The timing and location of Mona Clark’s induction into the Montana State Women’s Golf Association Hall of Fame on Friday night at Yellowstone Country Club couldn’t be any better.
The ceremony comes almost 38 years to the day when the long-hitting Billings golfer eagled the first hole during the final round of the 1976 Women’s State Amateur in Great Falls to take the lead and go on to win the championship in the 188-golfer field.
Clark, 77, will be enshrined as one of the state’s most storied amateur golfers during the MSWGA’s annual Special Recognition Banquet, which is being held in conjunction with the 97th State Amateur & Senior Amateur, which gets underway on Thursday morning at YCC.
The private West End course, which last hosted the Women’s State Amateur in 2003, is a where Clark, who grew up in Calgary and has lived in Billings since 1958, has been a member for the past 51 years.
It’s a place where she has captured a record 16 club championships and carded her only hole in one. The challenging layout is also where her late father, Paul Morup, was involved in the course’s construction in the late 1950s before becoming YCC’s first greens superintendent.
“I think I’ll burst out crying, just hearing all this,” Clark said. “I never expected this. I was completely surprised, thrilled and honored.”
“The stars aligned, I think,” said Kathie Dugger, chair of the local host committee and part of a group of YCC members who mounted a last-minute campaign to see that Clark was honored at a place where she has deep roots and many friends.
“This already makes the state tournament a success for me.”
One of the best players of her day, Clark is still well respected for her dignity and grace, for having a constant smile and for being a great competitor.
In addition to her state title and club championships, Clark has won the Yellowstone County tournament and Tournament of Champions over the years.
“She didn’t like to lose,” said YCC head pro Bob Eames. “She was always courteous and a lady, but boy she was a competitor. She could flat dab play golf.”
“She’s got a very flowing, easy swing — and it goes with her attitude,” Dugger said. “She’s very laid back, always positive.”
Clark still plays regularly on Tuesdays, which is Ladies Day at YCC, and some of the clubs in her bag were also there in 1976 when she won it all at Meadow Lark Country Club, including a Titleist persimmon 5-wood.
“That’s my favorite club,” she said of her small-faced wood. “Bob Eames helped pick it for me (in 1971) when he was an assistant pro out here.”
“I told her she had to bring it to the banquet,” Dugger said of the 5-wood. “People who know Mona and have played with Mona know that club. They go together. There’s no question.”
Clark, who actually relishes all of her vintage “wood woods” over the new metal ones, enjoyed one of the most successful golf runs in YCC history in winning her 16 club championships between 1963 and 1989, including a stretch of eight consecutive years from 1970-77.
“I never counted the numbers,” she said. “Each time you’re going out there just trying to do the best you can.”
Clark’s good friend, Marynell Heringer, ended her streak in 1978. Dugger, who won in 2001-2007 and 2009-2013, has 12 titles to her credit, but isn’t shooting to surpass Clark.
“It’s not a goal of mine,” she said.
Besides being the eighth Hall of Fame inductee from YCC, Clark and Bunny Allen, wife of the late YCC pro Paul Allen, will be serving as ambassadors at this year’s State Amateur.
Growing up, Clark learned the game from her father and Betty Hall, who started a junior program for girls in Calgary.
“I liked Arnold Palmer and the way he would go for it,” she said of her professional idol. “He’d get himself in trouble, and he’d get out of trouble. He interacted with the crowd, and to me he is responsible for all of the pros making the money they are today, because he brought popularity to the game.”
Clark’s husband, Lee, a flooring contractor, died in 1990. They were married for 28 years, and have a daughter, Debbe Stephens, who lives in Sheridan, Wyo.
Clark has three grandchildren.
Until she did some research, Dugger said she wasn’t even aware that Clark, who she has known since the late 1990s, was a former state champion.
“She’s very quiet about that,” Dugger said.
Clark likes it that way, but the story of her State Amateur win in 1976 is worth re-telling.
She shot 7-over on her first three holes during the opening round, but fought back to sit in third place — two shots out of the lead — when the third and final round got underway.
Clark quickly grabbed the lead, though, after chipping in from 30 feet for an eagle 3 on the first hole. She played the front 9 in 1-under 37 and didn’t look back in beating Shanda Imlay of Missoula by three strokes.
“It was a thrill to win it for yourself and your club,” Clark recalled.
These days, “I’ll tell you my age, but not my handicap,” she said with a laugh.
“My game is so bad right now,” Clark said. “I’d just like to get it better. I can still have great holes, and then I have a few horrendous holes. I like to play team events now, because I can still contribute something there.”
Despite those ups and downs, she said she has always enjoyed the camaraderie and “amazing people” associated with golf, along with the challenge.
“You can never get a big head in golf,” Clark said. “It will take you back down the minute you think you’ve got a good game going.”
Spoken like a true Hall of Famer.