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On the decline

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From the KX Amateur to the Pine-to-Palm, area golf tournaments are filled these days with male competitors vying for a title.

At the same time, however, local women's events appear to be drawing little interest from the players at the highest level.

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What gives? With eight metro high schools, three Fargo-Moorhead colleges and a wealth of public and private courses in the area, shouldn't the championship flights at the Women's All-City and Junior All-City tournaments be bursting at the seams?

"The numbers are down from what I've seen," said Corey Herlickson, the head golf professional at The Meadows in Moorhead. "I don't know what the specific reason is. ... If there is a market that is untapped it is the women's market in this area."

Inside the numbers

Last year, the KX4/Bank of the West Amateur had about 85 competitors.

The Pine-to-Palm at Detroit Country Club in Detroit Lakes, Minn., had more than 400 participants and The Forum All-City had a field of 66.

In contrast, the Fargo-Moorhead Women's All-City had fewer than 40 players. Only nine were signed up for the championship flight.

The girls division of the Junior All-City tournament had just three competitors.

The disparity at men's and women's events is perplexing to many local golf professionals.

But it's not surprising.

Youth programs on both sides of the river have been showing the same trend for years, Rose Creek pro Matt Cook said.

"We are just not retaining (girls)," Cook said. "By the time they are in their early teens, they stop playing."

Of the 700 golfers registered for the Fargo Park District's youth program this year, about 200 are girls, according to Park District recreation specialist Jeff Heisler.

Moorhead Parks and Recreation has 102 female participants registered in youth golf programs for ages 4-17 at Village Green and The Meadows, Moorhead office specialist Karen Stremick said. Females make up 30 percent of total youth participants in Moorhead.

"Once girls get to about 14, that's when people start to wean themselves away from tournament play," Herlickson said. "We have plenty of juniors who continue to play, they just don't go out and enter those tournaments."

Busy lives

A wealth of other summer opportunities for young athletes and hectic daily schedules for more experienced golfers likely play a role in the low tournament turnouts, Women's All-City committee member Ann Williams said.

"It may be hard for some of the newer golfers in their 30s and 40s, and moms with busy families," Williams said. "Some may not like playing competitively. ... If we could get all the kids back that have been in the Fargo-Moorhead area, and that come from the schools, it would be very good. We could have 20 in the top flight."

Like many of the area's top amateur men's events, the Women's All-City is relying more and more on the young golfers to increase its numbers.

The KX Amateur and the Forum All-City have recently been overrun with high schoolers and college golfers looking to keep their games sharp during the summer.

That hasn't yet happened in the women's events.

Case-in-point: Ali Nelson's approach to the Women's All-City.

The winner of this year's Minnesota state Class 3A girls golf title and a Northern Colorado recruit, Nelson said last week she would have probably skipped the event if her mother had not recently requested she return early from vacation in Las Vegas to compete.

"You still want to do well and it's kind of important," said Nelson, the daughter of Village Green head pro Russ Nelson. "But some of the bigger tournaments with kids more your age are a little more important than this. If I didn't have family that played I don't know if I would still be playing. I still really never practice. It's too boring."

Williams said organizers of the Women's All-City contemplated changing this year's tourney from three days to two to draw more players to the field.

The All-City committee decided against a change after receiving the results of a tournament questionnaire.

The fact that the Women's All-City and Junior All-City are held midweek instead of on the weekend likely also play a part in the low turnouts, Osgood Golf Course head professional Lisa Schwinden said.

"Even if it was a one-day event, just having the option of having it on the weekend would draw a lot more people," Schwinden said.

A helping hand

Schwinden is attempting to help women's golf in Fargo-Moorhead rebound.

Also the head women's coach at North Dakota State, Schwinden has geared several of Osgood's youth programs toward increasing the number of female golfers in the area.

Osgood's LPGA girls golf club has more than 50 participants ages 7-17, Schwinden said.

"We just have to keep pushing our junior girls program and get as many girls as we can on the course," Schwinden said. "We have to offer some more competitive leagues to keep those girls interested."

Schwinden said she attempted to recruit each of her Bison golfers to compete in the Women's All-City.

"Would I be concerned? No." Schwinden said. "I think (the Women's All-City) will always be around. But it certainly deserves more people. And I will certainly be encouraging all the girls I know to participate."

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