Founders and Pioneers

Thank you to the 13 LPGA founders for paving the way and to the Pioneers that continued with the vision and growth of the LPGA.

The LPGA owes its long and distinguished history to the hard work and commitment of its 13 founders. These women are responsible for creating one of the most successful women’s sports organizations in history and were dedicated to golf as a game and a career.  They did it all back then: planned and organized the golf tournaments, drafted the by-laws, supervised membership, set up the courses and much more. The LPGA recognizes the sacrifice and devotion of this group of distinguished women and honor them through several respects, including this week’s RR Donnelley Founders Cup. The following women are recognized as the 13 LPGA founding members and pioneers:

 

Alice Bauer

Birthdate: 1927, South Dakota
Rookie Year: 1950
Career Earnings: $26,156

At the age of 22, Alice Bauer became one of 13 founders of the LPGA Tour in 1950. As one of the “moms on tour” at the time, Bauer was one of the first to travel to golf tournaments with her two children. Being a mother was her first priority; therefore she only played on the Tour occasionally. She had an outstanding amateur career, voted South Dakota’s Amateur Women of the Year when she was 14 years old and won the South Dakota Amateur title.

She was accompanied by her sister Marlene Bauer Hagge as LPGA founding members and together they were widely known in golf circles because of their history as prodigy performers in the game. Bauer never won on the LPGA Tour, but she forced a playoff against Marilynn Smith in the 1955 Heart of America tournament. In 1956, she finished 14th on the LPGA’s season money list.

 

Patty Berg

Birthdate: 1918, Minnesota
Turned pro: 1940
LPGA Victories: 60
Career Earnings: $190,760

Nicknamed “Dynamite” in the early ages of the LPGA Tour, Patty Berg was one of the most dominant players of the 13 founders. To this day, she is credited with more win in women’s majors than any other golfer, topping off at 15 championship titles. Berg’s golf career began well before the formation of the Tour, eight majors before 1950. She was a major force on the course during the first decade of the LPGA Tour, winning majors, money titles and scoring titles. Because of her stellar play during her career, she was in the first class inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. 

All her life, Berg remained an ambassador for the game she loved, playing recreationally with friends well through her 70s and conducting more than 10,000 golf clinics in her lifetime. The LPGA annually awards the Patty Berg Award, established in 1978, to "the lady golfer who has made the greatest contribution to women's golf during the year."

 

Bettye Danoff

Birthdate:  1923, Grand Prairie, Texas
Rookie Year: 1950

Known to the founding members of the LPGA Tour as “Mighty Mite,” the short statured Bettye Danoff joined the Tour with an impressive golf résumé. She began playing golf at an early age after her family opened their own driving range and nine-hole golf course. She won four straight Dallas Women’s Golf Association Championships from 1945-48, the women's division of the Texas PGA in 1945 and 1946 and the Texas Women's Amateur in 1947 and 1948. 

Although she was winless on the LPGA Tour, she still played a huge role in its formation. She earned her the LPGA Commissioners Award in 2000, which honors a person or organization who has contributed uniquely to the LPGA and its members, who has furthered the cause of women’s golf, and whose character and standards are of the highest order.

 

Helen Dettweiler

Birthdate: 1914, Washington D.C.
Rookie year: 1950

Growing up in a family of golfers in the Washington, D.C., area, Helen Dettweiler graduated from Trinity College with degrees in history and English and headed to Florida to launch a golf career with money her grandmother gave her as a graduation present. Dettweiler won the first tournament she entered, capturing the 1939 Women’s Western Open as an amateur. Later that year, she joined Wilson Sporting Goods as a staff professional, along with fellow future LPGA Tour co-founders, Opal Hill and Helen Hicks. Patty Berg would follow in 1940.

The D.C. native was instrumental in getting the Women’s Professional Golf Association off the ground in 1947, later serving as the vice president of the LPGA when it was formed in 1950. Dettweiler was one of 13 players who co-founded the new association. While she was there for the LPGA’s beginning, Dettweiler left the tour in the early years to teach golf, returning to California to become the head professional at Indian Palms. She passed away in 1990.

 

Marlene Hagge

Birthdate: 1934, California
Rookie Year: 1950
LPGA Victories: 23
Career Earnings: $481,032

Marlene Hagge and sister Alice Bauer got an early start in golf at age 3, thanks to golf pro father, Dave Bauer. In fact, their father billed them as “The Bauer Sisters” in golf exhibitions around the country in the mid-1940s. By age 10, Hagge had won California’s Long Beach City Boys Junior Championship, and by age 13, she had captured crowns at the Western and National Junior Championships, the Los Angeles Women’s City Championship, the Palm Springs Women’s Championship and the Northern California Open. Just before her 16th birthday, she joined the LPGA Tour in 1950 to launch her professional career.

