These Days, Amy Alcott Is Involved In Olympic Golf Course Design
During each of the LPGA's five major championships, espnW will chat with a past champion and see what she's up to. This is the third in that series.
She's eclectic, engaging and a bit mischievous. Has a lot of gumption and even more talent.
Nothing fazes her. Nothing stops her. Nothing she sets her mind to has ever been out of her reach.
And most everything about her will surprise you.
We're talking about Amy Alcott, Hall of Famer and 2016 Olympic golf course co-designer. Throwback and forward thinker. Skipped college, turned pro at 18 and won the third professional event she ever played. A tireless promoter of women and golf and kids and so much more. Former short-order cook -- a job she created at her favorite Westwood bakery to de-stress from golf -- and one of Bill Clinton's favorite playing partners.
Alcott grew up in Los Angeles, cut her golf teeth at Riviera and played with a host of stars. She is the creator of the now iconic leap into Poppie's Pond by the winner of what is today known as the ANA inspiration, but, to Alcott, it's still the Nabisco or the Dinah.
Alcott is just back from Atlanta where she teed up in friend Rosie Jones' Judson Collegiate & Legends Pro-Am Challenge, a Legends event where LPGA players mentor college student-athletes. And, she has a World Golf Hall of Fame Induction at St. Andrews on her mind. She's ready to put on her scarf and blazer and welcome the class of 2015 into the club. She's ready, too, to play Muirfield, Crail and a few courses in England before she heads home.
And, in case you haven't figured out by now, talking with her is always an experience. You never fail to learn something new.
Today's tidbit? She purchased Katharine Hepburn's golf cart from Sotheby's at auction after the star's death in 2003.
espnW: That's seriously cool.
Amy Alcott: It had her gardening equipment and fishing rod on it. I had to put a new accelerator on it and a harness to hold a golf bag. It was a studio car given to her by George Cukor, her director in so many films (including "The Philadelphia Story,'' "Little Women'' and "Adam's Rib'').
espnW: Let's jump right into your latest in-the-news venture -- the 2016 Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro. You collaborated with architect Gil Hanse on the project and it was plagued by delays that were out of your hands. Where does it stand now?
AA: I haven't seen it all grown in. It's still in the growing process and I'm not sure when it will be open. ... But Gil and I were just on the phone this week with the key governing bodies of golf, going over, in advance, tee positions and how holes can be played. They've already got us prepping for this.
Obviously it was delayed, but it's going to be a great links-style layout. It's about 4 or 5 miles from the ocean and is meant to play firm and fast. I think it will challenge the best men and women players in the world, but also it was designed to create a golf course that could be left in perpetuity for young people and the people of Brazil because they don't know much about golf. There will be a nice learning academy there and a five-hole little golf course on the driving range, so after the Olympics is over, they will be able to reach out to the people of Rio -- the kids especially -- and showcase golf there in a country that's very soccer crazy.
espnW: How do you think golf will play in soccer-crazy Brazil?
AA: They love their sports in Brazil. I've been down there in the winter, spring and fall and in most climates. It's a very outdoor country. Volleyball is very big, the beaches are big. Soccer is part of their active lifestyle. Hopefully the game will become very visible during the Olympics and will not be viewed as a rich person's game, which has always been the challenge. I think it'll create quite a hit.
espnW: With all the international events on the women's and men's schedules and the PGA Tour playing a wrap-around schedule, can Olympic golf become a mainstay?
AA: That's a bit of a tough one. I say that because I hope it does, but golf has so many events from the Ryder Cup to the Presidents Cup to the Solheim Cup -- all kinds of international events. I'm sure there will be people wondering why golf is in the Olympics. It might become part of the conversation, but I hope golf is very successful in 2016 and I hope it's exciting coming down the stretch.
espnW: How did the partnership with Gil come about?
AA: I originally met Gil at the Los Angeles Country Club when he was remodeling it. The idea of approaching Gil about the Olympic course was my idea. I asked if he was going to do it, and he said it was interesting. He got back to me and said he wanted to bid it under his name. ... He put the proposal in and within a year called me back up and said we're in the final nine, we have to start getting serious. So then we had to prepare what our vision would be to present to the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the mayor of Rio, the IGF (International Golf Foundation), the PGA Tour, and that's when we went there to present it.
I spoke about the legacy of what this golf course would leave behind because I could talk about that as a kid who grew up on the front lawn putting into soup cans; that this could open up a whole new generation of young people -- all kinds of jobs, for kids to learn about caddying and everything. Very similar to the First Tee.
We waited and waited and we were picked. It was meant to happen.
espnW: So your design styles mesh?
AA: Oh yes. We get along really well. We learned a lot from each other. I definitely learned about grading and how certain things get done from the ground up on a golf course. It's a relationship with mutual respect. I did do a little work with him at Ridgewood.
espnW: Would you ever want to construct your own course?
AA: Sure. But you know, it's easy for someone to call themselves a golf course architect. It's a jack of all trades. You have to learn a lot about everything. As much as I do know, I'm not a formal architect, but I do know what makes a great golf hole. So my strength right now is to work with people as projects come up. What I really like doing, I have a really good eye because I've played golf all over the world.
espnW: You went to Israel in May to help raise money and awareness for SHALVA, an association for the mentally and physically challenged children in Israel. How did you become involved?
