Women’s Western Golf Association

History

 
 

Women's Western Golf Association
Founded in 1901, under the sponsorship of the Western Golf Association, the Women's Western Golf Association has been conducting National Championships for 116 Years

 

History

WWGA founded in 1901 under sponsorship of Western Golf Association...


1901 - First Amateur Championship played... held without interruption since inception...


1903 - Membership originally limited to clubs within 500 miles of Chicago, west of the Allegheny
           Mountains - thus the name "Women's Western"...


1907 - Membership grows to 33 clubs in five Midwestern states...


1920 - WWGA Junior Championship introduced...


1920's - Derby Medal Invitational inaugurated - held through 1941...


1930 - Women's Western Open established.  Considered a major championship in women's
           professional golf until discontinued in 1967...


1971 - Women's Western Golf Foundation formed.


1979 - WWGA Senior Championship established...


2000 - Represented by more than 550 Member Clubs, the WWGA embraces over 50,000 women
           nationwide...


The Women's Western Golf Association is one of the oldest and most revered organizations in the United States.  80 dedicated Directors from across the country volunteer their time and talent to running the not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization.  There are no paid Directors on the Board.

The Founding of the WWGA
By Tim Cronin

 (Tim Cronin, the golf writer for The Daily Southtown, is the author of three
books, including the newly-issued “The Spirit of Medinah,” the story of the club’s first 75 years, and “A Century of Golf,” an in-depth history of the Western Golf Association.)

    The Women’s Western Amateur Championship, the oldest annually-played championship in
golf, is two years older than the sponsor, the Women’s Western Golf Association.

    How can this be? Shouldn’t the mother precede the daughter?

    Normally, yes, but the early years of golf in this country were chaotic in every category. Innovation was well ahead of organization on the leaderboard. Ideas outran formality time and again. The usual order hadn’t been put in order yet.

    In this case, the daughter was adopted. A century ago, the Women’s Western Am was started not by the WWGA, but by the WGA, the Western Golf Association.

    Today, the WGA’s best known for sponsoring the Western Open and guiding the Evans Scholars. But in 1901, when it wasn’t unusual to see someone riding a horse through the Loop, the scholars were decades away and the Western Open was not much more than an afterthought. It hadn’t even been held in 1900, the WGA’s second year.

    The focus of the WGA’s activities was on amateur golf, and that, at the suggestion of W.A. Alexander on the summery Friday, would soon include women’s golf.

    It was Alexander, a notable at Exmoor Country Club, who stood up and put forward the idea of a Western Women’s Amateur Championship at a WGA meeting on August 16, 1901. His idea, coupled with the offer to give a championship cup for the winner, wasn’t exactly greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm. The WGA board members could barely suppress a yawn.

    “No official action was taken on the offer,” the Chicago Tribune reported the following morning, “the matter being left for discussion at a later meeting. It was, however, the consensus of opinion among the directors present that if the Onwentsia club would allow the competition for the Governor’s Cup to be designated as the official Western women’s championship it would satisfactorily settle the matter.”

    In other words, a women’s championship would be fine, if someone else would run it.

    Alexander was hoping for something more than that, but Onwentsia was game, and the WGA’s all-male board was grudgingly accepting of the idea. They also finally accepted Alexander’s trophy.

    Thus, the first Western Women’s Amateur Championship, played for the W.A. Alexander Cup, was also the sixth Governor’s Cup. Actually, it was vice versa. The Governor’s Cup, which dated to 1896, was already considered not only the unofficial championship of women’s golf in the west – that area west of the Allegheny Mountains – but also second only to the USGA Women’s Amateur, a year older than the Governor’s Cup, in prestige.

    That history and the addition of the WGA’s title meant a large turnout, and 66 players out of an entry list of 77 teed it up on Wednesday, September 25, 1901.

    Among those in the field was Maude Alexander, W.A. Alexander’s wife. One of the finer female players in the area, she trailed the 96 posted by medalist J. Anna “Johnnie” Carpenter of Westward Ho by five strokes in the 18-hole qualifying round, but was easily among the eight ladies making the elite match play field.

    It was truly an elite eight. Bessie Anthony, the defending Governor’s Cup winner, was in it, along with the wife of Hobart C. Chatfield-Taylor, the WGA’s first president. Both were rated as scratch players, and likely were the only women in the Chicago area with that distinction in 1901. It was Anthony who defeated Alexander in the semifinals, her 7 and 6 rout, coming on the heels of a 19 hole first-round win over Elizabeth Congdon, presaging the following day’s outcome.

    In clobbering Alexander, Anthony lowered the women’s course record to 91, an amazing figure considering that, first, the equipment of the time was barely less primitive than what had been used in Scotland 100 years before, and second, that playing in a long skirt and a corset limited the potential athleticism of the players immeasurably.

