By SANDY JOHANSEN / Staff writer
Hot Springs Village resident, Martha McAlister, was recently honored by the United States Golf Association when she was presented the Isaac B. Grainger Award for her 25 years as a rules official.
When the writer talked to McAlister, she was asked how her interest in golf began. “Do you want a novel?” joked McAlister. “I’ve been playing golf since I was 8 years old.”
There were no girls’ golf teams at Hall High School, Little Rock, so she played on the boys’ team. Playing a short time at Arizona State, she decided she wasn't cut out for the professional tour.
In retrospect, McAlister said when she was playing in school, a rules official saw her throw her club after a bad shot. “Did you just throw your club?” the lady asked. McAlister responded “Oh, I was just throwing it to my caddie.” The officials’ response was “If I see you throw your club at your caddie again, I'll disqualify you."
Tournament after tournament McAlister would see that lady rules official. Looking over my shoulder, there she was again. That official would be behind her, time and time again.
At the beginning of one junior tournament, that particular official came into the locker room and asked, “Where’s Martha Jett? I want to follow her.” McAlister knew right away that the lady cared about her and how she played, I thought, “I want to be just like her.”So, that’s how the desire to be a rules official began.
Her early playing years brought back memories of playing side-by-side with Hollis Stacey, Pat Bradley and Nancy Lopez as junior golfers.
Finishing her degree at Arizona State and giving up the sport, McAlister finished law school and became involved in commercial litigation. Her first involvement in tournaments was the 1999 Women’s Open. She was on the Arkansas Women’s Golf Association board and the USGA rules committee since 1994.
“I’ve been watching girls grow up in this game for so many years, and it is such a thrill to see how far they’ve come. Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer became very special to her, and it was not uncommon for her to walk matches over 10 times with Creamer. When Paula won her first on the LPGA tour, McAlister said, “I made her promise to come to First Tee of Little Rock to meet and work with the children in our program.” That was a promise Creamer kept. McAlister was on the board of First Tee for 12 years.
McAlister has officiated at tournaments across the country and around the globe, including Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey. “I was there before Trump became president, but the second time officiating, he was president. We had to go through numerous rounds of clearances,” said McAlister.
It wasn't the first time she had to get a security clearance. Her son, Jett, was a good friend of Chelsea Clinton and the Secret Service brought her to their home.
McAlister particularly enjoyed the 25th Junior Girls Championship at Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach, California.
She was correct. The writer could have complied enough information for a novel, but to shorten the dialogue, all we can say is “Congratulations on your USGA national award.”