On Philadelphia Country Club’s Side
Hosting Fourth USGA Championship … Boasts Steep Pedigree Of Past Female
Pa. – When the 156 competitors convene this week at Philadelphia Country
Club for the playing of the 103rd U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship,
they will be stepping onto a venue that boasts over a century of tradition
and heritage in the game of golf.
club, which was formed in 1890 and is the oldest in the Philadelphia
area, was the seventh to join the fledgling United States Golf Association.
The USGA was formed in 1894 by five clubs – The Country Club in Brookline,
Mass., St. Andrews Golf Club in New York, Shinnecock Hills on the eastern
end of Long Island, Newport (R.I.) Golf Club and Chicago (Ill.) Golf
1899, Philadelphia C.C. and its Bala Course had earned enough national
prestige to host the Women’s Amateur. Margaret Fox, a member and one
of the best female golfers in the nation, played a key role in landing
the championship and advanced all the way to the championship match
before falling to Ruth Underhill, 2 and 1.
years later, club member Florence Vanderbeck defeated Margaret Gavin,
3 and 2, at Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest, Ill., for the Women’s Amateur
title. Vanderbeck also was a semifinalist six other times and captured
the Eastern Amateur in 1921, six years before Philadelphia Country Club
opened its new Spring Mill course. The club purchased two adjoining
properties in Gladwyne and commissioned William Flynn and Howard Toomey
to design and construct an 18-hole course.
Bala Course, a 60-acre property adjoining Fairmont Park in the town
of Bala that had hosted the 1899 Women’s Amateur, remained as part of
the club until 1950 when the land was sold for commercial development.
Shortly thereafter, the greens were carted off by truck to neighboring
Bala Gold Club, where they have continued to serve golfers for more
than 50 years.
the Bala Course did get one last moment of glory in 1949 when it hosted
the inaugural U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. The field drew 33 of
the country’s best young female golfers and was won by a Californian,
Marlene Bauer, who was recently elected into the World Golf Hall of
Fame and was the daughter of a club professional. Bauer, who defeated
future Women’s Amateur champion fellow Californian Barbara Romack in
the semis, 3 and 1, went on to beat Barbara Bruning, of White Plains,
N.Y., in the final, 2 up. Bauer, 15 at the time, did not return to defend
her title the following year as she turned professional.
that championship, Philadelphia Country Club could boast of two other
prominent players. Helen Sigel Wilson never did win a Women’s Amateur
title, but she did reach the final in 1941, bowing to Elizabeth Hicks,
5 and 3, at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Sigel played basketball
and field hockey in school and once she took up golf, the game came
naturally. By the age of 19, she managed to reach the finals of the
Philadelphia Women’s Amateur where she lost to Philadelphia C.C.’s other
icon, Glenna Collett Vare, 3 and 2. Four years later, she would attain
the title, whipping Vare, 6 and 4, in the final at Philmont. She would
finish with a record 12 Philadelphia Women’s Amateur titles, the last
coming at the age of 56. She also won two Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur
titles and two Eastern Amateurs.
World War II, Wilson played in the 1946 Women’s Amateur at Southern
Hills in Tulsa, Okla., only to run into the long-hitting Babe Didrikson
Zaharias in the semis, losing 3 and 2. Two years later, she reached
the Women’s Amateur finals again, this time at Del Monte Golf and Country
Club (Pebble Beach Golf Links), but Grace Lenczyk denied her the title
in the championship match, 4 and 3.
the 1965 Women’s Open contested at Atlantic City Country Club, Wilson
was in the hunt until the final round, settling for a tie for fifth.
Her aggregate score of 296 was a record that has since been broken and
is now owned by Grace Park.
would be selected to two Curtis Cup teams, in 1950 and 1966. And in
1978, the USGA bestowed Sigel the honor of captaining the USA squad
that defeated Great Britain and Ireland, 12-6, at Apawamis Club in Rye,
N.Y. That team featured future LPGA star Beth Daniel. “That was my biggest
honor,” she said.
