FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — The Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G is back at the Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.
It brings professional female golfers from all over the world to compete for the $2.3 million purse and coveted LPGA tour points. This is the 15th year the tournament is happening in Northwest Arkansas.
With dozens of golf courses throughout Northwest Arkansas for people to enjoy, the sport is an important part of the fabric of this region.
“I genuinely just love the sport,” said Kajal Mistry, a golfer on the University of Arkansas women’s golf team.
Mistry is back on the team for a fifth year. She and the rest of her teammates are excited for another great season on the green.
“I’ve worked a lot on my short game and being able to be the best part is probably one of the biggest keys if you want to succeed,” she said.
The South Africa native said she first picked up golf clubs when she was just three years old.
“My older brother is a year and a half older than me, and we just stuck to it and never stopped through high school,” she said. “He doesn’t play competitively now, but he’s a pretty good golfer. He’s probably one of the reasons that I’m here.”
The sport of golf has a history of excluding women from playing, but Mistry said she never felt that stigma.
“I grew up playing golf with all boys and I just never even thought about it being an obstacle for me because I could play against them and compete with them,” she said. “There’s a lot of growth in the woman’s game, which was really nice to see.”
Mistry said she decided to come to the University of Arkansas to play golf without ever officially visiting the campus. She said she loved her conversations with the coaches at the women’s golf program so much that she decided to take a leap of faith and come across the world to play the sport she loves.
But how did golf even get to Northwest Arkansas? Who started this strong legacy of the sport in the region? The answer to those questions: Lucy Byrd Mock from Fayetteville.
“Lucy Byrd Mock, in 1893, went with her family to England and Scotland on vacation,” said Dusty Helbling, a local historian who put a lot of work into uncovering Lucy’s story.
“Her father, James Mock, had a large farm at Prairie Grove and they seemed to be fairly wealthy. So he took the family on vacation and she saw him playing golf and was fascinated by the game. She returned with a bag of golf clubs and a bunch of golf balls.”
Helbling learned that when the Mock family returned to Northwest Arkansas, she realized there was no place to play the game. So she decided to solve that problem.
“She approached her uncle who lived on the old family plantation and he helped her out with some of his hired hands to cut the grass and get it down where she could put a small golf course in. She designed five holes.”
Lucy brought her friends out to the plantation in Prairie Grove and started teaching them how to play. Helbling said she was making history in a lot of ways.
“We have a young lady, a teenager, who was the first golfer in Arkansas,” he said. “She was the first woman, or teenager, in the world to have designed the golf course and built one, according to the golf course architecture historians that I contacted.”
That wasn’t the only history Lucy was making. She attended the University of Arkansas to get her education and she graduated with her undergraduate degree in 1894. She went back to school and became the first woman to get her masters degree from the U of A in 1905.
Like every U of A graduate that’s come after her, you can find her name etched in the sidewalk with both of her graduating classes. Hers are on the sidewalk leading up to Old Main.
“Her whole life beyond that it’s just unreal,” said Helbling.
He learned that Lucy played the violin and composed music. She was the first violinist at the in the university orchestra. She then went out to the west coast and became a writer.
She wrote poetry, magazine articles and published her own magazine about environmental issues and tourism in Washington state. She worked closely with indigenous people in Washington to create her magazine.
He said she was also active in the women’s auxiliary to help the wounded and the war effort during World War I.
The University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections has the Mock family photo album with several photos of Lucy, it has several of her poems and written works that you can see. It also has some of the correspondence sent between her and U of A’s most notable president: J. William Fulbright.
Helbling said it was a challenge to learn about Lucy’s story but he likes to think he had a little help.
“I said, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if her spirit could lead me into finding out these things?'” he said with a laugh.
Because of Lucy’s efforts in the world of golf, we now have a thriving men’s and women’s golf community here in Northwest Arkansas. This is something the U of A Women’s Golf Head Coach, Shauna Taylor, is grateful for.
“Really grateful for people like that, that share such an incredible game,” she said. “One of my passions as a coach is to grow the game in our state and with our junior golf and help lead and grow that and help that thrive and it couldn’t be possible without people like Lucy to do that.”
Taylor hopes other young girls out there know that they can stand on the shoulders of all the women before them, all the way back to Lucy, and find power with a golf club in hand.
“Our girls play at such a high level, hit it 300 yards,” she said. “It’s really impressive if you take a step and look in and see how really good our female golfers are.”
Professional practice at the LPGA tournament is happening all day on Tuesday and is open to the public. The official Pro-Am starts on Wednesday at 7 a.m. Click here to get your tickets.
The U of A Women’s Golf Team is hosting the Blessings Collegiate Invitational in Fayetteville October 2nd through the 4th if you want to go out and support the team. Click here to find the team’s full season schedule.