By Todd Vinyard

Daily Journal

WEST POINT Like the fictional farmer Ray Kinsella in "Field of Dreams" businessman George Bryan felt if he built it they would come.

"It" is Old Waverly golf course, a 7,000-yard piece of work which is ranked as the 88th best course in America according to last year's Golf Digest. "They" are the golfers of the U.S. Women's Open Championship in the year 2000, which will mark the first time one of golf's majors has been held in Mississippi.

"This is just another step in a dream several of us had in creating Old Waverly," said Bryan, chairman of the board at Old Waverly. "It is a tribute to the membership and the staff of Old Waverly who have supported our objectives since our opening in 1988."

The U.S. Open could be compared with the Super Bowl or World Series as far as importance to women's golf. Other women's golf majors are the LPGA Championship, the du Maurier Classic and the Nabisco Dinah Shore.

"It is a major international championship," United States Golf Association President Judy Bell said.

A final agreement must be reached and signed before an actual date can be announced, but once the details are ironed out the event should happen in May of 2000. Old Waverly and USGA officials said they could not say for sure when a contract will be agreed to, but the event is set to come to North Mississippi.

It may be four years and a contract away but excitement is already building among Old Waverly's 750 members, including around 100 in Tupelo and the more than 8,000 West Point residents.

"This is truly an opportunity to showcase a part of Mississippi people don't even know exists," Old Waverly General Manager Bill Maxey said. "Our members and community have been very inquisitive and excited about this great honor."

To the casual observer it might be surprising to see a course just eight years old hosting a major championship, but those who have worked in the day-to-day operation accept it as a normal progression.

"Mr. Bryan and others have just believed in this course since the beginning, and there always seems to be something happening," said Ernie Blue, who has worked at Old Waverly since 1988 and is now director of golf.

Future happenings include the 1997 Southern Women's Amateur. In the past Old Waverly has hosted the men's and women's Southeastern Conference championships.

An event which put Old Waverly on the women's professional golfer's map is the annual Palmer Home Pro-Celebrity Classic. Several players, including Nancy Lopez and Meg Mallon, will hit the links at Old Waverly to help out the Palmer Home, a Christian based operation in Columbus which tries to keep children in family units.

"We would certainly like to think we played a role in this great event coming to Mississippi," said Jim Walker, the Palmer Home Director of Development. "The tournament is a huge financial boost for us. But the main driving force of bring the U.S. Open to West Point is probably George Bryan's connections."

As vice president of Sarah Lee Corporation Bryan has been associated with the Sarah Lee Classic in Nashville.

Bryan was part of a group from Old Waverly who presented a proposal to the USGA last June. The announcement came Jan. 28. Old Waverly officials found out while attending the Professional Golfers Association of America Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.

"I immediately called Mr. Bryan to tell him another part of the dream had come true," Maxey said.

One of Old Waverly's supporters has been Bell, who was recently elected the first woman president of the USGA. Bell doesn't mind singing the praises of the Bob Cupp/Jerry Pate designed course.

"It is a very memorable course with a terrific layout," Bell said. "Old Waverly is one of my favorite new courses, and can supply a true test of golfers' skills."

Old Waverly Golf Superintendent Bill Colloredo and others are already hard at work sprucing up some of the greens and other areas of the course.

As with the hard work of preparation the effect of the U.S. Women's Open will not be just an overnight thing. Meaning more people will travel to this Iowa baseball field, uh, golf course of dreams in Mississippi.

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