The U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship marks the beginning of women’s competitive golf in this country. Along with the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open, the Women’s Amateur was one of the USGA’s first three championships.
The first Women’s Amateur Championship was arranged on short notice one month after the 1895 Amateur and Open Championships.
The following small item appeared in the social column of a New York newspaper shortly after the completion of play: “Thirteen ladies played 18 holes of golf at the Meadow Brook Club, in Hempstead, recently. Mrs. Charles S. Brown, whose husband plays at the Shinnecock Hills Club, in Southampton, L.I., made the best score and thus won the United States championship for lady golfers.”
Very few early golf clubs encouraged women to play. There were exceptions, of course, most notably Shinnecock Hills, whose private property the Women’s Amateur title would become for the first four years. When Lucy Barnes elected not to defend in 1896, Shinnecock came up with a replacement in Beatrix Hoyt, who would become its best-known player. Miss Hoyt was the granddaughter of Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. She won the next three championships.
Although a stroke-play format was selected for the first championship, the Women’s Amateur became a match-play competition in 1896, and has remained so ever since.
The most noteworthy champion is the late Glenna Collett Vare, a lifelong amateur who won the Cox Cup a record six times. In the 1920s and 1930s, Vare was the darling of the sports world, much as Bob Jones was during that era.
Second only to Vare is JoAnne Gunderson Carner, who won five Women’s Amateur Championships. Combined with her two wins in the U.S. Women’s Open and a single win in the U.S. Girls’ Junior, Carner’s record of eight USGA titles is eclipsed only by Jones and Tiger Woods, who have each won nine.
Women’s Amateur champions seem to have a remarkable facility to repeat. Hoyt, Alexa Stirling, Vare, Virginia Van Wie and Juli Simpson Inkster have all won the Women’s Amateur three times consecutively. A noteworthy six champions — Genevieve Hecker, Dorothy Campbell, Margaret Curtis, Betty Jameson, Kay Cockerill and Kelli Kuehne — have won twice in succession.
The Women’s Amateur has long identified some of golf’s greatest women players, many of whom have gone on to successful professional careers. Along with the champions listed above, Patty Berg, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Marlene Stewart Streit, Anne Quast Sander, Barbara McIntire, Catherine Lacoste, Carol Semple Thompson and Beth Daniel have all secured a place in women’s golf history.