“Did You Know”
There were 7 U.S. Women’s Opens before the USGA recognized women’s professional golf!
The first U.S. Women’s Open was played at the Spokane CC in August 1946. It was managed by the Women’s Professional Golf Association which had been founded in 1944. The tournament was co-sponsored by the Spokane Athletic Round Table and the WPGA. There were 40 entries. First prize from the $19,700 purse was $5,600 in war bonds. Any money (war bond) over $100 won by an amateur went back into the WPGA treasury. The early favorites were Patty Berg and amateur, Babe Zaharias. The tournament was played at match play, with the semifinals and final rounds being 36-hole matches. Berg won, defeating Betty Jameson in the final.
Berg had been a United States Marine stationed in Philadelphia during World War II. Playing exhibitions, she helped raise millions of dollars for the war effort.
The following year the tournament was in Greensboro, North Carolina at the Starmount Forest CC. Betty Jameson won by six strokes over two amateurs. At $7,500 the prize money was much smaller. First prize was $1,200.
Leo Fraser stepped up to host the 1948 tournament at his newly purchased Atlantic City CC. The prize money was the same as 1947. There were 51 entries. Babe Zaharias, who had turned pro to make a golf movie, won by eight strokes with an even par 300 total. When she failed to hole a five-foot putt on the last green, Zaharias missed out on another $1,000 which had been put up by an ACCC member for anyone breaking 300. Zaharias said it did not make a difference; it would just have put her in a higher tax bracket.
The WPGA went out of business in the summer of 1949 and was reformed as the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA), with Berg as its president. Sponsored by the newly formed LPGA, Prince George’s CC in Virginia hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in September. Louise Suggs put together a 291 over the four rounds to win by 12 strokes over Zaharias. The total prize money was $7,500 again, but first prize was larger at $1,500.
Zaharias won the 1950 U.S. Women’s Open and its $1,250 first prize by nine strokes at the Rolling Hills CC in Wichita, Kansas. The 1951 tournament was won by Betsy Rawls at Druid Hills CC in Atlanta. Her 293 won by five strokes. First prize was $1,500. The last day’s attendance of 6,000 was a record for the tournament’s six years.
The LPGA played for $100,000 in prize money during the 1951 season. In order to save money, the lady professionals ran their tour from top to bottom. They set up the golf courses, promoted the events, made the pairings, and served as the rules committee. Golf companies Wilson, MacGregor and Spalding kept the LPGA tour alive by signing the top professionals to endorsement contracts. There were Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg and Louise Suggs golf clubs for women. The women’s clothing company, Weathervane, sponsored four tournaments with bonus money at the conclusion of the four events.
The 1952 tournament, sponsored by the Philadelphia Inquirer Charities, was at the Bala Golf Club in Philadelphia. Louise Suggs won the $1,750 top money by seven strokes with a 284. That year the LPGA had hired a man to administrate their tour. There were sixteen tournaments on the schedule. Admission was $1 on week days and $2 on the weekend. For the week, there were 11,000 in attendance. With total prize money of $7,000 the Inquirer’s Charity turned a profit.
In 1953, after seven U.S. Women’s Opens had been played, the USGA acknowledged that women’s professional golf was going to last. They began sponsoring the tournament, but the money stayed the same or was even less at times for the next ten years.