LPGA Founders and Pioneers Honored at World Golf Hall of Fame

There was a full-circle element to the evening. In 1974, the inaugural class of the Golf Hall of Fame was inducted outdoors, just a few paces from the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst, N.C. The original hall was owned by the Pinehurst Resort and located on the No.2 course. Patty Berg was there, part of the first class along with Babe Didrikson Zaharias. President Gerald Ford cut the ribbon and acted as master of ceremony.

Women in the hall were sparse in those early years because the LPGA had the Hall of Fame of Women’s Golf. That hall had four initial members: Berg, Babe, Betty Jameson and Louise Suggs, and it was located at Augusta Country Club, adjacent to Augusta National and the site of the Titleholders Championship from 1937 to 1972.

In 1998, with the creation of the World Golf Foundation and the World Golf Village in St Augustine, Florida, the halls merged. All members not already included were given their own induction ceremonies into the newly named World Golf Hall of Fame.

Two more of the 13 original Founders, Marlene Hagge Vossler and Marilynn Smith, were inducted 2002 and 2006 respectively. They joined a host of LPGA legends and pioneers.

On Monday, June 10, 2024, just three days before the start of the of 124th U.S. Open, the hall officially moved home to Pinehurst, adjacent to the new USGA Testing Center and just 200 yards from the first tee at the No.2 course.

So that evening it seemed fitting that in a ceremony at the Carolina Hotel, the remaining 13 LPGA Founders were included posthumously into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Terry Duffy, Chairman and CEO of CME Group which was the presenting sponsor of the event, said of the Founders, “Through this honor they will forever be recognized as visionaries who, in 1950, saw an opportunity and established the LPGA Tour.”

Michelle Wie West, who won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2014 at Pinehurst, presented the Founders during the induction ceremony and said, “Today’s sportswomen are standing on the shoulders of the 13 original LPGA Founders. This summer, for the first time in history, women’s sports will see 100% gender equality at the Paris Olympics. My hope is that daughters, sisters, and mothers all over the world will say a big thank you to the 13 LPGA Founders. And remember, we’ve come a long way, baby.”

Monday night, Patty, Babe, Louise, Betty, Marilynn and Marlene, were reunited together again with the rest of their comrades - Marlene’s older sister Alice Bauer, Bettye Danoff, Helen Dettweiler, Helen Hicks, Opal Hill, Sally Sessions and Shirley Spork – as they are now fittingly all reside together in the World Golf Hall of Fame, one of golf’s greatest honors.

“These women were playing the best golf that they possibly could, but they were also running the whole league,” said LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan in a video tribute to the LPGA Founders during the ceremony. “And they were doing it at a time when people weren’t sure they should be doing it.
A program detail during the World Golf Hall of Fame Induction at the Carolina Hotel on June 10, 2024 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

“These are some of the most remarkable women in the history of women’s sports and in the history of women in this country. It can’t be overstated what they did, not just for women’s golf but for all of sports. And I think we are feeling that today.”

In accepting the award on behalf of the Founders, Nancy Lopez said, “What these 13 ladies did in 1950 was pretty incredible. They had a passion that has taken women’s sports to a different level. My entire career would not have been possible without those 13 original Founders of the LPGA.”

Also inducted posthumously on Monday night was Beverly Hanson, who won 17 times on the LPGA Tour including three majors. She also made history in 1951, beating Babe Zaharias at the Eastern Open and becoming the only LPGA Tour player to win in her first professional start, a record that stood for 72 years until Rose Zhang won the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open in her first start as a pro.

“Beverly was one of those pioneers who was really instrumental at the beginning of the LPGA,” Marcoux Samaan said in Hanson’s video tribute. “Right when the LPGA was being formed, she was taking the amateur world by storm. She was a Curtis Cup member and had won the U.S. Amateur. That year, she was certainly someone who had emerged as one of the best players in the country.”

Beth Daniel, who knew Hanson well, agreed, saying, “She was a great ball striker, great woman, and she deserves to be in the hall of fame.”

Rounding out the LPGA inductees was 81-year-old Sandra Palmer, the only woman on hand to accept the honor. Palmer won 19 times on the LPGA Tour including two majors.

Grammy award-winning artist Anne Murray told a story about meeting Sandra at an outing hosted by Perry Como. While Sandra watched, Murray and Billie Jean King got into a long-drive contest. Nobody remembered who won, but Murray did throw out her back.

“This is a little overwhelming,” Palmer said in her acceptance speech. Then she thanked Sandra Haynie, her longest friend, and some legends who could not be in the room: the late Johnny Revolta, one of the greatest short-game artists of all time, and Ernie Vossler, who helped a number of players manage their careers.

Sandra gave a special tribute to Betsy Rawls who introduced her to Harvey Penick at a time when Sandra was teaching school in Texas. “That launched my career,” she said.

“It took me seven years to win on tour, and many people asked me why I didn’t quit,” she said. “I didn’t quit because I love golf, everything about it.”

Then she shared the advice Penick gave her one day on the range in Texas. “Harvey said, ‘give lady luck a chance and let God put his hand on your shoulder.’ Well, in 1964 I left Fort Worth in my Thunderbird to follow my dream of playing professional golf. I was giving lady luck a chance. And now here we are.

“I’m so deeply honored,” Palmer said. “Tonight, I truly feel His hand on my shoulder.”

Inductee Sandra Palmer of the United States speaks during the World Golf Hall of Fame Induction at the Carolina Hotel on June 10, 2024 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)