It wasn't particularly breezy during the first round of the Women's Lincoln Highway golf tournament on Friday, but the winds of change were definitely blowing.
There were plenty of new faces taking their swings at Sunset Golf Course in Mount Morris, site of the 92nd annual event that features some of the top amateur golfers in northern Illinois. The new blood came out of necessity.
About 3 weeks ago, two golf courses that had been longtime participants in the Women's Lincoln Highway, Prairie Ridge in Morrison (the former Morrison Country Club) and Rochelle Country Club, had to withdraw due to not having enough golfers.
Prairie Ridge was stuck on five, and unable to find a sixth, which is the bare minimum to have a team. Courses field teams of eight golfers, with the two worst scores thrown out each day.
Rochelle initially had a team of eight golfers, but that number dropped to five by the time a June 25 team entry deadline came around.
That left the tournament with just five squads: Kishwaukee (DeKalb), Timber Creek (Dixon), Rock River Golf and Pool (Rock Falls), Emerald Hill (Sterling) and Sunset (Mount Morris).
"You don't want it to dwindle down to five teams," said Kishwaukee's Ruth Heal, a veteran of 46 women's LHTs. "It's kind of not a tournament anymore."
With the Morrison and Rochelle courses on the fence, phone calls were made to two more area courses, Prophet Hills in Prophetstown and Indian Oaks in Shabbona, to gauge their interest. The initial response was positive.
Sunset player Cheryl Satterfield made calls to representatives from Kishwaukee and Rock River, explaining the situation. It was decided to immediately extend invitations to the new courses.
"[Kishwaukee and Rock River] just said yes, go ahead," Satterfield said. "Otherwise, it was going down the tubes. We only had five teams. They said most definitely we want to keep it going, so go for it."
Prophet Hills is a longtime participant in the Rock River Classic, another best-against-bogey tournament, and has a strong contingent of female golfers. The Indian Oaks men have had a team in the Lincoln Highway the past several years, and are hosting this year's event next weekend. The Shabbona course's women eagerly joined the party.
"We're very happy some of these teams wanted to come in so we could keep the tradition alive," Heal said. "This is the longest-running women's golf tournament in the United States, and you'd hate to see anything happen to it. It's very nice that we've got some other clubs involved, and the ladies are very enthusiastic."
Kishwaukee is the only private course left in the rotation, with Dixon and Rock River having gone from private to public in recent years. It means playing some years on smaller, 9-hole golf courses, but for Heal, it's no big deal.
"It's not going to be the same, and I think we need to learn to adapt," Heal said. "It's a changing scene, and I'm just so happy we've got some other clubs that wanted to come in."
They didn't just join – they're holding their own, at least individually.
Indian Oaks has a player, Jacki Johnson, who is contending for top honors at +11, tied with Heal and one behind Timber Creek's Alina Llanas. Prophet Hills' Cathy Verhulst is seventh overall at the midway point with a score of +6.
More than that, however, the new players felt like they belonged in an event they weren't even a part of 2 weeks ago.
"We were very nervous," Prophets Hills' Karen Wiersema said, "but we were graciously welcomed by everyone. We're very happy and pleased to be in this competition."
Out in 2014: Prairie Ridge, Rochelle
New in 2014: Prophet Hills, Indian Oaks