Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 course has been home to more single golf championships than any site in America. It is one reason why Pinehurst has long been hailed as the “Cradle of American Golf.”
But of all those championships, only one is most emblematic of not just Pinehurst’s storied and lengthy history in the game but its continued relevance today.
No, it is not the U.S. Open. Not even for what the USGA has dubbed an “anchor site” for the national championship.
And it is not the North & South Amateur, which is considered the longest consecutively running national amateur championship in the United States and boasts such notable past champions as Francis Ouimet and Jack Nicklaus, among many others over its 123 straight years of competitions.
It is the Women’s North & South Amateur.
At no point in any era of its 121 consecutive years has the Women’s North & South not been a snapshot of the world’s best female golfers. Before there was even a notion of a professional women’s tour, there was the Women’s North & South, a true major amateur championship, played faithfully in the North Carolina Sandhills every year since its first gathering in 1903, predating even architect Donald Ross’ famed Pinehurst No. 2 by four years.
That pedigree continues this week with the 121st Women’s North & South, which began Tuesday with 36 holes of stroke play over two days on courses Nos. 2 and 4 before three days of match play on No. 2, ending Saturday. (For results, click here.)
Many of the LPGA Tour’s famed 13 founders competed in Pinehurst, and three of them – Opal Hill, Louise Suggs and Babe Zaharias – were North & South champions. By the 1920s, Glenna Collett had emerged as the dominant player. Nattily attired in a cloche hat accenting her long skirts and sleeves, Collett reigned over Pinehurst’s fairways and sand greens, winning the Women’s North & South six times from 1922 to 1930 and rising to fame as the world’s most accomplished female golfer.
“She had a beautiful swing,” said George Dunlap, a contemporary of Collett’s who won the men’s North & South Amateur a record seven times. “She made the game simple. Her theory was, you swing the clubhead, and I think that was just about it. But in her time, she was the top woman golfer, no question about it.”
Before North Carolinian Estelle Lawson Page conquered the latter half of the 1930s and early 1940s with her own record seven North & South wins, the women’s game was owned with panache and flair … by a sportswriter.
Maureen Orcutt, then the only female sportswriter on staff of The New York Times – there were 50 men – won three straight North & South crowns, in 1931-33, establishing herself as “The Duchess” of the women’s game. She played abroad often, facing off with Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones in serious golf exhibitions.
“I couldn’t believe I won the North & South. It gave me a name for myself,” Orcutt, who died at age 99 in 2007, said in a 1990s interview that is featured in the guest rooms around Pinehurst Resort. “It gave me a name in the golfing world. I was a young, fresh kid.
“The top women golfers in the ’30s and ’40s were Virginia Van Wie, Glenna Collett, Helen Hicks and myself, and we were known as ‘The Big Four.’ And we had a lot of fun together. It wasn’t like you see on the TV today where they’re very tight and tense. We had a lot of fun playing together and fighting each other. It was really great.”
In the early 1960s, Orcutt returned to Pinehurst to win three of the first five Senior Women’s North & South Amateurs.
Before she was the matriarch of Pine Needles, Peggy Kirk Bell was an accomplished player in the late 1940s. She arrived in Pinehurst in 1947 to compete in her first Women’s North & South and begin her ascent into the game.
Only, she didn’t have an invitation.
“I’d heard of Pinehurst as the ‘Golf Capital of the World,’” she recalled. “And I thought, someday I’m going to go there. And when I heard of this tournament here, I jumped in my car, came up to Pinehurst, walked into the clubhouse and said, ‘I came to play in the North-South.’ And this gentleman said, ‘Do you have an invitation?’ I almost fainted. I said, ‘No, excuse me,’ and started to run out the door, I was so embarrassed.”
The gentleman managed to stop Kirk from fleeing, and moments later Pinehurst Resort president Richard Tufts emerged from a back room. “He introduced himself and said, ‘I’d like to extend you an invitation to play in the North & South.’ So, I had a great feeling for Pinehurst from that day on.”
Kirk did not win in 1947 – her dear friend Zaharias did – but two years later, Kirk prevailed. Her Pinehurst legend was born.
In the following decades, more and more of golf’s greatest women won in Pinehurst, including Hollis Stacy (1970), a future three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member. Alice Dye, who teamed with her husband, Pete, as one of golf’s foremost architects, won in 1968. Carol Semple Thompson, herself a WGHOF inductee, won the Women’s North & South twice, doing so 11 years apart, in 1976 and 1987.
But even with many of the game’s giants leaving their footprints behind in Pinehurst’s sandscape and wiregrass, perhaps no era has proved to be so successful in Women’s North & South history as that of the past two decades.
As the amateur game has changed, so too has the Women’s North & South. Today, it is primarily a championship featuring many of the top college and junior players in the world. Thus, it has become something of a rite of passage on the way to the tour that past Women’s North & South Amateur champions helped found.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been as happy for winning a tournament as I am for this one, especially for everything I’ve been through in my life, career-wise, golf-wise. … It just means so much.” — Emilia Migliaccio
At the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol last month, seven Women’s North & South champions were in the field, including such recent winners as Gina Kim (2021) and Gabriela Ruffels (2019). Six champions were in the U.S. Women’s Open field last week at Pebble Beach. Since 2003, when Brittany Lang prevailed, 14 past Women’s North & South titleholders have been seen playing the LPGA Tour, including Yani Tseng (2005), Morgan Pressel (2004), Danielle Kang (2011), Austin Ernst (2012), Ally Ewing (2013) and Alison Lee (2014).
When the Women’s North & South returned to Pinehurst No. 2 this year, the focus remained on the amateur game. Defending champion Emilia Migliaccio, whose Wake Forest team won the recent NCAA Division I women’s golf title, has said she will not turn professional and instead continue to compete as an amateur. Her Putter Boy trophy count stands at one. There could very well be more in the future.
“This means everything,” Migliaccio said a year ago. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as happy for winning a tournament as I am for this one, especially for everything I’ve been through in my life, career-wise, golf-wise. … It just means so much.”
So much, and it has for so long.
Top: Glenna Collett Vare won the Women’s North & South six times from 1922 to 1930. Photo: Courtesy USGA
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