Barrington, R.I. -- Forty-one years ago, Martha Wilkinson was young and strong and the national champion. For Martha Wilkinson Kirouac coming back to Rhode Island Country Club is a sentimental journey.
Between myriad duties defining her as a member of the USGA Women’s Committee, Kirouac looks around and sees friends. Good friends. For Martha Kirouac, the 1970 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, this is home.
She was a bride in 1972 when she moved to Barrington with her husband Bob. They bought a little house not far from here, had their children here, and joined the club. Martha became one of the club’s more noted members. Glenna Collett Vare, JoAnne Gunderson Carner and Kirouac were all U.S. Women’s Amateur champions and members.
One club. Three champions.
On Monday, Kirouac sat in a golf cart and talked about a place she loves. I’ve looked forward to this for a whole year, she said. When I first got here I immediately went out and walked the golf course. I remembered I hit it there, and I hit it there, and Bob hit it there. I had a chance to catch up with people and freshen those memories. Then you turn your attention to making sure that we really put on a first-rate Women’s Amateur Championship. I think it’s coming together nicely. It’s good stuff.
She looked at the scoreboard and reviewed Monday first-round scores. Several players shot in the 60s. So far, so good, Kirouac said. The scores are low. We caught a day without much wind and the last five holes played a little tamer than we’d like. If the wind comes off the water (Naragansett Bay) tomorrow, we’ll see some low scores, but not like today.
In her playing days, her best chance to score well here came in the first six holes. From the seventh hole on, the wind was a challenge.
We had more of a land breeze today, said Kirouac of RICC, which is hosting its fourth Women’s Amateur and fifth USGA championship this week. The bay is like a mirror. Yesterday, it was white caps. The course is soft because of yesterday’s rain, so the players can fire darts at the flagsticks. This course is at its best when you can play bump-and-run. It’s a Donald Ross course and the greens have definite roll-offs over the edges. The greens are not real big. The middle of the green is not a bad shot here.
Kirouac knows what she’s talking about. When she played here, she was one of four extremely fine women players who were members. Add up the handicaps of Kirouac, Noreen Uihlein (now Mohler), Nancy Chaffee and Julie Green, she said, and the sum was a plus-2.
We had one heck of a club championship! Kirouac chuckled.
Like everything, women’s golf has changed. Today’s players have their own qualities. Younger. Stronger. Longer. Better, she said. The depth of field is one of their biggest differences. There have always been fine players, there are just a lot more of them. Title IX has certainly opened doors and created opportunities for women where golf now becomes an option for scholarship opportunities. It helps them to play high-level competition, year-round. When I played, there were four or five tournaments a year and that was it.
New equipment and physical training also aid the modern player, she believes, while instruction has evolved. When I was taught to play, we learned the mechanics of the golf swing. We made sure we were in all the correct positions, and then tried to figure out how to add distance to it. Today, they teach you to just grab hold and rip it. Hit it as hard as you can hit it, and then we’ll figure out how to make it look nice.
Kirouac likes today’s international flavor in women’s amateur golf. We have 18 different flags up over that scoreboard, she said. The game, especially on the women’s side, is a wide open field, internationally. The USA is highly competitive, but I wouldn’t give that domination title to any country right now. Great players are coming from all over the world.
In the early 1980s after a decade in Rhode Island, Bob Kirouac changed jobs and the family moved to Georgia. Bob died in 1993. Today, Kirouac is a widow with two grown daughters. She works as the Senior Director of Course Rating and Member Services for the Georgia State Golf Association. While Kirouac enjoys that role and where she lives, Rhode Island Country Club will always seem like home.
I’ve enjoyed being back at this level of the game but with a totally different job description, said the past champion. I can honestly say I’ve never missed a shot. Not this week. I’m going to leave here being super proud of my home club,
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.