A Great Women's Amateur Champion: Dorothy Campbell Hurd Howe
By Ian Cruickshank
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the January-February 2002 issue of Golf Journal.)
One frustration of writing about early stars of the game is that over the decades, details become blurred, half-truths are reprinted and the sense of personality is often lost. Such is the case with Dorothy Campbell Hurd Howe, one of the finest international players of all time.
History books give different dates for her tragic death and there are varying opinions on the origin of her swing and motives for coming to America. Her stunning record, though, is incontrovertible. She won two British Ladies Open Amateur Championships and captured the Scottish, Canadian and U. S. Women’s Amateur championships three times each. Especially remarkable is the 14-year gap between her two last U. S. Women’s Amateur titles (1910 and 1924); it remains a record. It is estimated she won more than 750 matches during her career.
Dorothy Iona Campbell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1883. Her father, a merchant, died when she was a teenager and she moved with her mother to the golfing hotbed of North Berwick, Scotland.
Campbell used an unorthodox baseball-style grip, a slightly closed clubface and the typical Scottish sweeping backswing. Her strengths were a miraculous short game and a competitive temperament.
In 1905, she captured the Scottish Ladies’ Championship and played on the British team that beat a U. S. squad led by the Curtis sisters. She repeated as Scottish Ladies’ champion in 1906 and 1908. After winning the 1909 British Ladies Open Amateur championship, at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, she was invited to play in the U. S. Women’s Amateur at Merion Cricket Club.
In her first round of match play, Campbell beat her opponent, 10 and 8, (still a record), then bettered Nonna Barlow, 3 and 2, in the final to become the first foreign-born U. S. champion and the first woman to hold both the U.S. and British titles. It was a feat that neither Glenna Collett nor Joyce Wethered, who later dominated the game, accomplished.
Campbell moved to Hamilton, Ont., Canada, in 1910. There’s no record of why she did so; perhaps, at age 27, she decided it was time for new challenges. Those did not appear on the golf course. Campbell won three straight Canadian titles and defended her U.S. title in 1910, defeating Mrs. G. M. Martin at the Homewood Country Club in Flossmoor, Ill. The following year, Campbell won her second British Ladies title at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Campbell credited much of her success to two friends, “Stella,” her putter, and “Thomas,” the mashie she used to chip. According to The Illustrated History of Women’s Golf, by Rhonda Glenn, after holing out twice from 40 yards to win the 1921 North and South Championship, Campbell wrote, “In the gallery was an American lady who . . . determined to add my type of stroke to the rest of her lately acquired possessions and characteristically went to the local professional and said, ‘I want you to teach me her chip,’ to which the Scot with equally characteristic brusqueness and brevity replied, ‘I’ll no; yon’s a freak shot.’”
Campbell’s life changed again in 1913 when she married Jack V. Hurd of Pittsburgh and moved to the U.S. They had a son and Mrs. Hurd slipped into semi-retirement from golf until the couple divorced in 1923.
Upon her return, there were skeptics who felt that Hurd’s advanced age (she was nearly 40) would prevent her from regaining her earlier form. Canadian Golfer magazine said, “It will be interesting to note how she will ‘measure up’ with the younger school which has sprung up since her 10 years or so residence in Canada and the States. Mrs. Hurd is still a very fine player, but it is doubtful if she will repeat her many successes of years gone by. It is rather a remarkable fact but true, nevertheless, that the fair sex do not commence to keep up their game as years creep on like men players. A woman over 35 years of age has never won a high class championship whilst many men have.”
It is not known whether she read this inflammatory column, but Hurd spent close to a year reconstructing her game. She recognized that to compete she needed more distance off the tee. With the help of Merion Cricket Club professional George Sayers, she switched to a Vardon grip, loosened her wrist action and changed her backswing.
The increased distance, though, was no guarantee of success. The 1924 Women’s Amateur was hosted by Rhode Island Country Club, home course of Collett, who had won the first of her six Women’s Amateurs in 1922, and was in the midst of the finest stretch of her career. In her book, Ladies in the Rough, Collett entitled a chapter “My Biggest Year – 1924” and wrote, “I was having my whirl at fame that year shattering course records and winning tournaments with pleasant regularity.”
In the end, 1924 was not to be Collett’s perfect year. While she shot a 79 in stroke play, the first time 80 had been broken in the Women’s Amateur, she unexpectedly lost to Mary K. Browne in the semifinals. With Collett out of the way, the 41-year-old Hurd won the final match easily, 7 and 6. The victory brought two more records that still stand: the number of years between titles, and the oldest player to win the event.
There were more triumphs to come for Hurd. Two years later, in 1926, she challenged Walter Travis’s record of fewest putts for 18 holes. In his best round, Travis, a three-time U. S. Amateur champion and a short-game wizard, had used only 21 putts. Playing at the Augusta (Ga.) Country Club, Hurd arrived at the fringe of the 18th green with 19 putts. She pulled out “Thomas” and holed out, to set yet another record.
Hurd continued to play through the 1930s, winning the 1938 U. S. Senior Women’s Championship at the age of 55. But her final years were not a complete victory. She married Edward Howe in 1937 and divorced again in 1943.
Two years later Dorothy Campbell Hurd Howe was killed, at age 61, by a passing train while changing lines in Yemassee, S.C.