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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jennie K. event rich in history



By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Nicole Horner won the Jennie K. Wilson Women's Invitational in 1990, becoming the first teen champion since Debra Spencer won in 1978.

Honolulu Advertiser file photo

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60TH ANNUAL JENNIE K. WILSON INVITATIONAL

WHAT: 54-hole women's golf tournament

WHERE: Mid-Pacific Country Club

WHEN: From 7:30 a.m. tomorrow and 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Final round expected to end around 2:30 p.m.

DEFENDING CHAMPION: Kristina Merkle (71214)

ADMISSION: Free

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Maybe the most compelling aspect of the Jennie K. Wilson Women's Invitational, which turns 60 this week, has been its ability to showcase the best of Hawai'i women's golf in such a storied setting while its champions become younger and younger.

"Auntie Jennie's" portrait, draped in lei, has watched over every tournament at Mid-Pacific Country Club since it was unveiled in 1957. That day Wilson, nearly 85, told people, "Auwē, I wouldn't want a painting of an old woman like me around."

Little did the beloved wife of Honolulu mayor John Wilson know that 11-year-olds would one day rise to contend in what has become Hawai'i's most prestigious women's tournament.

In the portrait, Wilson wears Queen Emma's comb in her hair and a necklace of buttons from King Kalākaua's coat and Queen Kapi'olani. She wasn't a golfer, but Ana Kimi Kapahukula Kamamalu Ku'ula Wilson came to fully appreciate the game's gifts. The former dancer in the court of King Kalākaua supported the tournament avidly until her death in 1962.

It started in 1950, soon after Mid-Pacific opened its second nine. Back then, club initiation cost $25 and monthly fees were $8. It cost $3.50 to play the first Jennie K.

The 60th tees off tomorrow at Mid-Pac, with a field that includes Cyd Okino, Bobbi Kokx, Allisen Corpuz, Kari Lee Williams, and Nicole Sakamoto and Kristina Merkle, both coming off last weekend's NCAA regionals. Merkle, a Tulsa freshman, has won three of the last four tournaments in Lanikai.

In the past 15 years, the tournament has been dominated by the keiki of the Hawai'i State Junior Golf Association. Michelle Wie is the youngest, winning it in 2001 at age 11. Last year Merkle overcame Corpuz, then 11, in the final round.

It was not always this way. Of the 63 people inducted into the Hawai'i Golf Hall of Fame, only 12 are female. All but three won the Jennie K. in their prime, and "pushing 60" Mildred Stanley returned to Hawai'i to win the 1985 event.

The tournament began as a way to give Hawai'i women a prestigious golf event to call their own, and encourage more to golf. Clearly those who launched it were ahead of their time. Eventual Hall of Famers won 20 of the first 22 titles, with Joan Damon grabbing six.

The recent sophistication of Hawai'i's juniors can be traced directly to the numbers at Jennie K. The average winning score the last 10 years is 3-over. The decade before it was 12-over.

In 2004, at age 16, Amanda Wilson opened with a 6-under-par 66 and finished at 5-under 211. It was five shots better than the record set by Lori Castillo 20 years earlier, when women's par was 73 and the course some 400 yards longer.

Castillo turned pro after winning in 1983 and now coaches the University of Hawai'i. And Wie, well, she is now in a world of her own.

Just like the Jennie K.

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