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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Plus Ça Change, Plus Ça Même Chose

c. 1918
In its December 21, 1924 issue, Golf Illustrated advanced an opinion that has a remarkably contemporary ring: It is rather an odd coincidence that the three ambitious players who have held three National championships and have desired to add to these a fourth have all failed! 

Who were these ambitious players?  Miss Inbee Park of South Korea, the #1 ranked woman golfer in the world, who will tee off at the Women's British Open as a history maker and history breaker, hoping to surpass the record set by Babe Zaharias?  Or perhaps Ms. Catriona Matthew of Scotland, who hopes to claim the British Open crown for the 2nd time, on home turf and at the hallowed home of golf, St Andrews, in front of home-town fans?  Or Ms. Karrie Webb of Australia, Ms. Stacy Lewis of the US?  Not at all.  Golf Illustrated was referring to Miss Cecil Leitch, Miss Dorothy Campbell, and Miss Gladys Ravenscroft.

Women's golf flowered during the early decades of the 20th century and, with a pause forced by World War I, quickly became internationalized and the game was populated by a large field of "ambitious players."

Dorothy Campbell, c. 1909
Dorothy Iona Campbell was born March 24, 1883, in North Berwick, Scotland and was the first female golfer to achieve international fame.  Like many of the pro golfers who will convene for the penultimate competition in women's golf in a few days, the Women's British Open, Campbell began swinging her sticks as a young child and was the first woman to win the British, American, and Canadian Women's Amateur Championships simultaneously.  She missed the 4th, the Scottish championship, when she was defeated by Miss Cerant Suttie.

Gladys Ravenscroft, c. 1915
Miss Gladys Ravenscroft won the British, the English and the American championships in 1913, but was beaten in the Canadian by her friend, Miss Muriel Dodd.  The New York Times described the American match, played in the rain at the Wilmington, Delaware Country Club, as "very close, unexpectedly so, in the opinion of many," who had anticipated that Ravenscroft would trounce her American competitor, Miss Marion Hollins of Westbrook, Long Island.

Miss Cecil Leitch, born April 13, 1891 in Siloth, Cumberland, England succeeded Gladys Ravenscroft at the British amateur champion.  When the Great War ended and life returned to a pre-war rhythm in the UK, Canada, and the US, women golfers put aside their uniforms, bandages, and gas cans, left the battlefields and hospitals, came back to the playing field, and once again picked up their sticks.  In 1921 Cecil Leitch was one of those women who met the Americans on the Ramlegh course and then traveled to America to continue the competition in a game increasingly defined by its international flavor.

Cecil Leitch, c. 1921
From the outset of her golf career, Golf Illustrated reported, Cecil Leitch had the reputation of possessing all the necessary strokes, but not quite the ideal temperament for competitive golf with other women. This perception may have resulted from Leitch's match with Harold Hilton, which certainly fired the imagination.   However, Leitch's defeat by Marion Hollins, which was unexpected, disposes of the theory that there is any woman super-golfer. 

As we wait for the international field of ambitious golfers to tee it up at St Andrews, and then for the Americans and Europeans to gather at the Colorado Golf Club for the biennial Solheim Cup competition, we might reflect on the the question posed by Golf Illustrated 92 years ago: is it is in the best interests of the game that one player should be considered in a class by herself?