LPGA icon Suggs applauds Augusta's move

LPGA Founders Shirley Spork (left) and Louise Suggs during the 2012 RR Donnelley Founders Cup.

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Louise Suggs was watching the Monday finish of the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship when the news splashed across her TV screen: Augusta National admits two female members.

“I was rather startled, to say the least,” said the 88-year-old Suggs. “A good startled.”

Few women in the game have had a stronger connection with the iconic club than the Georgia-born Hall of Famer. Suggs’ love affair with Augusta National Golf Club, home of the annual Masters Tournament, began when she was 15. Back then, Suggs said, fans could walk and talk with players in the fairway. There were no restrictions.

“They tried to give tickets away in downtown Augusta, and nobody wanted them,” she said.

As the Masters grew to one of the toughest tickets in all of sports, however, the club took heat for being male-only. That changed Monday when Augusta National announced its first female members in 80 years: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.

“I’m pleased,” Suggs said.

The first person whom a young Suggs met inside the gates of Augusta was Scottish pro Bobby Cruickshank. He took Suggs’ hands and studied them, turned them over and then looked down at her feet.

“Lassie, if you grow into those hands and feet, you might make a golfer,” Cruickshank said to the young teen.

Suggs has played Augusta National several times, and the only score she can recall was the time she played after the tournament from the championship tees.

“I shot 79, and I beat my brains out,” she said.

And then there’s her special connection to club founder Bobby Jones, a “magical name” as far as golf was concerned. The people of Georgia might not have known the name of the current president, Suggs joked, but everyone knew the name Jones.

Suggs believes she’s the last living person to have played golf with Jones. She can recall an exhibition they gave together in 1948 in Highlands, N.C., better than she can recall the events of yesterday.

Suggs has attended the Masters 30-plus times, most recently last spring. For many years she missed the event because the LPGA, of which Suggs is one of 13 founders, had a tournament.

Like many women who love the game, Suggs understood that Augusta’s membership was, by the constitutionally protected freedom to associate, a private matter. She didn’t make a fuss. She still loved the place.

But Suggs has lived long enough to see more than a few things change down Magnolia Lane. For years she played in the Titleholders Championship at Augusta Country Club, which backs up to Augusta National. Suggs won the tournament, once an LPGA major, four times.

Now it seems appropriate to dream a new dream: That one day a women’s tournament will be held on Georgia’s most celebrated piece of land.

“Hopefully, that will happen,” Suggs said.

Hopefully, it won’t take another 80 years.

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