Opening with just a few tournaments a year with fields that featured less than 20 golfers and purses totaling no more than $5,000, the founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association never imagined it would flourish into what it is today.
“In the 1950s, women were, and still are to a certain degree, second-class citizens,” said Louise Suggs, one of the founding members. “We started it with no anticipation of it ever growing; we just wanted young women to love golf.”
It was no easy task for this group of women to get the organization started, but they dynamically managed all aspects of its formation. From planning and organizing tournaments, to drafting the by-laws and supervising membership, they distributed duties among themselves based off of abilities each other possessed.
“We really didn’t have the wherewithal to have an office,” said Suggs, an LPGA and World Golf Halls of member. “We worked out of the trunks of our cars and things like that. We told Helen Hicks to be secretary because she could type. When I see that office in Daytona Beach and think about all 13 of us working from our cars, it blows my mind. I just think ‘yea, I built that!’”
As anyone would expect, these trailblazers were faced with an array of obstacles when developing an event schedule. It was with the help of several people who believed in women’s sports along with the women’s affable and outgoing personalities that scored their first tournament sponsors.
Players like Patty Berg, Helen Hicks, Opal Hill and Helen Dettweiler had been hired by Wilson Sporting Goods to be staff professionals and traveled around the country to give golf exhibitions and clinics. Through their connections, they were able to secure a purse for their first official LPGA event, the Tampa Open at the Palma Ceia Country Club.
“We just kept running into those golf manufacturers and somebody thought about getting some money together and playing for it occasionally,” said Suggs. “And that’s basically how it all started. We didn’t initially start the LPGA Tour thinking we’d play for money. We just loved to golf.”
After the women started networking, they began to see the need to promote their Tour to generate more publicity and create a fan following.
“We did everything we could do to promote it,” Suggs recalled. “We went to baseball games and hit balls over the scoreboard. From home plate and hitting it over the scoreboard is about an eight-iron, but it looked like you were hitting a canon and people were just in awe. We went to boxing matches and wrestling matches, and I never ate so much rubber chicken in my life going to a bunch of luncheons.”
After years of vigorous work, the LPGA Tour has developed into a world-class organization with more than 420 active global members and the average purse reaching more than $1.7 million boasting a 28-event schedule. Without the fierce tenacity and devotion the 13 founding members energetically showcased, the Tour wouldn’t be what it is today. Their boldness in creating and developing the Tour is something the LPGA strives to mirror after 63 years of being the preeminent women’s sports organization.
“There is no LPGA Tour without the dedication to success these 13 women possessed,” said Michael Whan, LPGA Commissioner. “Our goal every year is to leave the game better than we found it and I think that’s a value our founding members strived for in the beginning years of this organization and hoped would be continued with each passing year. We hope that with each new season we honor the legacy they left behind.”
The LPGA owes its long and distinguished history to the hard work and commitment of its 13 founders. The LPGA recognizes the sacrifice and devotion of this group of distinguished women and honor them through several respects, but especially this week at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.
These 13 women include Alice Bauer, Patty Berg, Bettye Danoff, Helen Dettweiler, Marlene Hagge, Helen Hicks, Opal Hill, Betty Johnson, Sally Sessions, Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork, Louise Suggs and Babe Zaharias. Suggs admits that the fondest memories she has of developing the Tour with these women were not competing against them in tournaments, but the sense of sisterhood she felt with them.
“I think the camaraderie of our group and traveling together is my fondest memory, even though we fought like cats,” said Suggs. “We looked after one another. It may not seem like it but we did. If somebody needed help, we helped. I think it’s just the overall goodness and kindness of our group made it special. We ate together, we caravanned to tournaments together. It was a different type of existence and I loved it. I’m just glad to have been a part of it. It’s been a good ride.”