04 Nov 2022 | Women and girls | Professional golf |
WPGA Tour celebrates 50th Anniversary
By Karen Lunn
Back in 1972, a South Australian businessman and keen golfer by the name of Alan Gillott was at home in his lounge room reading a golf magazine, when he saw an article which featured an American female teaching professional, Jeanette Rector. It was in that moment Alan thought to himself, “why can’t we have women professional golfers here in Australia”
This provoked Alan to do some research into women’s professional golf, and with the seed firmly planted and with the financial backing of South Australian entrepreneur Hugh Bonython, Alan headed off to the US on a fact-finding mission and to experience women's professional golf firsthand for himself. He met with female teaching professionals from across the country, and followed the LPGA tour to several tournaments, marvelling at the skill and flair of the players and the huge galleries they attracted. When Alan returned home to Australia buoyed by what he had witnessed stateside the decision had already been made in his mind, and on the 15th of August 1972 the Australian LPGA was founded. There is no doubt that this was a brave move by both Alan and Hugh, and we will be forever thankful for their vision and commitment.
With the association formed, the next steps were to put together a tournament schedule and bring together a field of women professional players. After searching for sponsors, host clubs, and players, the plans were set in place for the first series of tournaments scheduled for March of 1973. The professional players, from Australian, New Zealand and the USA were primed and ready to begin their professional careers, even though I can imagine that there was more than just an air of uncertainty and a few nerves involved! The very first President of the ALPGA was a legend of Australian golf, Betty Dalgleish. In a media release prior to the opening event of the schedule in 1973 Betty closed off with a quote; “The LPGA is here to stay. We will play our tournaments in the best traditions of the game and make a worthwhile contribution to golf in Australia” A truly prophetic statement from back in 1972, which thanks to the many generations of women golfers who have supported the tour here in Australia continues to ring true to this very day.
The very first Australian LPGA tournament teed off on the 30th March 1973 in Wollongong, and it was Barbara McHutchinson who had the honour of hitting the very first shot on the ALPGA Tour at the Simpson Pope Ladies Open Golf Classic.
We have certainly come a long way since those early days.
We have witnessed Australian women Jan Stephenson, Karrie Webb, Hannah Green and Minjee Lee all become major champions and many others win events across all of the world's women's golf tours, and we also now have some of the finest female golf coaches in Australia in our PGA Vocational Members who are inspiring women and girls all across the country every day. I know that every one of our members past and present is grateful not only to Alan and Hugh for having the foresight to start the women's professional tour here in Australia, but truly thankful to those twelve brave founding members who made the transition from amateur golf into the unknown realm of professional golf 50 years ago.
It truly is extraordinary that women's professional golf in our country celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and we have a fantastic celebration evening planned at Kingston Heath Golf Club on 2nd December this year, which falls during the week of the ISPS Handa Australian Open.
Sadly two of our founding members are no longer with us, Sheri Wright sadly passed away in June this year after a brave battle with lung cancer, while Jan Kelly passed a number of years ago, I have managed to touch base with each of the other ten founding members who were inducted as Life Members of the then ALPG Tour back in 2016, and every one of them is excited and honoured that their achievements are being recognised and celebrated. Unfortunately, our first ever President Betty Dalgleish will not be able to make the trip from Sydney to Kingston Heath for the celebration, nor will Penny Pulz, who resides in the US, or Judy Gibson (nee Proctor) (due to family commitments around her upcoming 80th birthday celebrations). We will definitely try to arrange a video hook-up for these amazing women so they can be a part of the celebration from afar! Thankfully and very appropriately, the tour's unofficial historian Laureen Ford will be in attendance, as will Barbara Jones (nee McHutchinson), Anne Kenny, Glennis Dwyer (nee Taylor) Roberta Simpson (nee McCarthy) and Marilyn Smith, who is travelling all the way from her home in Florida to join us! Also in attendance will be a number of our past Presidents, along with Life Members Karrie Webb and Jan Stephenson, along with a number of our current and past WPGA Tour members.
The celebration will be an emotional occasion for many attending, and I am sure it will be a fitting one to mark 50 years of Women’s Professional Golf in Australia.
I would sincerely like to take this opportunity to thank a number of people who have assisted me with the planning of the 50th anniversary celebration; WPGA Tour Life & Founding Member Laureen Ford; Tiffany Cherry and Therese Magdulski from Golf Australia; Andrew Taylor, General Manager of Kingston Heath Golf Club; The PGA and Golf Australia Public Affairs and Marketing teams.
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