Laura Baugh knows golf.
She grew up playing golf with her dad, played more than 25 years on the professional circuit, worked as an announcer on the Golf Channel and currently serves as a golf instructor at Sawgrass Country Club. Laura Baugh has golf in her blood.
“You learn something every time you play,” Baugh said.
Baugh won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1971 at the age of 16, the youngest ever at the time, and was named Rookie of the Year after going pro in 1973. She had 71 top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour, including 10 runner-up finishes.
During that time, she also married and divorced pro golfer Bobby Cole (twice), raised seven children, starred in several TV commercials and wrote a book “Out of the Rough.” And, at age 63, competition is still a driving force for Baugh.
“For me, I love competition,” she said. “Golf is a game where you develop lifetime friends. The women I play tournaments with, I’ve known for 40 or 50 years. Arnold Palmer used to say golf ‘doesn’t develop character, it reveals character.’ Most (golfers) have so much character and so many great attributes, and so many people know them as great golfers, but I know them as great people.”
Baugh will be one of 120 seniors competing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which runs Thursday, May 16 through Sunday, May 19, at Pine Needles in North Carolina. The tournament is only in its second year, and Baugh was part of the process to make the event a reality.
“I worked really hard with a few other women to try and get the U.S. Women’s Senior Open,” Baugh said. “About five years ago, several of us played qualifying tournaments for the men’s U.S. Senior Open, and they said it was great to have us there but why aren’t you in the Women’s Senior Open? Our response was, ‘There isn’t one.’ Within six months we had one in the making, so I feel a big part of the Senior Women’s U.S. Open being around because we tried for years to get it, and finally we got it.”
Baugh said she didn’t score as low as she wanted in last year’s inaugural event at the Chicago Golf Club, but feels more prepared this year, and has been focusing on her short game.
“I work on my putting because putting is really important,” Baugh said. “It may not be as exciting as hitting the long drives but putting is where it’s all at.”
Baugh also said she thinks continuing to participate in tournaments hasn’t just helped her overall game but has benefitted her in her current job at Sawgrass Country Club.
“I found I was a better teacher if I stayed relevant in the playing capacity because I could relate more,” she said. “It was a refresher of what it’s like to play under that level of competition.”
Baugh enjoys the opportunity to share the game she loves with people of all different abilities across all different age groups.
“It’s a very high-level process,” she said. “I can teach whatever level you come to me at. Although the language may change and questions you have as you move along your journey may change, the process is still the same. I enjoy it because I know my stuff, and I know that it works and I’m able to help my students love their game of golf.”
Baugh moved to Ponte Vedra about three years ago from another golf hotspot, Augusta, Georgia, where she relocated to in 2013 after around 25 years living in Orlando. After raising her kids, she was looking for something new, and visited a friend who lived in Atlantic Beach, and realized Ponte Vedra would be a good fit for her.
“It’s such a charming area,” Baugh said. “It’s nice that everyone plays golf. I think that makes me valuable. I always call Ponte Vedra a hidden gem. Not that many people may know about it, but the people who live here really treasure it, and the golf is just so wonderful here.”
And golf is something Baugh appreciates more and more, especially as she gets older.
“Golf is not a sport that is a flash in the pan, it’s a continuous journey,” she said. “And the senior women’s circuit is very hot right now. It’s such an opportunity to showcase what women, 50, 60 and even 70 years old, are still in great shape and competitive. The image of a mature woman now is so much different than what we used to think.”
Baugh will be in a field this week that includes U.S. Senior Women’s Open defending champ and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies; 80-year-old JoAnne Carner, who was the first person to win three different USGA Championship events; and World Golf Hall of Famer and two-time U.S. Women’s Open champ Juli Inkster.
Baugh said there’s a lot of comfort and pride in knowing that the sports she loves is something she can continue to do for the foreseeable future. It’s also an opportunity for her to show other women to continue to embrace their qualities and abilities as they get older.
“It’s not really reliving the past, it’s living the present,” Baugh said. “That’s what’s great about the Senior Tour. I think it’s wonderful when you see people in your generation doing what you want to be doing, so I’m not surprised to see women’s senior golf as a hot market right now, and I’m proud to be part of it.”