By Rhonda Glenn
Women’s golf has long been an integral part of the USGA’s endeavors to make golf accessible to all players.
In 1895, five years before women competed in the Olympic Games and 25 years before they won the right to vote in the U.S., the first U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship was conducted by the United States Golf Association. Today, 114 years later, women occupy virtually every role in the Association, from Rules officials and championship administrators to committee chairs. Most visibly, six of the USGA’s national championships are conducted solely for women. Women are also allowed to compete in all of the USGA’s championships for men, with the exception of the U.S. Junior Amateur.
While the Women’s Amateur marked the entry of the USGA into conducting women’s championships, the U.S. Women’s Open garners the most attention. Welcoming amateurs and professionals, the Women’s Open arguably is a world championship of women’s golf, attracting the finest female players from around the globe. The Women’s Open is also the only USGA championship to originate under the auspices of an organization other than the USGA.
The USGA began conducting the Women’s Open in 1953. The first Women’s Open was
||Betsy Rawls won the 1953 U.S. Women's Open, the first year the USGA took over conducting the championship. (USGA Photo Archives)
actually staged in 1946 by the fledgling Women’s Professional Golf Association at Spokane (Wash.) Country Club. Women’s professional golf was relatively new, and only a handful of players were on the WPGA roster. The purse, a hefty $19,700, far larger than any other purse on the WPGA tour, was financed by the slot-machine proceeds of the Spokane Athletic Round Table. The 1946 Women’s Open was the only one conducted at match play, and Patty Berg defeated Betty Jameson in the final, 5 and 4.
The WPGA held on for two more years, but by 1949, a group of 11 women headed by Berg and Babe Didrikson Zaharias founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association. The LPGA conducted the Women’s Open from 1949 through 1952, but the financial burden was too great. In 1953, at the request of the LPGA, the USGA began conducting the championship.
Only Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls have won the Women’s Open four times. Zaharias, Hollis Stacy, Susan Berning and Annika Sorenstam are the only three-time winners. In 1967, Catherine Lacoste of France became the lone amateur to win the Women’s Open.
Fifty-eight years before the USGA began conducting the Women’s Open, the Association conducted its first women’s championship, the U.S. Women’s Amateur. On Nov. 9, the inaugural championship was played through mist and fog at the Meadow Brook Club in Hempstead, N.Y. A field of 13 competitors played nine holes, stopped for lunch, then played another nine, with 11 of the ladies completing the championship. Lucy Barnes Brown of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club won with a 69-63—132 to become the USA’s first national women’s golf champion.
The Women’s Amateur Championship has produced many of the stars of women’s golf, with Glenna Collett Vare perhaps the most noteworthy. America’s first female golf celebrity, Vare won the championship a record six times, the first in 1922 and the last in 1935.
The USGA added the U.S. Girls’ Junior to its roster in 1949, one year after the U.S. Junior Amateur. The inaugural Girls’ Junior drew 28 players from 17 states to compete at Philadelphia (Pa.) Country Club. Vare donated the championship trophy. Fifteen-year-old phenom Marlene Bauer traveled all the way from Los Angeles to win the national title.
The Girls’ Junior helped launch the careers of Mickey Wright, who won in 1952; JoAnne Gunderson Carner (1956); Nancy Lopez (1972, 1974); and Amy Alcott (1973). Hollis Stacy’s record three consecutive victories, from 1969 to 1971, is among the most remarkable accomplishments in USGA history, ranking with Tiger Woods’ three in a row at the U.S. Junior Amateur.
In 1962, the USGA initiated the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur for women amateurs age 50 and over. Maureen Orcutt, a reporter for The New York Times, won the first championship at Manufacturers’ Golf & Country Club in Oreland, Pa. Carolyn Cudone holds the record for most consecutive USGA championships with an amazing five straight Senior Women’s Amateur victories, from 1968 to 1972.
In 1977, when entries for the first U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links began to trickle in, there was concern. Would there be enough female public-course players to fill the field? When the deadline arrived and results were tallied, the championship had attracted an astonishing 686 entries – more than the combined fields of the 1977 Women’s Amateur, Women’s Open, Senior Women’s Amateur and Girls’ Junior. Kelly Fuiks won the first WAPL at Yahara Hills Golf Club in Madison, Wis.
The latest USGA individual championship is the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, which began in 1987. Designed for women amateurs who are at least 25 years old, the first Women’s Mid-Amateur was played at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., and Cindy Scholefield was the winner.
Over the years, the USGA has encouraged women’s team golf and helped found the Curtis Cup Match (1932), the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship (1964), the USGA Women’s State Team Championship (1995) and the Copa de las Americas (2003).
Today, thanks to the continuing efforts of the Association, every male, female and junior golfer now has an opportunity to compete in a USGA national championship.
Rhonda Glenn is the USGA’s manager, Communications. The runner-up in the 1965 NCAA Championship, Glenn has played in 13 USGA championships.