Old Chatham’s quest for U.S. Girls’ Junior bid began with familiarity, past success

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DURHAM — In the world of both amateur and professional golf, North Carolina is viewed as one of the sport’s prized possessions.

“I just think North Carolina is the golf Mecca,” Tracy Parsons, championship director for the U.S. Golf Association, told the News + Record. “North Carolina itself has so many great facilities, great weather, great conditioning, so I think it’s going to be in perfect condition for a summer championship.”

When Old Chatham Golf Club hosts the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in July 2026, it’ll be the 39th USGA-sanctioned championship hosted on the Tar Heel State’s soil, including this year’s U.S. Women’s Open (Southern Pines) and the 2024 U.S. Open (Pinehurst).

And it’ll be Old Chatham’s second USGA championship event, following up the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur, won by Bob Royak of Alpharetta, Georgia.

Old Chatham is a private golf club sitting on 400 acres of land in Durham, just inside the Chatham County line, that prides itself on “offering a sanctuary for those with a passion for golf built around exceptional camaraderie, service and amenities,” according to its website. It’s played host to four championship events for the Carolinas Golf Association (CGA) over the last 13 years, including the 2009 North Carolina Amateur Championship and the 2014 North Carolina Mid-Amateur Championship.

Jill Marino, the club’s membership director, said it’s “a tremendous honor” for Old Chatham to serve as the host of two USGA championships.

“We reflect such an incredible location because we really are the center of the state, where multiple counties come together,” she said. “Chatham, Durham, Wake, we all come together right here. There’s so many incredible things happening in Central North Carolina right now and I’m just delighted to be a part of this area.”

Selecting championship host sites, the job of the USGA’s Future Sites Committee, can be a long process. The committee sifts through bids from clubs around the country — as well as scouring the nation for under-the-radar candidates — to find the best fit for each of the USGA’s 17 championships each calendar year.

After a successful event with the U.S. Senior Amateur, Parsons said Old Chatham was eager to get its name back into the mix for another championship hosting opportunity.

Three years later, the USGA awarded it.

“Sometimes, when we’re preparing for a championship, staff might be in the area and try to find a hidden gem,” Parsons explained, “but this is a site that actually circled back and reached out and wanted to put their name back in the hat to get back into the lineup.”

When the USGA is searching for its host sites, it takes a number of things into account depending on the event it’s in the running for, including the course, its measurements and its conditioning, the club’s schedule, the infrastructure of the clubhouse and the supportiveness of the community, among others.

To the committee, Old Chatham checked all of those boxes.

“The recipe for a good USGA amateur championship is a fantastic golf course, supportive membership and an enthusiastic golf community,” Parsons said in a USGA-prepared statement, “and Old Chatham has all those things. The 2026 U.S. Girls’ Junior will be an exceptional experience for all involved.”

While the USGA has done its part to select Old Chatham as the event’s host, that’s just the beginning of the preparation process.

Now, Old Chatham will be tasked with creating a host committee — likely involving some of the same people it did for the 2019 tournament — consisting of staff or club members that plan to do the “heavy lifting,” said Parsons, in terms of the volunteer operations. Those on the committee would be named to roles like caddies chair, college coaches liaison, evacuation chair, player hospitality chair, volunteer chair and scoring chair, among others, and will be responsible for finding volunteers to work on their specific area.

Old Chatham had a group of 250 volunteers that assisted it with the 2019 U.S. Senior, working on elements like managing practice areas, guiding spectators, transporting guests and players and other “critical elements to making the championship run smoothly,” Marino said.

“Each time we make site visits, we’re going back and meeting with those people, covering their areas of responsibility and just building the championship from the ground up,” Parsons said, “so that when players arrive, everyone is kind of in tune and in line with the plan to make sure the players have the best experience possible.”

Marino, for example, shifted her focus to hospitality during the U.S. Senior Amateur, an event she described as “thrilling.”

“I was on the inside of the (clubhouse) and helped make sure that the competitors and their guests were comfortable,” Marino said. “This was an unbelievably friendly group of competitors and their golf knowledge was so high. They truly enjoyed their time here. We were so delighted to have them and they really felt that welcome. We hope to extend that welcome to the junior competitors, as well.”

Having hosted a USGA championship in the last three years already gives Old Chatham a leg up on other clubs that may be winning host bids for the first time. Parsons said she doesn’t expect the club to have to make course adjustments to comply with the event’s standards. Marino seconded that sentiment, saying that the USGA wants the course to remain “as-is.”

Hosting a tournament of this caliber doesn’t come cheap, however.

Parsons didn’t specify exactly what it would cost Old Chatham to host the event, but called it a “joint effort between the USGA and the host club,” explaining that the USGA puts forth a portion of the funding, while the club typically does some fundraising among its community to help with the rest.

Luckily for anyone interested in attending the 2026 U.S. Girls Junior, it’s entirely free and open to the public.

Marino said she expects there to be a much bigger turnout in 2026 than there was in 2019, due in part to the number of family members who will attend, but also because of the number of golf fans eager to get a glimpse at the next crop of young stars competing on one of the sport’s largest amateur stages.

The U.S. Girls’ Junior, the top competition for the girls’ junior division, is open to amateur girls under the age of 19 with a USGA handicap index of 9.4 or less. It’s made up of two days of stroke play, followed by a match play tournament with the remaining 64 competitors. As of 2017, the winner of the tournament is given an automatic exemption into the following year’s U.S. Women’s Open.

While the U.S. Junior championship events rarely make headlines outside of devoted golf circles, Parsons said the level of competition is astonishing.

“When you say that a location is going to host a Girls’ Junior, a lot of members think that these are young ladies who just picked up a golf club yesterday that are so cute with their little pigtails,” Parsons said with a laugh. “But when they come out and watch, they’re blown away by the level of play.”

Over the years, the U.S. Girls’ Junior has played host to plenty of young athletes that eventually go on to compete in events like the U.S. Women’s Open, Curtis Cup and U.S. Women’s Amateur, many of whom find their way onto the LPGA Tour.

That includes Minjee Lee, an Australian-born player on the LPGA Tour who won the U.S. Women’s Open on June 5, her second major victory. She won the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2012 at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, California.

“They’re literally going to see the future generation of the game,” Parsons said. “And a lot of people are going to be shocked at how far these girls have come, how precise they are, how good their short game is. … It’s really inspiring for juniors in the community to see what other kids their age can do in this sport.”

Old Chatham’s bid to host the U.S. Girls’ Junior will not only be a great way to get even more exposure for a well-established golf club, Marino said, but will also give the club a chance to advocate for women in golf.

“It’s an opportunity for us to give back to amateur golf,” Marino said. “That’s what it’s all about here. That’s part of the club’s mission. … However, this is an opportunity to support an entirely different demographic. These are junior golfers, which is a growing demographic of the game and, on top of that, it’s junior girls. These are going to be future Division I golfers, future LPGA stars.

“As a golfer, you want to see the game grow,” Marino said. “And this is how you grow it.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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