By Brad King
The stars will be aligned and brightly shining next summer when the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open is contested June 2–5 at venerable Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C.
The 77th edition of the championship, considered the ultimate test in women’s golf, will mark the seventh USGA championship staged at Pine Needles, which also hosted the 2nd U.S. Senior Women’s Open in 2019. Pine Needles becomes the first golf resort to be awarded four U.S. Women’s Open Championships.
If you’re looking for stars, look no further than Pine Needles’ list of former champions. The resort’s first U.S. Women’s Open Championship was held in 1996, when Annika Sorenstam took home the trophy. Karrie Webb won the 2001 championship at Pine Needles, and Cristie Kerr claimed the 2007 title. Helen Alfredsson won the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship.
“Pine Needles has been one of those sites that have always identified the best of the best,” said Reg Jones, the USGA’s managing director for open championships. “You think about Annika (Sorenstam), Karrie Webb and Christie Kerr; you’re looking at some of the greats of the game. That says a lot about the championship test.”
Designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1928, Pine Needles was renovated in 2004 by John Fought, who oversaw the restoration of greens and bunkers to their original forms with the aid of vintage aerial photos. In the summer of 2016, Kyle Franz was brought in to assist with a green rebuilding and bunker restoration project that aimed to maximize hole locations.
The brightest star at Pine Needles next summer may be one of the game’s greatest champions. After a 13-year hiatus from competition, Sorenstam came back and captured the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open title with a dominant performance, earning a place in her first U.S. Women’s Open since 2008 at the site of her second U.S. Women’s Open victory.
The World Golf Hall of Famer, who can go by her first name alone, won 72 LPGA titles and 10 major championships and was a dominant force in her heyday. Now, however, the Swede has passed the half-century mark. She is a mother of two, who decided when she retired from competitive golf that starting a family and running a foundation were more important than re-writing the LPGA record book.
When she qualified to play at Pine Needles by capturing her first U.S. Senior Women’s Open title, Sorenstam’s husband Mike McGee caddied for her, while daughter Ava, 11, and son Will, 10, followed in the gallery.
“When I turned 50, we had a discussion. I said, ‘Do you want to see Mama play?′ And they said, ‘Yeah, we want to see Mama play.’” Sorenstam said “I said, to do that I have to put in some time. You can’t just go out there and compete with the women out here. They have seen me hitting the balls, they’ve seen me go out there and really put sweat and tears into it, so it’s really paid off. Without them this would not really happen. It’s certainly a team effort.”
Sorenstam will return to Pine Needles 26 years after her triumph there to try and pull off what would be a legendary victory in the Home of American Golf. In her quest to claim her fourth U.S. Women’s Open title, she will be greeted by what is sure to be a mighty throng of supporters. “I have such great memories of the area,” Sorenstam told The Pilot newspaper. “That area is such a Mecca for golf and Pine Needles is obviously a great test of golf. I know I loved it, and I still love it.”
In addition to Kerr’s victory in 2007, Pine Needles also played host to the 2001 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Webb. “Pine Needles is, if not my favorite U.S. Women’s Open venue, it’s in the top three,” said Webb, whose 2001 victory was her second straight Women’s Open title. “Pine Needles [in 1996] was my very first U.S. Open I ever played in, and then when we went back in 2001, I was so excited to be there as a defending champion. Obviously, it was a special week where I played fantastic golf at a tremendous golf course. I’ll always have special memories of Pine Needles.”
Another bright star who will be on hand at Pine Needles is one of the game’s current top players, Lexi Thompson. Lexi, who still went by Alexis then, was just 12 years old in 2007 when she became the youngest to qualify for the Women’s Open at Pine Needles. She brought her father along as her caddie. Fans and media swarmed. The New York Times wrote a feature on her that week. Fans stood five-deep to try and catch a glimpse of the young girl from Florida who was poised to become the next star in the women’s game. “I was practicing my signature on the drive up, and I was just so excited just to be there,” Thompson said about her experience in 2007. “I was like there’s Lorena Ochoa, Annika. It was an unbelievable moment to be there.”
Now an LPGA Tour veteran, Thompson will be one of many of the world’s best on hand at Pine Needles next June. In addition, the world’s No. 1 amateur, Rose Zhang, earned her spot at Pine Needles after winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior to capture her second USGA title. This will be Zhang’s fourth U.S. Women’s Open appearance.
Of course, the star that will oversee everything at Pine Needles is the resort’s matriarch, the legendary Peggy Kirk Bell, who was a founding member of the LPGA Tour. Along with her husband, the renowned instructor and women’s golf advocate owned Pine Needles from 1953 until her death in 2016. She is largely credited with being the driving force behind the resort hosting its first three U.S. Women’s Opens. This will be the first at Pine Needles without her, but her presence will be felt by all.
“The Donald Ross-designed course has already crowned three memorable Women’s Open champions, and we’re confident it will again be a welcoming yet challenging host for the world’s best players,” said Kelly Miller, longtime president and CEO of Pine Needles. “I can only imagine how happy Mrs. Bell would have been to host another Women’s Open.”