    Anthony scored a 3 and 1 championship round win over Chatfield-Taylor on September 28, 1901, the final closer than her win in the semis, but never really in doubt. She won the first and fourth holes, and Chatfield-Taylor was never able to square the match.

    The event was judged to be “a thorough success,” the Tribune opined the next morning, though it didn’t go off without incident. The quartet which advanced to Friday’s semifinals had originally been paired incorrectly, the result of the club’s Solomon Sturges going back to the qualifying scores, rather than using a standard match-play bracket.

    There were no WGA officials on hand, but Dr. J.E. Nyman of Westward Ho, on hand to cheer on Carpenter, caught the error before the first match, and the correction was made. Chatfield-Taylor scored a 6 and 4 win over Carpenter anyway.

    Aside from that, the Western Women’s Amateur Championship was off and running. It would be held at Onwentsia in association with the Governor’s Cup again in 1902, with players entering both needing to send separate entry to the WGA and Onwentsia.

    The second time around, 16 ladies would qualify for match play, but the result would be the same. Anthony scored a record 89 in the qualifying round and never needed to tee it up on the 15th hole until the championship match, when Maude Alexander threw a major scare at her.

    Alexander, trying to win the trophy her husband donated, led 1 up at the turn and was 2 up via a 6 at the 10th after her approach stopped four feet from the cup. But Anthony, playing slightly more steady golf, won the 12th and 13th holes to square the match, then played a 90-yard mashie to within eight feet of the pin on the 17th. She missed the putt for a 4, but the 5 was good enough for a 1-up lead going to the last. When Alexander could do no better than a 4 for a halve of the hole, Anthony was the champion again.

    As a three-time winner, she gained permanent possession of Onwentsia’s Governor’s Cup. As the only Western Women’s champion in the first two years, she earned plaudits as the “best in the west.”

    But this would be the last women’s championship conducted by the WGA.

    For one thing, the wrong match play pairings were made for the second year running. This time, it was because WGA secretary Ed Martin left the club early. Once again, they were corrected, but it was clear that the organization of the championship left something to be desired.

    For another, in Onwentsia, the WGA was losing its partner. The club decided to run the Governor’s Cup as a solo operation for 1903. That meant the WGA, an all-volunteer body, would have to run a fourth tournament during the year, to go along with the Western Open, Western Amateur and Marshall Field Trophy matches.

    Martin, having ascended to the WGA’s presidency in 1903, might well have taken the Western Women’s Amateur completely under the association’s wing that year, but he wanted to do more. Martin made the advancement of women’s golf his cause. In May, knowing that the U.S. Women’s Amateur would be played at Chicago Golf Club in the fall, he proposed a series of inter-club women’s matches played under the auspices of the WGA. That was met with wide approval.

    Next, he laid the groundwork for the formation of the Women’s Western Golf Association. Martin huddled with Jessie Brower of the Edgewater Golf Club, asking her to poll the players in the Midlothian women’s championship to see if they thought a WWGA would be worthwhile. While who else but Bessie Anthony, despite a turned ankle suffered earlier in June in Pittsburgh, was going about winning the title, Brower was getting positive responses from all hands, and Martin called a meeting of interested parties for 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, 1903, at the Wellington Hotel.

    Mrs. L.C. Wachsmuth of the Washington Park Golf Club, a leading club in that era, moved for “an organization to be formed of western women golfers,” verbally sticking the tee in the ground.

    “Forty-one enthusiastic women,” crowed the Inter Ocean the next morning, were on hand from 21 clubs to applaud Wachsmuth’s call to action. “It is the intention of the new league to hold a championship each year, open only to members. ... Team contests will be promoted and a series of matches will be arranged.

    “Crafts W. Higgins, publisher of the Golfers’ Magazine, offered a cup, to be played for in a team competition against bogey on the same lines as the play for the Marshall Field trophy. ... Mr. Higgins’ offer was accepted.”

    Martin, Higgins and WGA secretary C.A. Atkinson were the three men at the meeting. Martin quickly formed a committee of five ladies to nominate officers and scheduled the next meeting for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 9.

    It was on that rainy day, at 40 Randolph Street, that the Women’s Western Golf Association came into being. With 31 representatives on hand from 21 clubs turning out despite the inclement weather, Maude Alexander was elected the first president, with Mrs. Wallace L. DeWolf of Onwentsia the vice president, Brower the secretary and Mrs. H.A. Beidler of Lake Geneva Country Club the treasurer.

