Eloise Trainor’s impact on women’s golf still felt

TEE TO GREEN- Berkshire Eagle - May 23, 2019
by Richard Lord

Trainor’s impact on women’s golf still felt

When the United States Golf Association held its inaugural U.S. Women’s Senior Open in 2018 at the Chicago Golf Club, Eloise Trainor, the director of innovation and administration at Kay McMahon’s edukaytiongolf, knew she just had to be there.

After all, as the founder, owner and operator from 1980 to 2000 of what is now the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s official developmental tour, many in the Chicago field got their professional start thanks to the New Lebanon, N.Y. native’s vision and dogged determination.

“When I looked at the entry list, I said, ‘my gosh I know 60 percent of the those players’ and I told Kay that ‘I’ve got to go,’ “ Trainor said.

Through 2018, tour alumnae have captured a staggering 428 LPGA victories and more than 300 have current status on the LPGA Tour. While the LPGA would have likely followed the PGA Tour’s lead and started a developmental tour eventually, it was Trainor who painstakingly laid the groundwork — starting with the Tampa Bay Mini Tour in 1980 — so she certainly deserves to take tremendous pride in those big numbers.

“The golfers took advantage of the tour to get where they eventually did,” said Trainor. “I wanted to give them experience, give them a chance to say they have been there and done that on different kinds of venues, on different grasses and at different elevations.”

With the second Women’s Senior Open winding up on Sunday — Sweden’s Helen Alfreddson held off England’s Trish Johnson and the American great Juli Inkster for the win at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in North Carolina — Trainor couldn’t help but think back to last year’s special weekend in the Windy City.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to see so many of them in one place. It was good fortune and as it turned out it was absolutely great,” Trainor said. “I didn’t expect long conversations with anyone, they were playing in the tournament, but I got to say hello and give everyone I knew a hug.” Some of the other notables who played on the tour during Trainor’s 20-year run that she got to greet included

Laura Davies, Tammie Green, Rosie Jones, Michelle Redman, Jane Geddes, Kris Tschetter, Cindy Rarick and Donna Andrews..

Davies, a member of World Golf Hall of Fame and the winner of the the inaugural Senior Open by 10 shots, played briefly on the then-Futures Tour prior to her LPGA debut in 1987.

“I was talking to our former rules official, Jan Hultgren, a few days ago and she reminded me that when she marked off the courses she had to extend the out-of- bound markers a further distance from the tee because Laura was hitting it so much longer than everyone else.”

Certainly, being on-site and meeting player after player, including some of the game’s legends who pre-dated her tour, lived up to her expectations. One of those legends was Joanne Carner, who dominated the amateur scene in the 1950s and 60s before become a superstar on the LPGA Tour. Known as “Big Momma,” she had a big personality, along with a great game. That big personality was on display in Chicago.

“She hit the first shot (of the tournament) and walked the entire course talking, smoking cigarettes and shooting her age (79),” recalled Trainor. “She is phenomenal.”

My own history as a golf journalist included covering one of Carner’s 49 LPGA victories, the 1976 Orange Blossom Classic at Seminole Golf Club in Seminole, Fla. Trainor’s mention of her name helped remind me of what the tour was like as it headed toward the 1980s..

There was no big press center needed at the Orange Blossom in those days — I recall being perhaps four or five of reporters from the area in a smallish room at the club — and some local TV coverage. I remember that access to the players was great, given the tour’s desire for coverage and with the women being hungry for some attention. It was a perfect scenario for a reporter.

The tour offered a total purse for the year of just $435,000 in 1970, but it grew to about $5.5 million by 1980, spiked in part by Nancy Lopez’s spectacular five-win rookie year in 1978 that got the tour some needed national attention. Obviously, that money bought a lot more then than it would now, but no one was getting rich and earning a coveted tour card was far from easy. It was just about this time that Trainor was trying to earn her own way to the LPGA Tour. The only way to earn a card then was at qualifying school, a once-a-year, pressure-laced tournament. She came to realize that those like herself who were trying to reach the tour had

no place to gain professional experience if they failed at the school. Thus, she took it upon herself to do something about it, starting initially with one event and

then organizing a short schedule the first year in the Tampa Bay area.

It was incredible grind. Eloise quickly realized she couldn’t both play and run the show, so she put away her clubs and eventually she grew the tour into a national one with 20-plus tournaments a season.

“I’d say it took us 12 years to know we were on solid footing, by then, we had a good core of courses and fields of 60-plus players,” said Trainor, who had a specific example she was trying to duplicate.

“I saw what the the Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com Tour) had in being the feeder system for the PGA Tour and I wanted that,” Trainor said in a 2011 interview with The Eagle. “It was my goal for our top players to be able to earn their tour cards. We invited the LPGA out to see how we ran things and made overtures for years.”

When she sold the remaining half of her ownership to co-owner Zayra Calderon her vision had been realized -- the LPGA had designated the then-Futures Tour as its official developmental tour in 1999 and the top money winners (the number has varied) started to earn their LPGA tour cards. The LPGA acquired full ownership of the tour in 2007.

“It was a good time to sell (in 2000),” Trainor said. “My goals had been reached, the purses were what I wanted them, we had great sponsors and there was no debt.”

It turns out that in her final few years Trainor witnessed the very early stages of the incredible shift the LPGA Tour has taken. Between 1966, when the LPGA started awarding a player of the year award, and 1995 only one non-American earned that honor, Ayako Okamoto of Japan in 1988. Since 1995, only one American, Stacy Lewis in 2014, has won the award.

“We used to put up the flags of the countries of those in our fields and they kept growing,” Trainor recalled. “We actually had more foreign players (in the 1990s) than the LPGA Tour did because they hadn’t qualified yet. We probably had 20 golfers from Japan at one point. You could see it growing.”

And that was before the South Koreans, following Se Ri Pak’s U.S. Open win in 1999, seemingly took over the women’s game.

Where the LPGA Tour will be in 20 years in anyone’s guess, but it is certain that the tour that Trainor started will continue to have a major role in its future.

Eloise Trainor, right, poses for a picture with Joanne Carner.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY KAY MCMAHON

Richard Lord

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