Long before the early golfing exploits of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and even before Bob Jones was recognized as a teenage golf sensation, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club member Beatrix Hoyt, the champion of the 1896, ’97 and ’98 U.S. Women’s Amateurs, captured America’s attention with her outstanding performances in national championships beginning at the age of 16. Shinnecock’s pioneering treatment of female members set the stage for Hoyt’s rise to stardom, but it was the young player’s commitment to improving her swing and desire to win that allowed her to dominate the increasingly competitive world of women’s amateur golf.
Hoyt was born on July 5, 1880, the youngest of William Sprague Hoyt and Janet Ralston Chase’s four children. The Hoyts were a distinguished family. Beatrix’s paternal great-grandfather, William Sprague, had served as Governor of Rhode Island. Her maternal grandfather was Salmon P. Chase, President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury and later Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although the Hoyts were a prominent family in society, it was a family in financial decline. Her father descended from the Sprague textile manufacturing family, the originators of gingham cloth and at one time the largest textile manufacturer in the country. Misfortune came with the Economic Panic of 1873 and her father’s company, Hoyt, Sprague, and Company, suffered severe losses. The family fortune and business were gone, and William Sprague Hoyt never recovered. He became more and more estranged from his wife and children, and died in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1905, at the age of 59.
Janet Hoyt kept the remaining relatives together and held on to the remnants of the family wealth. “Nettie,” as she was known to those closest to her, purchased initial shares of the new Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, which was incorporated in 1891. The Hoyts moved from First Neck Lane, in the prestigious estate section of Southampton, barely two miles away to Shinnecock Hills. They brought with them the “Grist Mill” which had graced the family’s 9-acre Lake Agawam property. The windmill is still in the "Hills," though the Pasadena-style Arts and Crafts house of great charm they built there has since been demolished.
Janet exhibited great foresight in buying one, possibly two (one for Beatrix) of the original 75 shares issued to build Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Forty-four individuals purchased these shares for $100 each and the proceeds were enough to build the golf course, laid out by Willie Davis, and a small clubhouse, designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White. Though William Hoyt never joined the club, Janet was a founder member, likely the first woman member of a golf club in the United States.
The club’s welcoming attitude toward female members served as the backdrop for Beatrix’s growth as a golfer. From the moment she took a club in her hand at age 15, Beatrix practiced relentlessly, even hitting balls into a sheet hung from a line in the hour before dinner at home. She took instruction well and understood the mechanics of the swing perfectly. Her daily practice was noted by The New York Times during her first tournament appearance at Morristown, along with the fact that this young girl had vanquished more than one very credible male player at Shinnecock Hills.
In 1896, the strongest part of Beatrix’s game were precise iron shots. From fairway through green, she was unstoppable. In short mashie approach shots, or in playing out of a difficult lie, Miss Hoyt was one of the most accomplished amateurs of her day. The Marshfield Times reported: “She has a swing which closely resembled the Scottish professional, her irons shots are excellent, and she has great coolness and endurance.”