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Niagara Falls Members Deserve Applause

Will Niagara Falls Country Club members please stand up and take a bow. The club, home of the prestigious elite amateur tournament called the Porter Cup, recently announced it will create a women’s equivalent beginning this summer.

The inaugural contest will be played June 12-14 and will be a 54-hole medal play tournament with no cut. Field size will be limited to 60 players with a USGA handicap index not to exceed 9.4.

The Women’s Porter Cup will be the third major amateur championship hosted annually by NFCC, joining the men’s championship played annually in July and the Senior Porter Cup, held in September.

This new event was the brainchild of Steve Denn, a longtime NFCC member who runs the men’s event. He brought the idea to the board in November, and it was warmly received and quickly approved. It certainly will be equally well received by the elite women’s amateur community, as the reality for that community is one of few summer playing opportunities.

While their male counterparts, mostly schoolboys, can play a good or great event each week of the summer, first-rate tournaments for young women are far fewer in number. And very few are hosted annually by a club or community, which is very common on the male side of the equation.

“There was a void,” Denn told me. “We think we can help fill it.” This year, the inaugural Women’s Porter Cup will come the week before the 113th Women’s Western Amateur, slated for June 17-22 at Dayton (Ohio) CC.

So what is in it for the NFCC? It doesn’t hurt that the men’s event is a net positive contributor to the club’s bottom line, thanks to the many local sponsors who support the event. But there is more to it than that. Like a lot of private clubs in America, NFCC is going through a kind of reinvention. Changing demographics and evolving societal norms are causing clubs like NFCC to take a hard look at the value offering they make to members and prospective members. NFCC clearly believes that the membership really enjoys these amateur tournaments, and that they can serve as a meaningful point of differentiation and attraction when someone in the area is thinking about joining a golf club.

The Porter Cup certainly has brought the club great recognition. It began in 1959 and has been played continuously since then, becoming a mandatory summer stop for the nation’s best collegiate players. All the great amateurs have played here, and among those who have donned the winner’s green jacket are Deane Beman, Vinny Giles, Jay Sigel, John Cook, Ben Crenshaw, and Phil Mickelson.

The college kids come and go, but fourtime U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith will play the Porter Cup for the 14th time this summer. “Steve Denn has done a great job running this tournament,” Smith recently told me. “The course is fun to play and poses some risk-reward holes in the closing stretch to make it an exciting finish. The par-3 18th is a fun last hole as there is a massive gallery all around the hole to greet the winner.” NFCC, a 1918 A.W. Tillinghast design that was touched up by Robert Trent Jones in the 1930s, stretches to a bit more than 6,800 yards, short by today’s standards for the college bombers. As a result, when the weather cooperates, the scores will be low. The course is known for its greenside bunker complexes and for its five challenging par-3 holes, including the last.

If the men’s Porter Cup is any indicator, the women are in for a great week. Like some events on the summer elite amateur circuit, the Porter Cup has become a weeklong club and community festival. The women who play this event are in for a surprise… they are going to be welcomed in a way they just don’t experience very often.

Consider the whirlwind itinerary of the men’s championship. It begins with a seven hole, par-3 contest Monday involving players and sponsors. Tuesday’s practice round is an all-day player/sponsor “Ham/Am,” followed by the players dinner. Wednesday’s first round is followed by a 500-plus person barbecue, and Thursday’s round is followed by a boat tour of the famous Niagara Falls. A formal dinner dance takes place after Friday’s third round for members and sponsors. And after a winner is crowned on Saturday, a pool party breaks out where the players can let their guard down a bit. Rumor has it past years have seen a player or two doing belly flops in their boxer shorts off the diving board. Meanwhile, the golf is played at a very high level, and the fairways are adorned by perhaps the largest galleries in amateur golf. It is, quite simply, a joyous week in the western New York golf community.

Private clubs aren’t lining up to host big-time women’s amateur events, and so you really have to tip your hat to the club for doing this. And so, ladies and gentlemen of Niagara Falls Country Club, kindly rise and be acknowledged.

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