From 1952-1972, Bauer recorded 26 victories and was voted into the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame in 2002, through the Veteran’s Category ballot. One of the 13 founding members of the LPGA, Bauer will long be recognized for her longevity, playing in each of the LPGA Tour’s first five decades. The petite blonde will also be remembered as the player who brought a splash of California glamour to the LPGA Tour.

 

Helen Hicks

Birthdate: 1911, New York
LPGA Victories: 2

Helen Hicks launched her golf career with several top amateur wins, including a victory over legendary American amateur Glenna Collett Vare at the 1929 Women’s Canadian Open. She recorded two other key wins at the 1931 Women’s Eastern Championship and at the 1931 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, where, once again, she defeated Vare in the finals.

Known for her length and strength, as well as her non-classic reported “baseball swing,” Hicks was also the first woman to have signature Wilson golf clubs bearing her name. The company actually gave her the title of “business woman golfer,” and sent her out on the road to engage customers with the power of her game and her big personality. Hicks then helped train future LPGA co-founders and Wilson staff members Opal Hill and Patty Berg how to conduct golf clinics.

 

Opal Hill

Birthdate: 1892, Missouri
Rookie Year: 1950
LPGA Victories: 2

Opal Hill began playing golf at age 31, when physicians urged her to add gentle exercise as she battled a long-time kidney ailment. At one point, she was told she only had three years to live. She not only conquered her illness, but grew to love the game, having won the Kansas City Championship nine times, captured three Doherty Cup titles, was the 1928 North and South Women’s Amateur champion and was named to four U.S. Curtis Cup teams.

She was sometimes called “the matriarch of women’s golf” because she entered the game late and was older than many of her fellow competitors. She was the first LPGA Teaching and Club Professional (T&CP) honorary member from the Midwestern Section. Hill also was the first recipient of the National Golf Foundation’s Joe Graffis Award and was a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

 

Betty Jameson

Birthdate: 1919, Florida
Rookie Year: 1950
LPGA Victories: 12
LPGA Earnings: $91,740

An Oklahoma native, Betty Jameson established her reputation as a top American amateur long before she became one of the LPGA’s 13 founders. The lanky player, who possessed what her peers called “the perfect golf grip” and a “natural beauty,” won 14 top amateur titles, including the 1939 and 1940 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. In 1942, she became the first player to win the Western Women’s Open and the Western Women’s Amateur in the same year. Her amateur career was launched when she won the 1932 Texas Publinx Title at age 13.

Jameson turned pro in 1945, and won seven times prior to the start of the LPGA. Two years after her professional debut, she won the 1947 U.S. Women’s Open with a 295 total. That score marked the first time a woman had scored lower than 300 for a 72-hole tournament. She went on to win 13 LPGA tournaments, including three major championships, and was one of the LPGA’s first six Hall of Fame inductees.

Jameson’s greatest legacy is the Vare Trophy, which she donated in 1952, in the name of her idol, American amateur star, Glenna Collett Vare. It was the idea of this freethinking player to institute the concept of the Vare Trophy, which continues to be awarded to the LPGA Tour player with the lowest scoring average each year.


Sally Sessions

Birthdate: 1919, Florida
Rookie Year: 1947

A native of North Muskegon, Mich., LPGA co-founder Sally Sessions was both a gifted athlete in tennis and golf. She won the Michigan State Tennis Championship at age 16, and won both the City of Muskegon’s tennis and golf championships on the same day in 1942. But eventually, Sessions directed her focus solely toward golf. She won the 1946 Michigan Women’s State Championship, and in 1947, became the first woman to break par-72 at Pinehurst Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C., with a score of 69. That same year and playing as an amateur, she finished as runner-up to Betty Jameson at the 1947 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, also adding a win at the 1947 Mexican Women’s Open.

A year later, Sessions turned pro, tying for 10th at the 1948 U.S. Women’s Open. She recorded a fifth-place finish at the 1949 Tam O’Shanter All-American tournament. Just as many other women professionals of her time, she became a staff professional for Wilson Sporting Goods and performed clinics and exhibitions around the country as a member of the Wilson staff. She never won on the LPGA Tour during her brief golf career, but Sessions served as the association’s first secretary.

