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After Juli Inkster, the defending champion, shot a two-under-par 70 in the first round of the Dinah Shore tournament, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in March, she was ushered into the press tent to answer the usual questions. Once she had recited her round, hole by hole, for the benefit of the wire services and the dailies, the questioning got down to the nuts and bolts—the logistical problems inherent in breastfeeding an infant while competing in a major golf championship.
At the time, Inkster was six weeks into motherhood, and the Dinah Shore marked her return to competition after a layoff of six months. Her daughter, Hayley, back at the hotel being looked after by her two grandmothers, was merely the latest addition to the Ladies Professional Golf Association, juvenile touring division. As of Mother's Day 1990, there will be 24 tots on tour and five more on the way. Just two weeks ago Laura Baugh, who is married to PGA Tour player Bobby Cole, gave birth to No. 24, Haley, her third child.
Sixteen LPGA players have chosen the motherhood route, a road that is pocked with hazards no golf course architect could envision, and they are changing the face of the tour. Strollers pushed by fathers, grandmothers and nannies cruise the cart paths. Kids are welcome in the players' locker room. The tour's Christian Fellowship plans special events for the offspring of its members. Hotel suites with kitchens are hot; fancy restaurants are not: A room with a view versus a room with a fridge? No contest.
Former frequent flyers now opt for minivans and motor homes, hauling cribs, strollers, toys and baby-sitters wherever the grass is short and the money is green. Nancy Lopez, whose daughters, Ashley and Erinn, are 6 and 3, respectively, has had a minivan for several years. Cathy Gerring chauffeurs 22-month-old Zachary and his grandmother in a full-sized GMC van. Myra Black-welder, mother of Myles, 5, and Mallory, 3, acquired her 37-foot motor home when Myles was 2 and prone to screaming and to throwing food in restaurants.
Blackwelder divides her touring motherhood experience into three stages. The first was the problem-solving stage—how to transport the baby gear. The second she calls Life with Myles in Hotels and Airports. But those first two stages were a breeze compared with No. 3, which Myra and her husband, Worth, are about to enter. Now the family decisions get complicated. In the fall Myles will start kindergarten. Should baby sister Mallory stay home with Myles, in Lexington, Ky., so he won't feel neglected? Should Worth, who caddies on tour for Inkster, get a regular job and stay home with Myles? Or with Myles and Mallory? Myra figures that someday, perhaps in her retirement, she'll laugh about it all. She's not laughing now.
Baby-sitting bills and other parenting expenses on the tour can run $1,000 a week, and though bigger tournament purses and bigger paychecks in recent years have eased the financial burden, the physical and mental strain of a long night with a sick child takes its toll on a professional golfer with an 8 a.m. tee time. Nevertheless, it's easy to spot a golf momma. She's the one who's smiling after shooting a 78. "When you've got kids to worry about," says Blackwelder, "a double bogey isn't the end of the world."
LPGA president Judy Dickinson, whose twin boys, Barron and Spencer, are eight months old, missed the cut at the Kemper Open in March. She was bitterly disappointed, she says, until she got to her car in the parking lot and saw the twins. "Seeing them put everything in perspective," Dickinson says. "It was just one game of golf."
On the day before Easter, a frisky collie named Duke preceded Dickinson into the trophy room of her house in Tequesta, Fla. The walls and shelves of the room were covered with tournament mementos and family photos, but the carpeted floor belonged, for the moment, to Barron and Spencer and their toys, bottles and playpen. Judy's favorite afternoons are spent playing with the boys. This particular afternoon she dangled a lavender bunny-shaped balloon before them, and soon the sunny room was filled with coos and squeals.
Dickinson, 40, is married to PGA veteran and Senior tour player Gardner Dickinson, 62. When the twins were 3½ months old, Judy and Gardner left them at home with their nanny and went to Palm Springs to play in a couples tournament. The first night away the Dickinsons missed the babies so much they almost went home. "After that experience, I knew I couldn't go away without them," says Judy. "I want to be there to raise them. As it is, I feel like I'm not spending enough time with them because I'm away during the day, practicing and working."
Until Ashley, the older of the two, reached grade-school age, Lopez never considered leaving her daughters at home in Albany, Ga., where she and her husband, Ray Knight, now a baseball analyst for ESPN, have lived for the past eight years. "Why would you have children if you're not going to have them with you?" she says. "I've never felt they were a burden."