Beth Bauer Grace had trouble getting her 8-year-old daughter Courtney off the Thistle Dhu putting course at Pinehurst.
Courtney, we have to each lunch.
Courtney, don’t you want to swim?
“She’d stay out there for two to three hours,” said Grace of the familiar scene.
Courtney was at Pinehurst to compete in a U.S. Kids regional event. While there she met Alex Pano, star of the Netflix film “The Short Game,” and asked for her autograph. Pano was in town prepping for this week’s North & South Women’s Amateur. Inside the clubhouse, Courtney got to look at the list of past champions of the North & South and read a familiar name. It’s a who’s who list that includes Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Hollis Stacy, Morgan Pressel, Danielle Kang … and mom.
Grace, 40, who competed as Beth Bauer, won it in 1998 and 1999. The Fourth of July weekend marked her first trip back to Pinehurst in 21 years. Daugther Courtney broke 40 in both days of competition, a personal best.
“I think the coolest thing right now is being her caddie,” said Beth, who like most parents often wonders if she’s doing the right thing.
This coming from a woman who seemingly did everything right as a junior player as she was the nation’s best heading into Duke and the best heading out, launching into a pro career as one of America’s sweethearts. Alas, the 2002 LPGA Rookie of the Year didn’t have the professional career most expected, but she couldn’t be happier now as a wife and mom in Birmingham, Alabama.
Beth Bauer met Andy Grace on her 28th birthday in March 2008 while driving a beverage cart at Heritage Harbor Golf and Country Club near her home in Odessa, Florida. The former Blue Devil had gone back to college to earn a degree in elementary education from the University of Phoenix’s online program but never took a full-time job teaching after becoming pregnant with Courtney.
A local pro at Cypress Run Golf Club urged Beth to get back into the golf business and she worked her way up to director of golf. The little girl who dragged a club along the ground while she watched her dad work and play as a club pro had grown up to do the same.
Two and a half years ago the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, for Andy’s job and they now live at Greystone Golf and Country Club on the Legacy side. Courtney and her mom often hop on the family golf cart to go work on short game. Beth works part-time as a merchandiser at the Old Overton Club.
“I have pictures of (Courtney) in a car seat in a basket in the back of a golf cart,” said Beth. “She’s always been around it, kind of like I was.”
Chris Bauer lives on a horse farm near Ocala, Florida. Most of Beth’s crystal trophies are still in a hutch in her mother’s home.
“I remember her holding that over her head,” said Chris as she picked up one of Beth’s North & South trophies while on the phone.
John Bauer was Beth’s teacher and hero. At age 41, when Beth was only 14, a rare disease called Gullain-Barre Syndrome, took her father’s life. Chris remembers walking in to see her husband just before he died. Beth had just come back from winning another golf tournament and her dad held up his index finger when she entered the room – No. 1. He’d been put on respirator while they were gone.
Chris was by her daughter’s side as she rose through the national ranks, winning 17 times on the AJGA, twice becoming the tour’s Player of the Year, and when she clinched the 1997 U.S. Girls’ Junior title, defeating Lorena Ochoa along the way.
“She was just a perfectionist,” said Chris of Beth. “I think Courtney is going to be the same way.”
Courtney, like her both of her parents, is tall.
“She’s almost in the body of a 12-year-old,” said Beth.
Courtney, also like her mom, appreciates a good game plan. She likes goals. Wants to the best. It wasn’t long ago that asked mom if she’d make her a chores list.
Sometimes Beth has to remind her daughter to relax, have fun.
The No. 1 piece of advice Beth would give to parents who are getting their kids into golf is patience. She wants golf to be a lifelong passion for Courtney – at whatever level she chooses.
“I always ask her, do you want to go practice? Do you want to play in a tournament?” said Beth. “Lately it’s always been, ‘Yes.’”
Beth’s peers lauded her maturity and unshakable rhythm as keys to her success. Angela Stanford played on a Curtis Cup with Beth and used to think she could throw something at her mid-swing and it wouldn’t affect her.
As a caddie, Beth wants Courtney to learn to trust her own eyes out here. Trust her own decisions. They constantly work on her routine and learning how to handle emotions.
“I try to make her really independent in her playing ability,” she said.
Later this month the Grace family will return to Pinehurst for Courtney’s first U.S. Kids World Championship. The competition is important, of course, but Beth really wants Courtney to enjoy the entire experience – the travel, the resort, the people.
Mom knows all about the grind to the top. She wants her daughter to soak up those roses too.
Last Christmas, Andy had some old TV footage of Beth’s playing days put together for the family to watch. Courtney sometimes likes to tell people that her mom’s a pro. Beth finds it sweet.
Everyone in the Tampa area, of course, know the name Beth Bauer, but up in Alabama, the former LPGA pro often goes unrecognized on Courtney’s junior circuit.
One gets the feeling that’s about to change.