Three and a half centuries later, another redheaded firecracker became America’s most famous sportswomen. Unfortunately, much like the Mary Queen of Scots, her history in golf is largely forgotten.
Alexa Stirling was the middle of three daughters of an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor from Edinburgh, Scotland who immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia in the late 1800s. Like a lot of upper-class Atlantans at that time, the Stirlings escaped the coal-fired industrial smokestacks and wood-burning residential kitchens polluting the air of a city still rebuilding after being burned to the ground during the Civil War by moving to a resort community at the eastern end of the streetcar line. Dr. Alexander Stirling bought a modest white-brick bungalow adjacent to the Atlanta Athletic Club at East Lake where Alexa learned to play violin and piano and become a trained operatic soprano. She also learned to shoot all manner of firearms and would become an expert marksman. In an age and a place when Edwardian mores prohibited proper girls from venturing outdoors in anything less than ankle-length skirts or dresses, Alexa learned to build tables, chairs and beds from freshly planed lumber. She also rode horses, became an impressive fly fisherwoman, who crafted an artistic collection of flies, and, in her spare time, she grew up to become the greatest female golfer in the world.
Affable and precocious, Alexa fit right into the East Lake lifestyle with a boathouse, badminton, and a hunt club. She took up golf with several other kids, including a sickly runt, four years her junior, named Bobby Jones, whose parents had moved to East Lake in the hopes of keeping their anemic young son alive. “Little Bob” and Alexa fell under the tutelage of a crusty Scottish professional named Stewart Maiden, who was credited with being the model for Jones’ swing, but who considered Alexa his “special student,” one who absorbed information like a thick cotton towel. Maiden, who was rough as a dried corncob around most of his students, softened around Alexa, her wavy red hair tied in a ponytail and her smiling face littered with freckles. In a brogue he never lost and often enjoyed accentuating, Maiden often said, “If she’d only leave that damned fiddle bide awhile, she’d make a braw player.”