Maureen Ruttle Garrett, a towering figure in British golf whose influence weighed mightily in the United States, largely through her long and close association with the Curtis Cup, died Saturday in a hospital in Poole, England. She was 89.
In 1983, Mrs. Garrett was given the USGA’s highest honor, the Bob Jones Award, for distinguished sportsmanship. She was president of the Ladies Golf Union in Great Britain in 1982 and ’83, as well as a member of the Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup team in 1948 and captain in 1960.
She last visited the United States in June 2010 when, although made infirm by her years, she made the difficult trip to attend the Curtis Cup Match at Essex County Club in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.
“She loved the Curtis Cup with her whole heart and it was her favorite competition in the game,” said Judy Bell, former USGA president. “She was right there along with Margaret and Harriot (Curtis) as far as the Curtis Cup. She helped keep it going. The spirit of these matches was captured when she said, ‘The only loser in the Curtis Cup is the player who never made a friend on either side.’ I feel so vacant without her. She was a dear friend.”
But for her wide generous smile, in later years Garrett could have played a dowager in an Agatha Christie film. She had a sort of twinkling grandeur, which emerged when she responded to any of the numerous requests for one of her famous speeches, in which her perfect diction, lovely British accent and rolling timbre made her audience keenly listen to her graceful texts. The twinkle was in her robust joy and sly humor. At last year’s Curtis Cup Match, she sat alone at a table in the clubhouse. “I’m having a bit of trouble getting around,” she said. “Hip. So I can’t follow the matches. I can’t walk and I can’t stand.” And then she chuckled, “So here I am, sitting for Britain, rather like a hen guarding her eggs.”
For many, the death of Mrs. Garrett marks the end of a simpler time, an era when golf was played with overriding courtesy, an older code that most fully realized that the word, “amateur” is derived from the Latin verb, “to love.”
Garrett was one of England’s better amateurs. Although she never reached the echelon reserved for winners of the British Ladies Open Amateur, she reached the semifinal round of that championship (the oldest contested title in women’s golf) in 1947 and ’48 and won the 1946 French Women’s Amateur. The highlight of her competitive career was a slot on the 1948 Curtis Cup Team.
During her peak years as a golfer, Maureen Ruttle joined her fellow Britons in reviving her game after the dark struggles of World War II. She lived in London and, with her family, survived the Blitz, often huddling in air-raid shelters to dodge the Nazi bombing of the besieged British capital. Once she was asked if she had seen “Hope and Glory,” a 1987 film about the effects of the bombs on London citizens. “I don’t have to,” she replied. “I lived it.”
During the war, Garrett was secretary in the office of a doctor who inoculated members of England’s war cabinet, including Winston Churchill, in an effort to keep them fit. “I could have gone through the war doing that,” she said in 1988, “but on the radio there was a call for a land army. They wanted people who could handle horses. I’d always had my own ponies, so I said to Mummy, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m sitting in this luxurious office and I don’t think I’m doing my war effort.’”
Garrett signed up for the land army and spent the rest of the war milking cows and handling farm horses, playing golf only sporadically. She resumed tournament play when competition returned in peacetime. Following the 1948 Curtis Cup, she married Edward Garrett. The couple had one son.
A stalwart of British golf, she was named captain of the 1960 Curtis Cup Team, and it was there where she had perhaps her largest influence. Until that time, the rivalry between the United States and Great Britain and Ireland was so keen that players were discouraged from associating with the other team. Garrett and USA captain Mildred Prunaret thought the policy was rubbish, so, for the first time in history, they arranged seating at the celebration dinner by alternating USA and GB&I players.
The players began to better enjoy the “friendly rivalry,” as is inscribed on the Curtis Cup. “By sitting with the British team members,” said JoAnne Gunderson Carner, a member of the 1960 USA Team, “I developed close friendships that I have to this day. It was Maureen’s way of saying, ‘We can have fun and develop friendships while still trying to win.’”
“You have to understand,” Garrett once said, “that the Curtis Cup is all about friendship. It’s not about who wins or who hits the good shot. It’s friendship between our countries. That’s what matters, and always will.”
Her hundreds of friends saluted her when she received the 1983 Bob Jones Award from the USGA for the qualities of sportsmanship that include “generosity of spirit.” Garrett herself was floored. She was the first non-American woman to receive the award.
“When Kim Whitney called me with the incredible news, I could not have been more stunned if E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial) had walked into the room,” Garrett said at the time. “I am afraid that Mr. Whitney had to pay for some long-distance silence because I did not know what to say at first – which, no doubt, will surprise some of my friends.”
A gourmet cook, she entertained numerous American visitors in her home overlooking Poole’s stunning natural harbor. She often said, as she swept her arm grandly across the view, “That, I told my son, is where my ship will come in.”
But her heart was never far from golf. Not so many years ago, she could be seen among the spectators at the Curtis Cup Match, wearing a fine tweed skirt, a lovely blouse in a subdued color and sensible walking shoes, leaning on a shooting cane. In later years, the respect with which she was held made her one of the very few to ever be given a motorized golf cart so that she could watch play.
A sub-current of the Curtis Cup Matches, which date to 1932, is that even the most cheerful players know that their biennial reunion may be the last time they see a favorite friend. At last year’s meeting in Manchester-by-the-Sea, rain poured during the always sacrosanct flag-raising ceremonies. Slowly the past players trudged in, rain dripping from their hats and umbrellas as musicians from the Boston Pops played parade music. The spectators applauded as, one by one, the sodden little band, which included elderly women, took places of honor. Finally, one last player slowly trundled to her post, riding in an electric cart. It was Maureen Garrett and the ovation for her was the loudest of all.
Garrett is survived by her son, Ted Garrett, and three grandchildren, Lucinda, Nicholas and Melissa Garrett. A private service will be conducted for Mrs. Garrett’s family and a public memorial service is scheduled for October.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her at email@example.com.