    These are the WWGA’s founding 21 clubs, of which 13 still exist: Auburn Park, Belmont, Calumet, Chicago Golf, Edgewater, Elmhurst, Evanston, Exmoor, Glen View, Hinsdale, Indianapolis, La Grange, Lake Geneva, Midlothian, Onwentsia, River Forest, Riverside, Skokie, Washington Park, Westward Ho and Windsor.

    “There is every indication the new association will be successful from the start,” said the Tribune, which called Alexander “one of the most popular players in the West.”

    Make no mistake, the WWGA was as Western in reality as in name. It was organized along the geographic lines of the WGA, with membership drawn from clubs within 500 miles of Chicago, plus all territory west of the Mississippi River.

    The Chicago Record-Herald reported that the WWGA was formed mainly to run the team matches that Martin had proposed, and in fact, by late July, the first WWGA result ran in the newspapers. On July 24, La Grange scored an 8-7 win over Evanston in a Nassau-scored match involving five players on each side. Exmoor, Edgewater and Washington Park also won their matches that day.

    It would take another month, until a WGA meeting on Wednesday, August 26, for the older body to transfer authority over the women’s championship to the WWGA. Wrote the Tribune the following morning in the cryptic style of the day, “Directors of the Western Golf Association met yesterday afternoon at the Grand Pacific to arrange details for the women’s championship at the Exmoor Country Club. It was practically decided to leave the management in the hands of the Women’s Western Golf Association.”

    Just like that, the Western Women’s Amateur Championship became the Women’s Western Amateur Championship. In 1903, members of WGA or WWGA-affiliated clubs would be allowed to play, but after that, only players from WWGA-connected clubs could tee it up.

    Even as the team matches continued, elaborate preparations were made for the big show at Exmoor. The Alexander Cup would be complemented by the Exmoor, Women’s and Consolation cups, plus the Higgins Trophy for a concurrently-played team match separate from the weekly matches.

    Fifty-five of the 59 registered players would start the five-day affair on Tuesday, September 8, and the results were eerily reminiscent of the previous two years. Johnnie Carpenter collected the qualifying medal, as she had in 1901, by scoring a 93.

    There was nothing new there, and even less new in the name of the champion. Bessie Anthony won again, this time by a 3 and 2 margin over Mabel Higgins of Midlothian. Anthony was 2 up at the turn, 3 up after 12 holes, and coasted in to the acclaim of all on hand.

    Anthony’s title overshadowed Westward Ho’s team championship for the Higgins bauble. It overwhelmed everything else in Chicago golf to that point in the year.

    The gal from Glen View had won three straight Women’s Western Amateurs. She’d won the Onwentsia title in 1900 as well. She’d been triumphant at Midlothian and elsewhere. She’d won easy. She’d won close matches. She’d won on dry turf and on mushy surfaces. Bessie Anthony was the undisputed queen of golf in the American west.

    By early October, Bessie Anthony was the queen of American golf, coast to coast. She rolled to a 7 and 6 victory over Carpenter in the all-Chicago final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chicago Golf in Wheaton. As it would be for so many more players over the course of a century, a WWGA championship was Anthony’s springboard to national acclaim.

    There was one other matter to determine before closing the WWGA’s first season. The final weeks of the team matches had to be played, and when they were over Exmoor had emerged triumphant, winning seven of their eight matches and a total of 88 points. Westward Ho was second with six wins, Edgewater third in the competition with 5 1/2 victories. Thirteen of the WWGA’s original 21 clubs entered the series, and nine played to the conclusion.

    The WWGA was an instant success, a fledgling regional organization that would grow into one which would play championships across the country, as far east as Hilton Head Island and as far west as Pasadena, Calif.

    Time and again, the WWGA would prove itself to be an innovator. The Women’s Western Junior, added in 1920, was a national first for the gals, started nearly 30 years before the USGA started a similar event.

    The establishment in 1930 of the Women’s Western Open triggered the formation of the WPGA and the successor LPGA, and thus the rise in women’s professional golf. After the 1967 Open, the WWGA board, originally surprised by the entrance of professionals – originally, “Open” to the association meant players from non-WWGA-affiliated clubs – decided the professional seed had taken root and closed the Open to concentrate on the amateur game.

    In 1971, the WWGA established the Women’s Western Golf Foundation to award college scholarships to worthy high school girls with high academic skills. And eight years later, a third WWGA championship again was on course with the start of the Women’s Western Senior.

    It’s been 100 summers since Bessie Anthony won the Alexander Cup for the first time, and nearly as many since the WWGA itself commenced operations. Much in the world has changed since, but the Women’s Western Golf Association continues in the forefront of women’s golf. And its adopted child, the Women’s Western Amateur, hasn’t fared badly either. A look at the list of past champions is all the testimony needed as to the excellence of the championship and the worthiness of the association which conducts it. And the next 100 years, which begin with this year’s playing at good old Exmoor, should be even better.