McHENRY – McHenry’s Deanna Carstens has played in the McHenry Women’s Invitational for more than 10 years, and there’s one reason she keeps coming back that stands out from the rest.
“It’s the camaraderie,” said Carstens, one of the tri-chairwomen in charge of the two-day, 36-hole event at McHenry Country Club. “When you’re here, you’re home. The friendships are lifelong.”
On Monday, Carstens was one of 96 golfers with handicaps ranging from plus-2 to 30 to set foot on the rolling fairways and fast greens of McHenry Country Club for the 45th time since the inaugural tournament in 1975.
This year’s field includes 10 new faces and features 17 golfers in the premiere championship flight with a single-digit handicap.
Western Springs’ Alyssa Gaudio, the women’s golf coach at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, returns as the defending and four-time champion. Gaudio also won in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
After the first round, Gaudio holds a one-shot lead in the championship flight over Winfield’s Mary Ellen Martin and Zion’s DeAnne Stolarik, the 2004 winner, after posting a 4-over-par 76 on the 5,641-yard course.
Gaudio would like to win a fifth title, but that’s not what has her coming back year after year.
“I truly love all the women I’ve met and made friends with,” Gaudio said. “This is by far the best tournament I go to every year. Everyone is just so happy to see everyone, and everyone wants to see everyone play.”
Wheaton’s Sarah Hauenstein, a sophomore at Illinois, is two shots back of the leader after shooting 78 in her tournament debut. Hauenstein shot 67 in a practice round Sunday, but had trouble with her driver on Day 1.
“I had some big birdies on the back, but I had some unfortunate doubles along the way,” Hauenstein said. “It’s a great course. I just have to keep it on the fairway. I like how it’s run. Everyone is so nice.”
St. Charles’ Kathy Davies (80) is fifth in the championship flight.
The tournament does not only attract golfers from Illinois, with many coming back from out of state to enjoy the friendly competition and chatter, good food and music, boat rides and dancing along the Fox River.
Peggy Williams, who lives in Georgia, has been a MWI regular for 20-plus years and leads the first flight with an 82. Palatine’s Kim Dickerson (84) and Waukegan’s Debbie Shield (84) are tied for second.
It’s often hard to go from one hole to the next without stopping and seeing someone you know.
“What we’ve see over the years is you come here, you have a great time, you want to come back, and all of a sudden, you’re bringing your best friends and grabbing your buddies,” said Lake Villa’s Mimi Denoma, a tournament tri-chairwoman with Carstens and McHenry’s Char McLear.
“This tournament really brings everybody together. We get a lot of compliments about how well run the tournament is, and they really love the challenge of the course. It’s wonderful golf with wonderful people.”
Prizes from sterling trophies to golf bags to jewelry are awarded to winners in every flight. Prizes also are given for lowest number of putts, longest drive, straightest drive and closest to the pin.
Patty Head of Timber Creek Golf Course in Dixon posted a 79 and holds an eight-shot lead in the second flight, Carstens shot 86 to lead the third flight, and Crystal Lake’s Laurie Bender (95) leads the fourth flight by a shot over Kim Leech (Glencoe Golf Club) and Cathy Daly (Butterfield Country Club).
Wilmette’s Mickey Poulos, an Illinois Women’s Golf Association Hall of Fame member, has the top score in the fifth flight with a 95.