If the changing of the guard at the Women's Lincoln Highway Tournament has started the past 7 years with Sterling standout Ember Schuldt winning each of those events, it seems to have shifted into second gear this year.
The University of Illinois senior-to-be was joined by two other Division I golfers – NIU's Connie and Taylor Ellett – and recent Augustana graduate Megan Vandersee atop the Day 1 leaderboard for the tournament's 91st installment at Rock River Golf and Pool on Friday.
But instead of the tourney veterans feeling threatened by the invasion of youngsters, they have embraced them with open arms.
"We love having those younger girls here, even if they do beat the pants off us," Timber Creek's Patty Head said. "They're so sweet and nice as people, and it's so fun to watch them play the game of golf."
For their part, all four of the leaders have reciprocated those feelings to the older players.
"These ladies are like old friends," said Schuldt, who has won the last seven LHT titles. "I grew up playing with them and learning the game from them, and they've given me so much support. I absolutely love this weekend every year."
That's what makes local events like this one so special. I mean, how many college-aged kids would choose to hang out and play golf with women twice or three times their age?
Not only did the girls choose to be there, they flat-out could not wait for the fun and camaraderie provided by the longest-running women's golf tournament of its kind in the country.
"The one thing I missed while I was traveling last summer and not playing golf tournaments was this tournament and the ladies here," Vandersee said. "I knew that whatever was going on for me this year, there was no way I was going to miss playing in it."
This is how tournaments like this last for so long. There are familiar names every year, but eventually the older ones stop playing and look to the next generation to take over the reins.
With names like Schuldt, Vandersee and Ellett, the LHT veterans know things are in good hands down the road.
"This is how we keep this old girl alive," said Head, who played in this tournament herself all through high school and college before coming back to it a decade later. "There's the old guard and the new guard, and they always seem to mix very well – and I think it's because we're all out here to have fun playing a game we love."
Head and her cohorts are interested in seeing how long the younger girls stick around. Head missed 11 tournaments after college because she moved into the Chicago suburbs, and wonders if some of the younger girls will go through the same process of moving away from the area.
But Vandersee, for one, is eager to take on the challenge of moving the venerable event into the future ... and see it last another century.
"I was just talking about that in my group today," Vandersee said. "There's not a lot of turnover for a long time, then you have a lot of new faces all of a sudden. I'm proud to be the next wave coming in and keeping this great tournament going, and making sure the girls behind me know what it's all about."