By Rhonda Glenn
Museum Moment: Glenna Earns Her Stripes in Just 24 Holes
Sep 29, 2011
Seventy-three years ago, on September 29, Glenna Collett – the darling of golf’s flapper era – gave Virginia Van Wie the shellacking of her life and established herself as the finest amateur of her time. Perhaps of all time.
It was 1928 and Collett was a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, having won in 1922 and 1925. At the age of 25, however, she hadn’t quite sealed the deal. To her critics, Collett had the method and the power to dominate the women’s game but the promising ingredients weren’t fully baked. She was, they said, “the uncrowned queen.”
“So stylish is Miss Collett’s execution, so rhythmic her swing with the wood, so crisply punched her irons that perhaps too much was expected of her,” wrote George Trevor in The American Golfer.
Famed golf writer O.B. Keeler, the journalistic gate-keeper for Bob Jones, blamed “overzealous relatives.”
Early in her career, Collett’s reputation was sullied: “Flushed cheeks and twitching hands belie the outward serenity,” wrote Trevor. “It has taken Miss Collett a long time to acquire that veneer of competitive hardness which competitive athletes must possess if they are to capitalize (on) innate skill.
“…She appeared too eager to demonstrate that she was worthy of the verbal bouquets,” he wrote.
Even William D. Richardson, dean of the era’s golf writers, wondered at Collett’s failure to dominate. “There have been times in the past when she has slumped rather badly, frequently permitting herself to be beaten by golfers far below her in playing ability,” he wrote.
Richardson blamed “jumpy nerves.”
Collett later wrote of her own early inability to perform when she felt sorry for a lesser opponent. But here, on The Cascades Course at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., she finally put her foot on the throat of an opponent. The unfortunate victim was Van Wie.
Growing up in Illinois, Van Wie had been a sickly child until a doctor recommended golf. She bloomed and now, at 19, was full of promise.
Keeler wrote of how she showed “great courage and stamina in three grand matches” early in the championship. Van Wie ousted the fine Pennsylvania player, Edith Quier, on the 19th hole. Veteran campaigner Marion Hollins lasted until the 18th hole before Van Wie won, 1 up. In the semifinals, she barely got by former champion Dorothy Campbell Hurd, 2 up, to face Collett in the scheduled 36-hole final. Van Wie was exhausted.
That September Saturday of the final match was a glorious day. The Homestead was a monument to gracious living, a towering brick edifice where courtesy reigned and service was king. Guests dressed for dinner and in the grand dining room, a wine steward poured champagne into the top of a tower of champagne glasses and delighted guests watched the bubbly cascade into the glasses below as the orchestra played “Stardust,” the year’s hit song.
But the nation was trembling on the brink of The Great Depression and these were the last of the good times. Unemployment, only 4.2 percent in the United States in 1928, would begin a spiral in 1929. The stock market would crash in October and by the early 1930s, unemployment peaked at 25 percent.
It was before the great crash and the old hotel was a bastion of the elite class. Presidents Coolidge and Hoover vacationed there and the rich flocked to the resort to enjoy the amenities, which included mineral springs. Women’s golf, like other women’s sports, seemed to be on the upswing. At the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, women had been allowed to compete in track and field events for the first time.
There was no professional tour for women and amateur golf was still a huge draw. In the remote little Virginia town of Hot Springs, nearly a thousand spectators treated Glenna and Virginia like movie stars. In the final, sporting colorful cloche hats and their lithe figures clad in stunning fashions, they looked it.
“Play away, please,” said the starter, and off they went. The Cascades course, designed by famed
American golf course architect William S. Flynn, had opened just five years before the fateful match. Today its owners have carefully preserved the original Flynn course and visitors can get a sense of its challenges of 83 years ago. The course tumbles through the towering pines lining the fairways. The Allegheny Mountains create interest and most full shots must fit the bounces off the slopes of fairways. On the smallish greens, putts break away from the mountain slopes, if you can just decide which one. The Cascades is compact, taunting and a thoroughly great test.
