Local legends give Bennett boost for World Sand Greens

Kelsey Bennett may never benefit more from a pro-am draw after spending Tuesday with two of Walcha Golf Club’s local legends in preparation for the Women’s World Sand Greens Championship Powered By Origin Energy starting Wednesday.

The world-first tournament has drawn 59 players from across the globe, Colombian LPGA Tour veteran Mariajo Uribe the star attraction after her recent Women’s NSW Open win at Magenta Shores Golf and Country Club.

The setting this week is much different, however, as players try to adjust quickly to a form of golf few have ever played before.

Bennett, winner of The Athena in February, was admittedly still mystified by the intricacies of sand greens golf even after spending 18 holes with two women who understand it better than most.

Simone Sweeney (pictured, right) is the reigning women’s club champion at Walcha while Cheryl McDonald (pictured, left) won the club championship 13 times between 2009 and 2022 and was runner-up at the NSW Women’s Sand Green Championship in 2016.

For 24-year-old Bennett, the pairing could not have been more opportune.

“I said at the start of the day, I’m really glad I’m playing with two members so I can see how they do it. And I’ve picked up a lot,” said Bennett.

“I had no clue. I still feel like I don’t have much clue, but I’ve got more knowledge now, which is good.”

Conscious of not wanting to give too much away to her fellow competitors as they also adjust, Bennett said analysing the sand depth on the greens was a key takeaway.

“With chipping, just take note of how much sand you’re landing onto, because the hard ones really take off and the soft ones can hold.”

Whatever she thought of her own performance, Bennett received high praise from Walcha’s reigning champion as to how she fared first up.

“She amazed me because she was actually pitching at the greens and stopping,” said Simone Sweeney.

“That’s not generally how we play them around here, so I think she just needs to back herself tomorrow because she’s really got the skills.”

“As long as they don’t want to lob their ball from the word go onto that green, because it will just fly off,” added Cheryl.

“Especially on the par 3s. The idea is to land it short and try and get that bit of a run onto the green.”

After years playing a multitude of sports including tennis, Cheryl was enticed by a friend to try golf for the first time in 2003.

Six years later, she was club champion, a title she defended for all but one of the following 14 years.

She and Simone will go head-to-head again for the 2024 club championship in just a few weeks’ time and is thrilled to have such a quality field of professionals playing at their home course.

“This is amazing. This is incredible,” said Cheryl.

“We’re just so grateful we had rain because the course is a lovely course.

“We are just so thrilled. It’s fantastic that we will get to watch these great players play our course.”

In a golf club of little more than 100 members, the influence of women has grown considerably in recent years.

Cheryl and Simone are among a core group of some 30 women who play regularly on Wednesdays and Sundays and who will be on hand to provide any assistance they can over the coming two days.

“I’m always so proud of our club,” said Simone.

“Whenever we have visitors, everyone steps up. And we do have a wonderful group of women.”

First tee time is 9am AEST Wednesday morning with players competing for $140,000 in total prize money.

The final round will be broadcast live on 7Plus with the WPGA website hosting live scoring.

The inaugural Women’s World Sand Greens Championship Powered by Origin Energy is proudly supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW.  

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