Marilynn Smith

Birthdate: 1929, Florida
Rookie Year: 1950
LPGA Victories: 18
LPGA Earnings: $296,258

LPGA co-founder Marilynn Smith was known as “Miss Personality” and the “LPGA’s Goodwill Ambassador” on the LPGA Tour in its early years. And it was Smith, wearing pearls and heels, who was often pushed out to ad-lib the LPGA’s earliest public relations efforts in front of fans, sponsors and the media. Accompanied by her fellow pros, she would often hit balls from home plate to the outfield and invite fans at Major League Baseball parks to come watch the local LPGA tournament. Once, she even attended a boxing match with the goal of reminding fans between rounds to attend that week’s LPGA event. Unfortunately, the grueling nature of the sport made Smith swoon and one of her fellow pros had to jump into the blood-splattered ring to invite boxing fans to come watch women’s golf.

But while Smith was a true girl-next-door native of Topeka who called herself “just an ordinary gal from the Kansas prairie who has lived an extraordinary life,” she was a solid competitor on the LPGA Tour from 1957 to 1976, playing a more limited schedule until 1985. During that time, Smith won 21 tournaments, including two major championships at the 1963 and 1964 Titleholders Championships. The Kansan’s first LPGA win came at the 1954 Fort Wayne Open in Indiana, with her final professional title notched at the 1972 Pabst Ladies Classic. She recorded nine top-10 finishes on the LPGA’s money list from 1961-1972.

Shirley Spork

Rookie Year: 1946

Shirley Spork was always a player with a keen eye for golf swing technique, leading her to become one of six inaugural members of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals’ (T&CP) Hall of Fame. Spork graduated from Eastern Michigan University, where she won the first-ever National Collegiate Championship in 1947, which was the equivalent of today’s NCAA Championship. A teacher at heart, she was the Western educational director for the National Golf Foundation (NGF) for seven years and taught golf in the early 1950s at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Typical at that time, she spent the summer months competing on the LPGA Tour and the winter months teaching golf in the California desert.

In 1959, Spork helped found the LPGA’s teaching division along with Marilynn Smith, Betty Hicks and Barbara Rotvig. The Michigan native was twice named LPGA National Teacher of the Year (1959 and 1984). She also served as the LPGA’s T&CP chairperson for eight years. But Spork could also hit the shots, finishing among the top 10 on the LPGA’s money list in 1950, placing second in the 1962 LPGA Championship and fourth in the Carling Eastern Open that year. Widely considered the LPGA’s resident “trick-shot artist,” Spork would please crowds with golf shots on command and entertain fans in clinics wherever the tour traveled.

Louise Suggs

Birthdate: 1923, Florida
Rookie Year: 1950
LPGA Victories: 58
LPGA Earnings: $190,475

LPGA co-founder Louise Suggs always let her clubs do the talking. Nicknamed “The Little Hogan” by media in the early years, Suggs brought with her to the newly formed professional golf association a sparkling amateur career. The Georgia native was no stranger to golf fans, as she had wowed media and galleries throughout the 1940s with amateur wins that included two Georgia State Amateur Championships, wins at the 1941 and 1947 Southern Amateur Championship, three wins at the North and South Women’s Amateur Championship, the 1947 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, the 1948 Women’s British Amateur Championship, and a member of the 1948 U.S. Curtis Cup team.

Suggs is credited with 58 LPGA career wins and 11 major championships. In 1957, she won the Vare Trophy (for low scoring average) and also became the LPGA’s first player to complete the career grand slam, which included the U.S. Women’s Open, the LPGA Championship, the Western Open and the Titleholders Championship, at that time. Suggs became one of the six inaugural inductees of the LPGA Hall of Fame, as well as a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and the LPGA’s Teaching and Club Professionals’ Hall of Fame. Over the years, she was honored with numerous awards, including the Patty Berg Award in 2000, the 2007 Bob Jones Award for “distinguished sportsmanship in golf,” and the William D. Richardson Award in 2008, which recognizes “individuals who have consistently made an outstanding contribution to golf.”

 

Babe Zaharias

Birthdate: 1911, Texas
Rookie Year: 1950
LPGA Victories: 36
LPGA Earnings: $66,237

Mildred Ella Didriksen was the born in 1911 as the child of Norwegian immigrants who settled in Port Arthur, Texas. But this LPGA co-founder and LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member became better known as “The Babe” during her lifetime in sports. Moreover, she was the centerpiece for the LPGA Tour in its early days.

