From the Golf Journal Archives - Maybe the Women Started It

Jan 13, 2012

By John S. Ward

(Note: This article originally appeared in the November 1973 issue of Golf Journal.)

Since the beginnings of golf in this country, some have demanded a certain exclusivity, and while clubs devoted to men only have had the most attention, we have had – surprise – clubs exclusively for women. Even today there is a club for women only in Toronto; what is now the Glen Head Country Club in Glen Head, N.Y., was once the Women’s National Golf Club, and what is now the Bethesda Country Club in Bethesda, Md., began life as the National Women’s Golf Club. In 1892 the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, in Southampton, N.Y., built 12 holes for ladies. Even hallowed St. Andrews where the ladies are excluded from the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, had a feminine presence. The practice putting green at the Old Course once was for women only.

Actually, the earliest of the clubs devoted exclusively to women may have sprung up not far from USGA headquarters in New Jersey. “Good Goff! Bloomers On The Links” is the heading for a chapter in the book The Quiet Millionaires, by Marjorie Kaschewski. It is about the early days of Morristown, N.J. Today, with all the fuss about “women’s liberation,” it is refreshing to realize that the subject of Miss Kaschewski’s chapter – the Morris County Golf Club – was founded for and by women nearly 80 years ago.

In April, 1894, a group of Morristown’s elite met at the home of Mrs. Henry Hopkins to form the Morris County Golf Club, believed to be the only one of its kind at that time. Golf then was linked to Society, and Morristown, according to the New York Herald in 1902, was “the millionaire city of the nation, containing the richest, and least-known colony of wealthy people in the world.” Noting the birth of the Morris County Club, the New London (Conn.) Morning Telegraph hailed it as “a welcome addition to the 10 clubs in the nation – most outstanding, of course, being those at Southampton, Long Island; Tuxedo Park, N.Y., and Newport, R.I.” Miss Cornelia Howland was elected the first president of the new club; honorary memberships were granted to Morristown clergymen, and – after a clubhouse was built and the course laid out – 200 men were allowed “associate membership.”

There were only nine holes at the start, many with picturesque or prophetic names, such as Devil’s Punch Bowl, The Ideal, The Hoodoo, Blasted Hopes, and Setting Sun.

The official opening was an occasion to remember. A tournament was organized and spectators came in open carriages and ornate Victorias, and the more athletic among them came on bicycle. They came from the Oranges, from Tuxedo, N.Y., from Hudson River country establishments, and from the fashionable colonies around Westchester County, N.Y. There was even an international flavor, for among the guests was the Marquise de Talleyrand-Perigord, from Paris, Prince Rospoli, the Mayor of Rome, and Princess Rospoli.

Mrs. Arthur C. James had the honor of playing the first shot at the new course, and a hush settled over the lighthearted crowd as she strode to the tee. She drew the club back daintily, swung ... and missed the ball. It was an altogether frustrating experience for Mrs. James; she took 12 strokes to reach the first green, just 238 yards away. Marjorie Kaschewski suggests that perhaps she was distracted by the sheep grazing placidly on the fairway.

“Miss Lois Raymond also got off to a bad start,” Miss Kaschewski wrote. “She hit the ball, but it moved only a few inches, causing her to stamp her foot and exclaim, ‘Isn’t that too mean for anything!’ Suspense built as spectators followed from hole to hole, recklessly betting boxes of candy on the outcome. Miss Annie Howland Ford was the victor, and after the play and the cheering, as one paper said, ‘Appetites were vigorous and joy unconfined.’ ”

It was for a time, anyhow. Soon the men were urging change and expansion and eventually a disquiet began to ruffle the club’s amicability. The men insisted that any club growing as rapidly as was Morris County should be incorporated and that the grounds should be club-owned. “And whoever heard of a woman having a head for business, anyway?” (The fact that Miss Howland was distantly related to the financier Hetty Green apparently was never considered.)

A meeting was held in January, 1895, and after it was all over Paul Revere, of Morristown, was the new president, heading a slate of officers made up entirely of men. “How this was achieved is not a matter of public record, but as one Morristorian has guessed, ‘I suspect the men put a lot of pressure on their wives.’ ”

After the coup by the men, Revere advised Miss Howland of the change. It is recorded that he called formally at Maple Cottage, Miss Howland’s residence, and returned home pale, shaken, and mopping his brow. During what must have been an icy meeting, Miss Howland refused Mr. Revere’s offer of the post of honorary president; she played no more at Morris County Golf Club.

