes in tournament are First Flight winner’s trophies.