In 1988, Kathy Mankowski was a low-handicap golfer looking for a golf game.
She had moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area two years earlier and joined a golf club, but there remained one big unanswered question: Where were all the competitive women golfers?
“I had trouble finding women of my ability to play with,” Mankowski said. “So I played mostly with the men. Finally I proposed that we start some kind of group of low-handicap women. I went around to different courses and asked if they would be willing to host us. We started out with four women, and it grew from there.”
Four women became several dozen. Today, there are 84 women participating in Mankowski’s brainchild, the Ladies Amateur Golf Association.
Six times in the past seven years, a member of LAGA has reached the final of the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. That’s three victories and three runners-up from one metropolitan area.
“For a group of women in one small area of the country, I think this is a stunning achievement,” said Carolyn Creekmore, one of the most accomplished of the LAGA members. “We are very, very proud of what we’ve been able to do.”
The 50th USGA Women’s Amateur will be played Sept. 10-15 at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn. It will be 36 holes of medal-play qualifying, followed by match play.
Creekmore started the LAGA parade in 2004 with a victory in the Senior Amateur. Creekmore finished runner-up in 2009.
Anna Schultz was defeated in the 2006 final, but bounced back in 2007 to win in 20 holes.
The late Toni Wiesner posted her third runner-up finish in 2008.
In 2010, Mina Hardin won the title in her first year of eligibility for the 50-and-older event.
“I was looking for somewhere to play with low-handicap women,” Hardin said, “and I found LAGA. We inspire each other. We push each other to get better.”
LAGA members must maintain a handicap index of 10.4 or lower, which is even more demanding than the U.S. Golf Association’s 18.4 minimum to enter the Women’s Amateur.
“We are the most competitive group I’ve ever seen,” LAGA member Leslie Henry said. It’s like, ‘Love ya, honey, but today I’m gonna kick your butt.’ It’s such a tightly knit group of friends, but it’s also prep school for competitive golf.”
So proud is the Dallas-Fort Worth golf community of the LAGA that the women are able to visit a different course each week for their play-day events. They are charged only cart fees.
“I have some guy friends who swear they would shave their legs if they could come out and play with us,” Henry said.
Creekmore joined shortly after the LAGA was formed. So did Wiesner, who died of cancer in 2009.
“It was a phenomenal achievement that Toni was able to reach the final three times,” Creekmore said. “She was an exceptional person. She was a wonderful role model. She wasn’t out there telling people how to do it or when to do it. She would help anyone who needed help. She was fierce but kind.”
Looking back on her creation, Mankowski said simply, “LAGA has become much more than just golf.” After Schultz captured the Senior Women’s Amateur in 2007, she was so moved that she thanked her fellow LAGA members in an emotional victory speech.
“When we go to all these national events,” Henry said, “sometimes we look around on the putting green and it looks like a LAGA play day.”