Even though the regime had changed, Morris County Golf Club continued to be closely allied to women’s golf. In 1896 it was the site of the second Women’s Amateur Championship, which was won by Miss Beatrix Hoyt, of Shinnecock Hills. Miss Hoyt, who was to win again in 1897 and 1898, was only 16 years, 3 months, and 4 days old when she won her first title. She remained the youngest champion ever until 1971, when Laura Baugh won at the age of 16 years, 2 months, and 21 days.

The ornate Women’s Amateur Championship trophy, donated by Robert Cox, M.P. of Edinburgh, Scotland, who was visiting America at the time, was presented for the first time at the 1896 championship. Cox, golfer and graduate of St. Andrews, gave the permanent trophy with the stipulation that the 1896 championship be played at Morris County, a course he had helped lay out two years before. It was his wish to “see golf proliferate about the United States.” The trophy, which is held by the winner’s club for the ensuing year, cost $1,000 in 1896; it has been appraised more recently at $4,075. The price of everything is up!

Then, in 1898, Morris County was host to the United States Amateur Championship. An account of that event in The Commercial Advertiser of September 14, 1898, tells just how far the game in America and the Morris County Golf Club had progressed.

“A Scotsman stood on the veranda of the Morris County Golf Club yesterday afternoon when the excitement over the first day’s contest for the national golf championship was greatest. Before him was a field bounded on one side by a bank of vehicles and on the other by a fence loaded down with people. About him the air was filled with the noise of 300 persons endeavoring to talk at once, while a band added to the conflict of sound. The Scotsman turned to the gentlemen near him and said, ‘And all this demonstration of sound and color because of the ancient game of golf! Ah, my boy, this is an experience that makes me proud of the sports of my race. The American people have come to appreciate the true worth of golf. Even the townspeople, who do not feel at liberty to enter the club grounds, are using the fences out of bounds as grandstands. And about us, I am told, is some of the flower of American Society. I never saw a prettier sight at any of the great tournaments on the links in the old country. I begin to realize the truth of what I heard about golf creating a new epoch in American social customs.’ ”

Morris County Golf Club continued its close association with women’s golf. In 1900 it was the site of the first championship of the Woman’s Metropolitan Golf Association, and in 1905 it was again host to the United States Women’s Amateur Championship, which Miss Pauline Mackay won by defeating Miss Margaret Curtis, 1 up. Miss Curtis and her sister Harriot, along with other accomplished American women golfers, visited the British Isles later that year to play team matches and compete in the British Ladies’ Championship. Whether or not this was the fore-runner of what was to become the Curtis Cup Match between teams representing the United States and Great Britain and Ireland is not certain, but 27 years later the first Match was held, with the American women winning by 5½ points to 3½. Just the mention of some of the players stirs fond memories: Helen Hicks, Virginia Van Wie, Maureen Orcutt, Mrs. Glenna Collett Vare, Mrs. O. S. Hill, and Mrs. L. D. Cheney represented the United States, while Joyce Wethered, Enid Wilson and Diana Fishwick led the side from Great Britain and Ireland.

The present clubhouse is the third to house the Morris County Golf Club. The first was destroyed by fire in 1902. All that was left standing was a section of what had been the ladies’ locker room; that section still stands today as part of a private residence. The clubhouse was rebuilt, but fire struck again in 1915, and the officers decided to erect a completely new structure. Five years later to the day (September 15) the new clubhouse was dedicated. The course itself had previously been transformed into an 18-hole layout around 1897.

Dedication ceremonies included a “Weekend of Golf,” as well as an exhibition match in which Bob Jones and Chick Evans, the 1920 United States Amateur champion, played against the formidable British pair of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the 1920 Open champion. The visitors were trounced by Jones and Evans, 10 and 9. Jones also won the “Weekend of Golf.”

From “Good Goff! Bloomers On The Links” nearly 80 years ago, Morris County Golf Club has come a long way and has played an important part in American golf. Although its experiment as a club exclusively for women was very short-lived, it set a precedent that could, especially in these times, be revived.

The Morris County Golf Club’s Women’s golf team of 1900. (USGA Museum)

Fans gather to watch Findlay Douglas and Walter Smith on the fifth green of Morris County Golf Club in Morristown N.J., on Saturday, September 17, 1898. (USGA Museum)