10 Oct 2022 | Professional golf |

Vale Margie Masters, pioneering professional

by Golf Australia

Margie Masters image
Margie Masters (right) greets Burtta Cheney after she won the Victorian Amateur in 1962.

One of Australian golf’s greatest women professionals, Margie Masters, has died in America aged 87.

Masters was a pioneer for women in the sport, being the first Australian to play on the LPGA Tour in the US in 1965, winning the rookie of the year award.

A Victorian who had played out of Long Island and Woodlands golf clubs before travelling overseas, she won on the LPGA Tour in 1967 and was runner-up in the Western Open in 1967 when that tournament was classified as a major.

Prior to that she had an outstanding amateur career, winning the Australian Amateur (1958) and Canadian Amateur (1964) and representing Australia in international competition.

She won nine club championships at Woodlands and triumphed in five Victorian Amateur championships, along with four Victorian Junior Amateurs. She was inducted into the Victorian Golf Hall of Fame as well as the halls of fame at Woodlands, Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club, and Ottawa Valley Golf Association.

“I used to look at the scores the professionals were shooting and I knew I could shoot them,” she told Melbourne journalist Karen Harding several years ago in a groundbreaking interview.

“I had a sponsor for a while (friends of golf writer Don Lawrence) and I thought, ‘well, I’ll just have a tryout’. And, actually, it turned out pretty well, I just got out there and got my card and went from there and that was it.”

She retired from the LPGA in 1979 to take up a job as a schoolteacher, and lived the latter phase of her life in Tucson, Arizona.

Perhaps her greatest legacy, though, went beyond her playing. It was Masters who challenged the immigration laws for professional golfers in the 1960s, forcing a decision that had profound impact for those who followed.

“Every six months I would have to go out of the country and come back in; I’d go into Mexico or Canada and then come back. It was very frustrating,” she said.

As Karen Harding wrote:

“With the assistance of an immigration official with whom she had become friendly on her many trips in and out, Margie made application for reclassification as a preference immigrant under the new provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This Act, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, amended the Act of 1952, known as the McCarran-Walter Act, and replaced the National Origins formula, which had applied since the 1920s, with a seven-category preference system.

“The National Origins Formula had been challenged for some time as being discriminatory. Abolishing it and overhauling immigration policy was an important pillar of President John F. Kennedy’s strategy to address the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Though it was ultimately President Lyndon Johnson who signed the new Act into law in 1965, JFK’s brothers Bobby and Ted, both senators, strongly continued his support of the bill after his assassination in 1963.

“Section 203 (a) (3) of the new Act provided for availability of visas giving indefinite residency (known as the green card) for persons of ‘exceptional ability in sciences or arts who would substantially benefit prospectively the national economy, cultural interest or welfare of the United States’. In the decision handed down in her favour on January 22, 1969, Margie was deemed to be an entertainer displaying exceptional ability in the arts. The decision is known as the Matter of Masters.”

Masters expressed pride about this. “A lot of other sportspeople. Including a very good tennis player, were then able to come in under that category after that, so I was quite proud of it,” she told Harding.

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