’s memory is being rekindled this week as she is serving as an honorary
chairman for the Women’s Amateur.
other female of note from the club, of course, was Glenna Collett Vare
. The native of Rhode Island moved to Philadelphia when she married
Philadelphia businessman Edwin H. Vare, Jr. They were members at famed
Merion and Philadelphia C.C., but she represented the latter in competitions.
Vare would win a record six Women’s Amateur titles, one more than JoAnne
Gunderson Carner. She captured her first in 1922, added a second in
1925, and then joined Beatrix Hoyt and Alexa Stirling on the short list
of those who have won this championship three consecutive times, taking
the title from 1928-30. Virginia Wie (1932-1934) and Juli Simpson Inkster
(1980-82) would also join that elite club.
nearly completed the four-peat in 1931, but Helen Hicks stopped the
streak in the championship match at The Country Club of Buffalo (N.Y.),
2 and 1. Vare would also lose in the 1932 final to Van Wie, 10 and 8,
at Salem (Mass.) Country Club. But Vare was not finished winning. In
1935, at the age of 32, she knocked off Patty Berg, 3 and 2, in the
final at Interlachen Country Club in Hopkins, Minn. That’s the same
club where Bobby Jones won the 1930 U.S. Open en route to capturing
the Grand Slam.
a lifelong amateur, Vare was elected to the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1950.
Three years later, the LPGA created the Vare Trophy, given annually
to the player with the lowest scoring average on the women’s professional
tour. It is the LPGA’s equivalent of the Vardon Trophy (named after
Harry Vardon), which is given to the PGA Tour player with the lowest
1932, Vare also helped found the biennial Curtis Cup competition, playing
in four Matches (three USA wins and a tie) and compiling an overall
record 4-2-1. The USGA also named a trophy in her honor. The Glenna
Collett Vare Trophy goes to the winner of the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
golf also has had its share of history at Philadelphia Country Club.
Twelve years after the opening of the Spring Mill Course, the USGA brought
the U.S. Open to the venue, where one of the famous final-hole collapses
took place. Needing only a par at the 72nd hole to secure victory, Sam
Snead thought he needed a birdie. He played the par-5 a bit too aggressively,
hooking his tee shot into the rough. Gambling with a 2-wood, Snead thinned
his second shot into a steep-faced crossbunker and failed to extricate
his ball on his first attempt. His fourth shot found another bunker
and his fifth finally found the green. Frustrated by this time, Snead
proceeded to three-putt for a triple-bogey eight and a total of 286,
two more than Byron Nelson, Craig Wood and Denny Shute.
three would play off the next day to decide the title, with Wood and
Nelson carding 68s and Shute a 76. The 27-year-old Nelson and Wood,
37, would play another 18 holes to decide the championship. At the fourth
hole (today it is hole 17), Nelson registered the shot of the 1939 Open
and one of the best in the history of the event. From 215 yards away,
the Texan struck a 1-iron that soared right toward the flagstick. The
ball found the hole for an eagle 2 and Nelson finished with a 70, three
ahead of Wood. It was Nelson ’s only U.S. Open triumph.
54 years after hosting its last USGA championship, Philadelphia C.C.
again finds itself in the national spotlight this week. The field is
exceptionally strong, with 20 participants having already competed at
this year’s Women’s Open, including 13-year-olds Michelle Wie and Sydney
Burlison . Eighteen players competed at the Girls’ Junior, held July
21-26 at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn., including runner-up
and 2002 Girls’ Junior champion In-Bee Park (champion Sukjin-Lee Wuesthoff
withdrew to compete in another junior event).
four members of the 2002 USA Curtis Cup team are playing (Carol Semple
Thompson, Mollie Fankhauser, Emily Bastel and Leigh Anne Hardin).
the end of the week, a champion will be crowned and another chapter
in Philadelphia C.C. history created.
Shefter is a staff writer with the USGA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.