Pebble Beach Golf Links’ cool ocean breezes, expansive views and postage stamp-sized greens will greet a historic group of players when the 78th U.S. Women’s Open tournament is hosted there from July 6th through the 9th. Yes—it’s finally the lady pros’ turn to claim victory on these hallowed grounds. According to the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) more than 2,100 women are vying to be part of the field of 156 golfers, hundreds more than have ever attempted before. The purse is an astounding $10 million dollars, another first for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). It’s a dream come true and a moment many have waited for, inside and outside of professional golf.
Pebble, as the locals call it, has never been out of the spotlight when it comes to major tournaments. The world famous AT&T National Pro-Am has been played here since it was the Crosby Clam Bake back in 1947. Pebble has hosted six of the men’s U.S. Opens. (The guys will be back in 2027, then three more times before 2045.) But now, it’s all about the ladies. “Some people say, ‘It took too, long.’ Yeah it did. We wish it happened sooner, but we’re glad it’s happening now,” says Julia Pine, director of championship communications for the USGA. They’re just getting started: The USGA has slated the women to play here in 2035, 2040 and 2048. Pine tells Carmel Magazine it’s a goal realized. “The overall commitment from the USGA over the past few years is to elevate women’s golf. The U.S. Amateur tournament is the oldest, but the U.S. Open is the premiere tournament, and it came down to us wanting to improve on the purse, the players and the places we play.” Ricki Lasky, head of LPGA tour business agrees, “LPGA athletes are the best in the world, and they deserve to compete on the best courses where the biggest championships in golf have long been contested. The tournament will provide a challenging test for players, and it will deliver an incredible atmosphere and viewing experience for our fans. It’s a win across the board…it’s wonderful to see this progress.”
Although a first for the ladies as a group, it’s a repeat treat and homecoming for one local star of the golf world, Mina Harigae. “I have probably played Pebble 50-plus times since I was 11,” she says. During the offseason, you may see Harigae with a leash in her hands as she walks her adorable Yorkipoo, Bentley, along the sands of Carmel Beach. But she’ll be armed with clubs for her next visit home, vying to capture the U.S. Open title after her second place finish in 2022. She says she’s keeping her nerves at bay. “It’s more excitement than anything. I’m just looking forward to playing in front of family, friends and my supporters over the years. It’s going to be such a cool week, I can’t wait for the whole experience. Having played well last year, I feel like I can take that experience of being able to play through such a huge moment and apply that to this year’s open. There might be a little more outside distraction surrounding me during the week, but I’ve been preparing myself for it all year and just being able to work through things little by little, and putting one foot in front of the other will keep me grounded.” The Robert Louis Stevenson School graduate turned pro back in 2009. Now a newlywed, the 33-year-old is based in the Phoenix area, and says her adoration for her hometown never wanes. “I just love being from the Mecca of golf. Almost every single golfer, and most people, know where Monterey is and they always say, ‘Wow, that is such a beautiful area!’ It was a great place to grow up. I had so many places to practice and play, and I also loved being surrounded by the ocean. Living in Arizona now, I do miss the coastal views and rugged beaches but it makes my visits back home that much better.” Harigae is building her iconic status every year. She has several top-10 finishes, including runner up at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open, and feels very fortunate to be part of the sea-change in her sport. “In recent years we have seen our purses and venues increase and improve, which makes more people want to pay attention to us, which in turn makes current and future sponsors step up and invest in us. It’s been really cool to see the rise in women’s golf and I’m thankful to be able to take part in it while still in my playing years.”
“My first reaction was ‘It’s about time,’” says former U.S. Women’s Open champ, LPGA Hall of Fame member and Central Coast native Juli Inkster. Inkster, a prodigy at San Jose State, was born and raised in Santa Cruz with the famed Pasatiempo golf course as her literal backyard. The two time U.S. Women’s Open champion (in 1999 and 2002) says there’s new excitement in the game—so many improvements—and it benefits everyone. “The LPGA hasn’t been to the Monterey area at all, so this is special for the women. The game has gotten more powerful. The ladies hit pretty far. Their swings are amazing. They have been raised with video and TrackMans [a system that monitors ball flight statistics] and equipment that make them super consistent.” The average drive for the lady pros is now around 265 yards, according to LPGA stats.
The money’s changed as well. U.S. Women’s Open Champion Amy Alcott took home about $20,000 when she won the tournament in 1980. This year’s first place prize is nearly 100 times that amount at close to $2 million. Alcott, also an LPGA Hall of Fame member, holds Pebble dear, as she experienced one of her most memorable wins here, breaking a record set by legend Babe Zaharias. “Growing up in California and playing the Women’s State Amateur at Pebble Beach before I ever turned pro was a highlight for me. I remember shooting 69 which became the course record there for many years back in 1973. What a great statement that the U.S. Women’s Open is finally coming to Pebble Beach. It should be a great test for the elite women players in the game.” USGA’s Julia Pine says memories like Amy Alcott’s were part of the decision to hold the U.S. Women’s Open here. “When we surveyed players, we found it really mattered where they won their U.S. Open. So Pebble is a great partner for that.” Pine notes that you don’t have to be a golfer to relate to the allure of this venue. “Everyone has a Pebble memory. Tiger winning, or playing there with their dad, or riding on the 17 Mile Drive, or just having their feet on the ground enjoying the area.”
Despite all the glowing memories and budding excitement, the tournament will be quite the challenge. Pebble is tricky even for the best pros. “It will test their endurance and their strategy,” Alcott says. Inkster dials in some of the toughest scenarios. “The greens are small and very roll-y. You’re going to have to have a strong iron game to try and get your ball close. I think someone with a strong short game will do well there. I just think it’s the right venue for the women. It’s not a super long golf course, but it’s long enough. We need courses that fans can watch and they know the history and how the course is played.” And, don’t forget the weather, which to some is a detriment and to others a pleasure. “I think what I love most about Pebble Beach is how the golf course can change hour to hour. The fog can roll in and roll out,” Inkster says. Despite its unpredictability and its difficulty, our jewel of the Central Coast is rousing two of golf’s most iconic players, Annika Sörenstam and Michelle Wie West. “Annika wasn’t sure she wanted to play. Now, she’s thought about it and told us, ‘I can’t miss this at Pebble Beach.’ Michele Wie said the same thing. She’s basically retired but said, ‘I can’t miss Pebble!’” Julia Pine tells us, betting it will be the final U.S. Open played by both women.
Fans will have the opportunity to watch the final two days of the U.S. Women’s Open tournament live on NBC—another ground breaking moment. It will be the first time a women’s golf major will air live on a network in prime time. If you’re able to witness this historic event in person, tickets are available at all major ticket sellers as well as at www.pebblebeach.com. And whether you’re in town or not, you can celebrate this championship with the USGA by taking part in the “Firsts at Pebble” campaign. When you share photos, videos or stories of your own first experience at Pebble using the hashtag #FirstAtPebble on social media and tagging @uswomensopen, you will be eligible to win prizes, including exclusive U.S. Open gear and tickets. The USGA and LPGA encourage all of us to join in on the excellent golf, the fun, the scenery and the history.