The Democratization Of Golf
Far Hills, N.J. - A revolution, no matter what form it takes,
need not be announced to the world loudly and boldly. It
can happen over a number of years or decades, quietly
proceeding under the radar, slowly building momentum, waiting
to be fully realized when the time is right.
The Great Depression Indirectly
Helped Players, Game Grow
March 28, 2008
OnJune 3, 2008, theUSGAMuseumandArnoldPalmerCenterfor Golf History will open to the public following a
three-year renovation and expansion project. The new
exhibitions in thePalmerCenterwill present the game's history in a unique and
original way, viewing golf within the context of American
social, cultural and political history. USGA champions and
memorable moments in championship history will be placed at
the forefront of the visitor experience. Central to each
gallery is a main story - an iconic moment - pivotal for
understanding the game's development. Our national
identity is inextricably linked to these defining
This is the third in a six-part series highlighting each
Click here to go back to the main page
By Doug Stark, USGA
From the time Bob Jones retired in 1930 to the end of World
War II, golf experienced its most revolutionary period, one
that would forever change the ways the game was perceived and
played by each and every American.
The decade and a half that encompassed the Depression and
World War II proved to be one of the most significant periods
for the game's growth and development. Many of the
innovations would not be fully realized until after the war
years, but the changes that were happening were revolutionary
During this era, several hundred public golf courses were
constructed and opened to the public. In the first six
years of the 1930s, the population of women golfers increased
some 20 percent each year, while the number of men playing
declined dramatically. The social standing of professional
golfers - both men and women - improved greatly, while
amateur golf slowly lost its revered status. Meanwhile, the
number of USGA champions hailing from west of the Mississippi
River increased substantially.
The economic crisis may have brought about the closure of
many private clubs, but golfers still needed a place to play.
The construction of so many municipal courses, funded through
President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs,
provided jobs for the men out of work, as well as the courses
for them to play on. Women, meanwhile, took up the game in
growing numbers, as it became more acceptable for women to
work and earn a living.
By the mid-1930s, stars such as Patty Berg, Babe Didrikson
Zaharias, and Helen Hicks slowly transitioned the game away
from the Elite Northeast players of Glenna Collett Vare's
generation and toward a game played by women across the
country. A pivotal moment in that transition occurred at the
1935 U.S. Women's Amateur.
On the final day of the 1935 U.S. Women's Amateur at
Interlachen Country Club in Minneapolis, 15,000 fans swelled
the course to watch local favorite, 17-year-old Patty Berg,
face off against the "Queen of American Golf,"
Glenna Collett Vare, a five-time winner of the U.S.
Women's Amateur. In the end, through experience and
guile, Vare's tremendous talent and experience led her to
another championship title, but the keys had been handed to a
On the men's side, Johnny Goodman's victory in the
1933 U.S. Open marked the last time an amateur won the U.S.
Open. Olin Dutra (California), Sam Parks Jr. (Pennsylvania),
Tony Manero (North Carolina), Ralph Guldahl (Texas), and
Byron Nelson (Texas) all won U.S. Open championships the rest
of the decade.
As the Depression gave way to World War II, the seeds of
change found their way onto military bases throughout the
country. During the war, athletics played an important role
on military bases in boosting morale among troops and
reducing the regional differences that characterized sports
in the 1930s. Athletes traveled the country meeting with
servicemen, giving demonstrations and playing in service
leagues. For the first time, a Texas native stationed in
California could see Joe DiMaggio play in a service league
game. A Washington native stationed on the east coast could
meet Sam Snead or Berg as they gave golfing
Sports, like the war being waged, drew the country closer
together, making America one nation. Gone were the regional
difference and stereotypes that had been characteristic of
sports in the 1930s. The geographic distribution of people
stationed throughout the country during the war profoundly
affected the sporting landscape after the war. Through one of
the worst times in the country's history, the seeds of
the game's democratic spirit were born.
After World War II, the country was ready to resume its
sporting culture. The changes of the 1930s - more women
playing, more municipal courses and more Americans taking up
sports as a leisure activity - were fully realized. A
women's professional golf tour started, more juniors and
seniors took up the sport and competed in USGA championships,
and the game was now played on municipal courses in every
city in the nation.
Once thought to be a fallow decade in terms of innovation and
advancement, The Great Depression contributed to one of the
greatest social movements - the democratization of sports
that all sports, and particularly golf, witnessed.
Curator of Education and Outreach. E-mail him with questions
or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.