McHENRY – Monday marked the first day of the 39th annual McHenry Women's Invitational at McHenry Country Club, and the conditions couldn't have been better.
Each of the 124 participants — grouped into six flights based on handicap – were able to see what McHenry resident and McHenry Country Club member Kris Gilstrap saw when she first played the course seven or eight years ago.
"I just fell in love with the course right away," she said. "It's absolutely beautiful, and you couldn't have asked for a better day for a tournament like this."
When Gilstrap first played the course, she lived in Long Grove but had been contemplating a move for some time. After playing one round at McHenry Country Club, she and her family began looking for homes in McHenry in order to be able to play and become a member at the course at the resident price level.
Gilstrap has been playing in the MWI ever since and couldn't be happier with the turnout and quality of play. She shot a 90 during the first round, which placed her 15th in the first flight.
"This is a great tournament because there aren't a lot of tournaments that allow for older women to play in," she said. "This gets people over 50 years old to come out and enjoy themselves and meet others that still play the game."
Despite the cool, golf-conducive weather with little to no wind, no golfer broke par during the first round.
When Char McLear, a McHenry resident and co-chair at the club playing in the championship flight, turned in her scorecard after a 79, she thought she had no chance at the title. But her spirits picked up when she glanced at the leaderboard.
Her 79 tied her for seventh in the top flight and placed her in the top three groups to tee off in the final round Tuesday.
"This is always one of the best times of summer with this tournament," McLear said. "The people are great, and everyone seems to have a smile on their face, including me now that I got to look at the scores."
Laura Carson, a Lake Forest resident, had the early lead after shooting a 75 in the championship flight but was unseated as the leader heading into Day 2 when Ali Rogala turned in a 74.
Carson makes sure to take the trip from Lake Forest to McHenry each year to play in the tournament, lured by the quality of the course, level of competition and the "bang for your buck."
Golfers are entitled to use of the practice facilities, a breakfast before rounds and a dinner afterward along with various prizes for low putts, closest to the pin and longest drive. She is also competitive, noting that she has won the event in the past while placed in the top three a few times.
"I knew that I was going to have a good day after the first three holes," Carson said. "It's really tough here, especially holes two and three, and I birdied the first hole and ended the first three 1-under par, so I was pretty happy."
Added Mimi Denoma, a McHenry County local: "It's so easy to make some friends in your group. There is always a nice bunch of girls who just have fun."