There are several styles of smiles.
The full grin of the Cheshire Cat, the muted purse of the Mona Lisa, or the missing-toothed version favored by toddlers.
For the last 23 years at the desert’s LPGA event the Chevron Championship, Judi Callaway has seen them all.
Callaway, an 80-year-old from San Diego, has been a mainstay in her lawn chair in the shade of a giant eucalyptus tree in front of the 18th green at Mission Hills Country Club. As players and spectators walk by, she offers them a flower made out of ribbon that she made by hand.
“People always try to give me a donation, but I’m not doing it for money, I’m doing it for smiles,” she said Thursday, the first day of the tournament in Rancho Mirage. “That’s why I call them smile flowers.”
And the flowers work. Sit with Judi for any length of time and you ‘ll see her her hand her out her her corsage-like, colorful handiwork her, and the recipient always walks away with a grin.
Callaway said she starts making the smile flowers in February each year, and it takes her three-and-a half hours to make a box of 25 ribbon blossoms. By the time the tournament starts a month later, she has made 1,000. And in the course of the four days here, she will give them all away.
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“It’s just ribbon, wire and flower tape, and then I include a pin, of course, so they can attach it to their hat or their shirt or whatever,” Callaway said. “At this point, a lot of the players know me and when they see me they come over and they know what they’re getting.”
She’s not wrong. She’s outfitted some of the biggest names in LPGA circles from Hall of Famers to current stars. She said Juli Inkster and Christina Kim have been some of her favorites her over the years.
For Kim, the feeling is mutual.
“It’s just part of coming here for me. It’s just one of the annual traditions I have. I see Judi, I give her a hug and see how she’s doing and how her husband is doing,” Kim said after her round Friday. “Catching up is our annual tradition, which is a very sad thing to be ending.”
Kim said, for the record, that she has at least a dozen flower ribbons at home and about 10 of another of Judi’s creations, wine-bottle aprons. Those are little aprons that fit your wine bottle that Judi created and worked on during the pandemic.
Lexi Thompson, the 2014 champion here, said Judi is as much a fabric of this tournament to her as the San Jacinto Mountains and the Dinah Shore statue.
“Ever since I was here when I was 14, I remember her being here,” the 27-year-old Thompson said Thursday. “She’s an amazing lady, and I think all of us look forward to seeing her coming up to the 18th green.”
Judi Callaway poses for a photo with her flowers made of ribbon from alongside the 18th green at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Thursday, March 31, 2022.
Judi’s neighbor in the 1970s as well as Tony Orlando and Dawn are all partly responsible for the boxes of ribbon flowers that Judi carts out to the 18th hole every year.
“Over 40 years ago, I had a very sweet neighbor that took the time and taught me how to make them,” Judi said. “Since then, I’ve made them for weddings, birthdays, you name it, but when I got real serious about making them had to do with the military service.”
Both of Callaway’s sons were in the Army and when the song by Orlando and Dawn “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” became a hit, Judi got a bright idea.
Callaway started making red, white and blue ones with a yellow ribbon flower in the middle. She said those were quite popular with her family and friends her, and she ‘s been making them ever since. She shares them with people at work, people in her neighborhood her and then when she and Don began volunteering at the golf tournament in the desert in 1998, she decided to bring some.
Callaway has always been handy with her hands. She’s had many jobs throughout her career. She was a janitor, she cut keys and made trophies and she’s proud to say she was one of the first volunteer firewomen in North Carolina.
“My husband was in the military and four of them were volunteers and when they went off to war that left the station empty, so the four of us women stepped in,” she said. “We had boots, coats, helmets everything. We had to battle some fires, too.”
Flower forms made of ribbon are seen made by Judi Callaway to give out to players and spectators at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Thursday, March 31, 2022.
Judi is accompanied every year by her husband Don. The 85-year-old former military man also volunteers at the tournament, and he works behind the green on the 18th hole.
“He always likes to keep an eye on me,” she said with a laugh.
The couple make a week of it and stay at a favorite small motel of theirs that she said is on the Cathedral City/Palm Springs border.
Unfortunately for people like Judi and Don and other volunteers who consider working at the desert’s LPGA tournament a cherished part of their year, this will be the final installment. The tournament is moving to Houston next year.
“I’m very sad about it. We love it out here. It’s beautiful out here, and that’s not to say it isn’t beautiful where we live, too, but this is special. It’s a special getaway for us,” she said.
Judi said that’s not going to stop her, though. She plans to give out her smile flowers at an LPGA tournament in Carlsbad instead.
“Especially after these last couple years, I think people need fun things like this,” she said. “I know they aren’t a necessity, but to make people smile, to me, that is a necessity.”
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com.