Two Gators about to play a role in golf history

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The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Marta Perez will never forget that day when she slung her golf bag over her shoulder and headed for the grounds of a golf course in Scotland.

Then, she saw the sign.

“DOGS AND WOMEN

FORBIDDEN.”

It was a stunner, to say the least.

“They wouldn’t let me play because I was a girl,” she said.

Now this.

Augusta National, long the home of the most exclusive boys club in America.

Perez and Florida teammate Sierra Brooks will have an interesting warm-up to the SEC Tournament the following week. They are two of 72 female golfers who qualified for the first ever Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April.

The historic tournament was announced last year, and women amateurs all over the world began dreaming.

“You’re dreaming about it, but now that dream’s going to be reality,” Brooks said. “This turns it into that, which is incredible. I’m sure it’s going to inspire other girls to dream about it.”

Both Florida golfers qualified based on the amateur rankings. The tournament will begin April 3 and the ladies will qualify with two rounds at the Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. The top 30 will play a practice round at Augusta National and then the finals the Sunday before Masters week starts.

“I remember when they announced it last year, you were just in shock,” said Florida women’s golf coach Emily Bastel Glaser. “I just thought it was obviously outside the box thinking. I think it is pretty brilliant.”

For Brooks, it will be old hat playing golf’s most revered course. She played it once right after recovering from a wrist surgery that she thought might end her career.

“I couldn’t turn it down even if I only played some of the shots,” she said. “But I played the whole round (and shot 79).”

For Perez, watching the Masters on TV was always a must in Spain.

“I never thought I was ever going to play at Augusta growing up in Spain,” she said. “When I got the email, I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to get too excited because you never know.

“To get it was an awesome feeling.”

Last month the official invitations — very formal in the style of Augusta National — came in the mail.

“We got an email saying we were being considered in December,” Brooks said. “But we really didn’t know until the invitation went out. I think receiving that invitation was a really special moment.

“Quite an invitation, too. It was everything you could have imagine it to be.”

The significance of this tournament is not lost on anyone following the news in 2002, when Martha Burks demanded that women be allowed to join the club, holding a protest march in an empty lot near the grounds of the club.

That was when then-chairman Hootie Johnson said famously about any plans to invite women, “that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet.”

It wasn’t until 10 years later that Augusta invited two women to join — Darla Moore and Condoleezza Rice.

Former Gator golfer Fred Ridley is now the chairman of the club that runs the Masters and now, the Augusta National Amateur.

“It probably should be more of a big deal in terms of the younger generation,” Brooks said. “For us, it’s an amazing opportunity. For the young kids, it’s most important.

“I’m just excited to be part of history.”

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