Museum Moment: The Origin Of The Curtis Cup Trophy

Feb 11, 2010

By David Shefter, USGA

Far Hills, N.J. - The inaugural Curtis Cup Match contested in 1932 featured spirited play from the American and the Great Britain and Ireland sides. The seven-woman USA team, led by Virginia Van Wie and captained by Marion Hollins, posted a 5½-3½ victory at Wentworth, on the outskirts of London.

But interestingly enough, the post-Match ceremony lacked a trophy presentation. That’s correct, a competition called the Curtis Cup, actually commenced without a cup. Think about every important golf competition and the trophy or tangible symbol – the Masters green jacket, for example – comes immediately to mind.

Then again, “The Women’s International Cup,” as the competition was originally titled, did have benefactors, and they were accomplished players. The Curtis sisters, Margaret and Harriot, captured four U.S. Women’s Amateur championships between them (Margaret won three and Harriot won once, losing to to her sister in the 1907 championship match). They offered to donate a cup to present to the event’s winner. This lovely silver bowl of Paul Revere design, which is on display at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J., was first unveiled in 1927 to give momentum to the pending international competition.

Financial reasons delayed the inaugural Match until 1932, but the Ladies Golf Union, the governing body for women’s golf in Great Britain and Ireland, politely declined the Curtis sisters’ generosity. Margaret Curtis even made a special voyage to England to try to convince LGU leaders of the need for a trophy. At the time, she was also working to get France and Spain involved in an international competition. Indeed, the Curtis Cup is inscribed, “To stimulate friendly rivalry among the women golfers of many lands.”

The Curtis sisters weren’t the first to be rebuffed. The LGU rejected an offer of a trophy from private sources for the Anglo-French women’s matches in 1931. According to a published report, the LGU refused “as a matter of policy.” It was the same response when the Curtis sisters offered their lovely cup.

By December of 1932, a few months after that inaugural Match, the LGU finally relented and agreed to make the Curtis’s trophy officially part of the competition.

Through the years, playing for the Curtis Cup has become a goal for any elite female amateur in the USA or Great Britain and Ireland. Some of the game’s greatest golfers have participated in this Match, each hoping to hoist the silver bowl for their team at the end of the competition, which in 2008 was stretched from two to three days.

It took GB&I until 1952 – the seventh Match – to post its first victory (the sides tied in 1936). But in the run-up to the first Match in 1932, Great Britain and Ireland routinely defeated their American counterparts. The first recorded competition took place at Cromer, England, in 1905 with the British winning 6-1. Another informal match took place six years later at Portrush, Ireland with the British prevailing 7-2 against an overseas team that also included players from New Zealand and Australia.

In 1913 at Wilmington (Del.) Country Club, the sides got together two days prior to the U.S. Women’s Amateur. The British eked out a 4-3 victory. Ten years later, another informal match took place with the British earning a 6½-2½ win. The groundwork for a regular series came in 1930 when Glenna Collett arranged for a group of Americans to play a match at Sunningdale, England, where Great Britain posted an 8½-6½ win. A year later, the LGU agreed to a recurring event and the USGA agreed to financially back an American team, and the biennial competition officially began in 1932.

Today, the Curtis Cup is considered the premier team event for women’s amateur golf, while also continuing the ideals of sportsmanship and camaraderie set forth by the Curtis sisters upon their original trophy donation.

David Shefter is a USGA staff writer in the Communications department. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

The Curtis Cup Trophy (USGA Museum)