Harder Hall Invite tees off

SEBRING - One of the oldest and most prestigious women's amateur golf tournaments in the country begins today at Harder Hall Country Club.

The 59th annual Harder Hall Women's Invitational tees off today with a strong field vying for the coveted title over the tight and demanding Harder Hall Country Club layout.

The four-day tournament has 134 competitors from all over the world, including a large contingent from the United Kingdom as well as Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Guatemala and Spain.

Defending champion Emily Popson has turned pro and will not be back, but talented players such as four-time U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, Tara Joy-Connelly, Martha Leach, Hannah Pietila and Sebring teenager Kendall Griffin are expected to contend for the championship.

"We have a strong field that includes 25 international players," said Harder Hall Invitational Chairman Carol Semple Thompson. "We also have a fair number of college players in the tournament."

Stasi, who is from Oakland Park, Fla., won the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Championship, which is for women ages 25 and older, in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2012.

She hasn't played in the Harder Hall Invitational the last few years, but has the ability and experience to make a serious run at the title.

The cold weather isn't expected to interfere with the today's first round, which has tee times beginning at 7:40 a.m. on both the No. 1 and No. 10 tees.

"We're hoping we don't have any frost for the first round," said Thompson, who is a three-time Harder Hall Invitational champion. "The weather is supposed to get warmer as the week progresses and we're looking forward to a great tournament."

Past champions of the Harder Hall Invitational include Beth Bauer, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, while Paula Creamer and Alexis Thompson competed in the tournament but did not win.

Thompson, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2008, thinks the scoring will be low.

"There are some very talented players in the field," Thompson said. "There are a lot of low handicaps, they can hit it long and are capable of making a lot of birdies."

Spectators are invited to attend the four-day, 72-hole tournament at no charge.

"This is a great tournament that attracts a lot of good players because it's at the start of the year," said Thompson. "It has a great reputation and the players like the golf course.

"We enjoy playing with each other and it should be a great four days of golf."