Zaharias was an Olympian who was often called the “greatest female athlete in history.” She starred in track and field, winning gold medals and setting or tying world records in the 80-meter hurdles and the javelin, and winning the silver medal in the high jump at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She also was an All-American basketball player, earned her nickname after hitting five home runs in a single baseball game in the style of home run king Babe Ruth, and was said to have been equally adept in tennis, bowling, billiards, diving and roller skating.

But it was golf, and specifically, the LPGA, where Zaharias made her final mark. She began focusing on golf in 1934, and won her second tournament a year later at the 1935 Texas Women’s Invitational. Two weeks later, the USGA ruled that she was a professional athlete because of her earnings in baseball and basketball, but she regained her amateur status in 1943, and won 17 amateur events from 1946-47, including the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship and the 1947 Women’s British Amateur Championship. She turned professional in August 1947. Her swaggering style and athleticism gave her 41 professional wins, with 10 victories prior to the LPGA’s start in 1950, with 36 professional titles on the LPGA Tour, including 10 major championships. She still holds the LPGA’s record as the player who reached 10 wins, 20 wins and 30 wins the fastest.

 

Carol Mann

Birthdate: 1941
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Residence: The Woodlands, Texas
Education: University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Rookie Year: 1961
LPGA Victories: 38
Career Earnings: $506,660 

Known as one of the “giants” of the game both on and off the golf course, Carol Mann was one of the key figures in the formation of the modern LPGA. Standing at 6-foot-3, Mann captured 38 victories in her 20 year career ranking 11th on the LPGA’s all-time victory list. A natural-born leader, Mann took on the role of president of the LPGA from 1974-75 and was a member of the Executive Board as well as Board of Directors. A few years later, she was inducted into the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame for her outstanding performances on and off the golf course.

After retiring from the game in 1981, it was difficult for Mann to stay away from golf. She became an honorary member of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional in 1993 and committed to teaching golf excellence to all skill levels at the Woodlands Country Club. She was also a television analyst for ABC, ESPN and NBC coverage for men’s and women’s golf. She received much recognition, including the prestigious Babe Zaharias Award, selected as one of GOLF Magazine’s “100 Heroes of American Golf,” elected to the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1982 and Collegiate Golf Hall of Fame in 1992, and received the First Lady of Golf Award from the PGA of America in 2008.

 

Kathy Whitworth

Birthdate: 1939
Residence: Texas
Education: Obessa College
Rookie Year: 1958
LPGA Victories: 88
Career Earnings: $1,731,770

Kathy Whitworth’s professional golf career spanned over 32 years. From 1959 to 1991, she was a consistent figure on the LPGA Tour and set high standards for the women who followed in her footsteps. She started out when the organization was just beginning and played an integral role of bringing it into its own.

Whitworth’s name is splashed across many records on the LPGA Tour, which includes being the first woman to earn a million dollars at an official LPGA event and capturing  the most wins in tournament play for both the men's and women's professional associations, winning 88 events. She was also captain for the first American team to play in The Solheim Cup. Her only disappointment in the midst of many achievements is never having won a U. S. Open tournament. In spite of that, she continues to maintain a proud yet humble opinion of her career, as she was inducted into the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame, New Mexico Hall of Fame, Texas Sports and Golf Hall of Fame and the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame.

 

Joanne Carner

Birthdate: 1939
Residence: Florida
Rookie Year: 1970
LPGA Victories: 43
Career Earnings: $2,973,823

Joanne Carner compiled one of the finest amateur records of any woman golfer. Capturing five U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships, winning the 1956 U.S. Girl’s Junior Amateur Championship and competing on four U.S. Curtis Cup Teams, there’s no question she turned heads as she competed in numerous LPGA events. She started her LPGA career with a tie for 15th at the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open, went on to finish second at the 1963 Lady Carling Eastern Open, and won the 1969 Burdine’s Invitational before joining the Tour in 1970.

Carner’s career was paved with consistency, notching multiple victories every year from 1974 to 1983. It was during this time that she won three Vare Trophies, two money titles and two Player of the Year awards. It was the peak of her career, boasting 43 LPGA titles. But she never stopped competing until the ripe age of 65, setting an LPGA record for being the oldest player to compete in an LPGA event at the 2005 Kraft Nabisco Championship.  The LPGA Hall of Famer was most known for her long drives and booming personality, earning the nicknames “Great Gundy” (after her maiden name, Gunderson) and “Big Mama” from her fellow LPGA members.

 

Topics: Founder, This week it is all about Me

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