Plenty are under the impression that women’s golf at Muirfield, home of this week’s AIG Women’s Open, did not begin until 2017, the year when the club agreed to take female members. The truth, though, is a tad different.
The first of two Curtis Cups was played over the links of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in the summer of 1952, and the second in 1984.
With regard to the ’52 version, the fact that one of the worst shanks in Christendom was struck by a woman on the Sunday of that week could well explain why the men felt it safer to keep to themselves for so long. The woman in question was an American by the name of Grace DeMoss, and the scene of her crime was the 15th hole.
Though the members had made the women welcome for this famous amateur fixture, some of the conditions laid down for the occasion were every bit as archaic as you might have expected in those days. For example, the visitors were told that they could use the clubhouse facilities ahead of the match but not thereafter. Again, they were advised that practise on Monday was out of the question until after a quarter to three. Members of the Edinburgh Men’s Court of Session liked to play on a Monday and they had to take precedence.
“She shanked it,” cried the watching Americans.
Both teams were housed at the neighboring Greywalls Hotel, a suitably peaceful hub until that night when DeMoss had the mother and father of all nightmares. She dreamed that she was in the throes of her singles when a party of teammates, clad in white coats, appeared over the horizon to tell her that America’s honor rested on her shoulders.
Her friends would no doubt have dismissed the dream as so much nonsense, and reminded the girl that their side had not lost in 20 years.
As it turned out, that nightmare was all too real. In what was the deciding match, GB&I’s Elizabeth Price was two up after 14 holes when, to no one’s great surprise, things suddenly looked to be taking a turn for the better for the USA as Price plowed from bunker to bunker down the 15th. Bernard Darwin, The Times golf correspondent, was fearing the worst. He loathed the thought of having to write yet another article in which he would end up penning “some insincere congratulations to the conquerors.”
At much the same time, a well-known British amateur who had positioned himself beside the 15th green, was heard to mutter: “Only a socket can save us now.”
And that, courtesy of DeMoss, is what they got, with Tom Scott, the editor of the old Golf Illustrated magazine, describing it as “a socket which will be for all time immortal.”
“She shanked it,” cried the watching Americans.
If the British press were kind enough to lay down their tools after the second of the sockets, the same did not necessarily apply to the American scribes. Rhonda Glenn, author of that lovely “Illustrated History of Women’s Golf” made it five: “Every time she shanked it until she had nearly circled the green, winding up not 15 feet away from the site of her original pitch shot. The spectators, meantime, kept a respectful silence as each in turn thought he or she might be the next victim of this hideous affliction.”
Following her spate of shanks, DeMoss was three down with three to play and the result was soon recorded as a 3-and-2 victory for Price and a momentous 5-4 win for GB&I.
It was as well that the players had not been invited back to the clubhouse for a final dinner, which in fact took place at the Marine Hotel in North Berwick. In keeping with tradition, the Curtis Cup was filled with champagne and passed round the room. Yet it was hardly goodwill all round as one of DeMoss’s friends, who was maybe still shaken by the on-course pantomime, refused to participate. According to Rhonda Glen, this prompted Polly Riley, a six-time Curtis Cup player, to lighten the mood by dancing on the table.
The second of the Curtis Cups at Muirfield was similarly not without its dramas. Though the match was in Scotland and there were two or even three Scots who could have been included in the team with no questions asked, the selectors filled the side with mostly English players, one of whom did not have too much on her golfing CV other than the fact that she hit the ball a country mile. The locals were furious, with those who had initially agreed to help with the volunteering having second thoughts before coming to heel.
What followed was a further bout of trouble when the opening ceremony included a display of Scottish Country Dancing, which prompted the Daily Telegraph to question whether there were any Scots on the dancing team.
The Americans won that year to the tune of 9 1/2 – 8 1/2, while any suggestion that the GB&I selectors had messed up did not take long to die down as the English player whose place should probably have gone to a Scot was none other than Dame Laura Davies. She turned professional later that year and, in the space of the next three years, won the Belgian, British and U.S. Opens.
This week, she is back at Muirfield to play in what will be her 21st Women’s Open since the event was accorded “major” status.
Top: Aniela Goldthwaite and Katharine Cairns, captains of the 1952 American and GB&I Curtis Cup teams, respectively. (Copyright Unknown/USGA Museum)
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