AA: My friend Arn Tellem, an agent, asked me if I would go over to participate and bring awareness to the charity. It was my second trip to Israel. I had gone once before for Seeds of Peace with Hunter Mahan, Michael Thompson and Will Perdue . That one was bringing golf and basketball to Israel.
espnW: You support a lot of things in the LA area and other places, too.
AA: I'm golf ambassador for City of Hope, a research and medical center here and I work with the The First Tee of Metropolitan New York. That's how I stay busy. There's a transition you have to make over time. That part of you that played the tour and traveled 35-40 years, you don't just want to stop. Need to stay active, busy and relevant.
espnW: You're playing in the Legends events, too.
AA: With the minimum age 45, every year there's a new crop of players coming in and I see it getting bigger and bigger. I would say I play in about half of the events.
espnW: President Bill Clinton said you were one his favorite playing partners. Who are your favorites?
AA: President Clinton is obviously fun to play with. I've played with him like six times and he's very, very interesting. He always tells me he learns something from me. He thinks I'm pretty well-read. He's also the one who told me, "Amy, write a book because it's in you." So when I wrote my book a couple of years ago, where I interviewed famous people -- it's called "The Leaderboard: Conversations on Golf and Life'' -- what he said kind of gave me inspiration.
I've always had a lot of laughs playing with JoAnne Carner and growing up here in LA, I played golf with so many people. When I was a little girl I used to putt (at Riviera CC) with Rita Hayworth. I didn't even know who she was. But I've been blessed to know people and played with so many different kinds of people who love the game.
espnW: The U.S. Women's Open is just around the corner. You won the 1980 Open -- your second major -- at Richland CC in Nashville, beating Hollis Stacy by nine shots on a brutally hot week. What do you remember most?
AA: How damn hot it was and how (golf writer) Gordon White of the New York Times was putting thermometers in the bunkers. And he'd say, "It's 122 in there."
I remember registering and hearing someone say "whoever finishes will win." It was one of the hottest summers in American history and the people who played there remember how tremendously hot and debilitating it was. I was in really good shape and I was running in the heat. I had won the week before in Indianapolis, and I came in there pretty confident.
It was really a survival test. I remember with nine holes to go, with towels over my head and it was 109. I thought I was going to pass out and I remember having a talk with myself walking to the 10th hole. "You can't pass out now. This is everything you've dreamed of doing. Even if you have to crawl, you're going to finish this tournament." And as dizzy and as hot as I was, I found a way to do it and maintain and garner an even bigger lead coming down the stretch.
espnW: You only won one Open, but you had a great record in the '80s and '90s -- nine top 10s. Was there one you felt got away?
AA: The Open and the Nabisco were my bailiwick. I could have won at Colonial in 1991 and at Salem in 1984. At Colonial, I three-putted 16, the par-3 on the final day and I was tied for the lead. In 1984, Hollis had a big comeback (five shots in the last 14 holes) and holed a 7-iron on the back nine for eagle. On the 18th, I hit a 3-wood down the middle and it hit a sprinkler on the fly, kicked dead left under a tree, and here I was tied for the Open at the time. I had to lay up, then I doubled the last hole. It was really ugly.
I think that was the only time I cried in the parking lot. It was the only time I showed a lot of emotion, but that's the way golf is.
espnW: Which player today reminds you of you?
AA: Probably Lydia Ko. She's young like I was. I turned pro before anyone. I didn't go to college. If you go down the list of my contemporaries they all pretty much played college golf. I turned pro right out of high school. I was a total anomaly. I was 18 and I had everyone giving me advice, but I knew I was a racehorse. I couldn't be sitting in some biology class. I wanted to go play against the best in the world. I'm glad I did it when I did it. And then I came out and won my third tournament as a pro.
I like the way Lydia just gets up and plays golf. She gets up there and doesn't waste a lot of time. She doesn't seem to care much about what people say about her or think about her. She just goes out and plays the game, so I think I see a lot of that fearlessness that I had.
espnW: The LPGA Tour is filled with a lot of young players like Lydia and Lexi Thompson and others. What is your take on the youth movement?
AA: Everything changes. Equipment is changing, conditioning is changing. It's a whole different thing out there. The tour is definitely getting younger and it's definitely a global tour, no doubt. The tour has its challenges in marketing. I don't mean that in a negative way.
I'm just saying when we were younger, everyone was pretty much American. Then Hisako "Chako" Higuchi came over and opened everything with the Japanese. Then the Swedes and the Australians and now the Koreans. It's just the way it's changing to an international tour. It makes the U.S. players have to step up. I see a lot of good players coming out of Spain, Europe and South America, too, and I like what I see. My concern is that I want to see the American players step it up. I want to see them contending every week and not just Stacy (Lewis). I want to see Lexi and Paula (Creamer) and everyone. I want to see consistency from the U.S. players. And that's just putting in the time and having practice being a priority.
espnW: The USGA has expanded its championships to include a U.S. Senior Women's Open in 2018. Will we see you in the field?
AA: I made overtures the last 10 years to the women's committee. I wrote some letters, talked to people on the phone. I just think with all the championships the USGA runs, it was time, so it was great to get Mr. (Thomas) O'Toole and Mr. (Mike) Davis' ideas on things last year, then get the word that it was going to happen. I hope to be in it as a Hall of Famer and I hope to be competitive. They have to work all in the next few years, but that's exciting.