The course set-up was a long one for the 1928 Women’s Amateur with the par-4 17th set at 400 yards and the par-3 18th at 200. Although she was very long off the tee, Collett wasn’t the longest hitter in the field. That honor went to “Heavy Lifting Helen” Hicks, who hit one tee shot a measured 265 yards and flirted with the 150-yard markers on most of her drives. But Hicks went out in the second round, 1 up, to the unknown Dora Virtue. Another contender, Maureen “The Duchess” Orcutt, the championship medalist, was knocked out by Hurd in the quarterfinals.
Collett’s fortunes improved every day. She defeated Bea Gottlieb, the tiny New Yorker, 5 and 3. Mrs. J.S. Disson Jr., of Philadelphia, fell, 8 and 7. Virginia Wilson went down, 4 and 3, and Collett used the same margin to eliminate Helen Stetson in the semifinals.
But Collett knew how tough Van Wie could be. The two had met in the North & South Women’s Amateur and Collett didn’t emerge as the winner until the 22nd hole. She later wrote that the match was a tip-off to her followers and that while they believed her to be a cool, detached player who didn’t care if she won or lost, she was often tempted to heave a club into the shrubbery.
Glenna was now poised for one of her greatest triumphs. Those who expected a good match would be disappointed. Van Wie, wrote Keeler, “was hopelessly off her game.” She had noticed it while warming up, she said, and was discouraged before she even arrived at the first tee.
Glenna, meanwhile, was at the peak of her game. Her long driving was accurate. Her work around the greens had improved. She fired a 36 on the outgoing nine, and a 40 on the incoming side despite two bad holes.
It happens so quickly. After enduring grueling matches to get to a 36-hole final, one player may be off her game and in the championship match shoot, say, an 82. Her opponent, on the other hand, can shoot even a middling 75 and, there you go, the margin is 7 up after 18 holes. Few can survive such an onslaught and Collett was 10 up on Van Wie after 18.
Six holes later, on the wonderful little 24th hole (the sixth), a par-4 dogleg around a mountain slope with a rocky brook running diagonally in front of the green, the opponents shook hands. Collett had settled the matter, 13 and 12.
She now joined a list of only four players who had won the U.S. Women’s Amateur three times; Beatrix Hoyt, Margaret Curtis, Alexa Stirling and Dorothy Campbell Hurd. Collett, who later married and became Mrs. Vare, would go on to win the national championship a record six times.
She is singled out as one of the greatest of women players and certainly of amateurs. It’s worth noting, however, that JoAnne Gunderson Carner in the 1950s and 1960s won the U.S. Women’s Amateur five times, turned professional, and won the U.S. Women’s Open twice.
Virginia Van Wie recovered, of course, and went on to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1932, 1933 and 1934. She died in 1997 at the age of 88, having fulfilled her promise.
Over the years, Glenna Collett was revered and honored as the greatest of her day. She died in 1989 at the age of 85. Over decades of competition, she won so many silver cups and trophies that she eventually had them melted down and made into a silver tray – a very heavy silver tray.
Of Collett’s emergence on Sept. 29 in 1928, however, Lucille MacAllister summed it up in Golf Illustrated, “When Glenna strikes that stride there is no golfer to equal her.”
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1928, there was no professional tour for women and amateur golf was still a huge draw. In the remote little Virginia town of Hot Springs, nearly a thousand spectators treated Glenna Collett and Virginia Van Wie like movie stars. In the final, sporting colorful cloche hats and their lithe figures clad in stunning fashions, they looked it. Collett, however, dominated the match, winning 13 and 12 in the 36-hole final.
In 1928, Collett was a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, having won in 1922 and 1925. At the age of 25, however, she hadn’t quite sealed the deal. To her critics, Collett had the method and the power to dominate the women’s game but the promising ingredients weren’t fully baked. She was, they said, “the uncrowned queen.”
With her victory over Van Wie in 1928, Collett joined a list of only four players who had won the U.S. Women’s Amateur three times; Beatrix Hoyt, Margaret Curtis, Alexa Stirling and Dorothy Campbell Hurd. Collett, who later married and became Mrs. Vare, would go on to win the national championship a record six times in all.