When you think about Pebble Beach champions, we all have Jack and Tiger and the two Toms — Watson and Kite — at the tip of our tongues.
But the legacy of women’s golf at Pebble Beach is wildly underrated. The earliest women’s champion doubled as a trusted confidant to one of the game’s greatest architects. Those that followed included World Golf Hall of Famers, founding members of the LPGA Tour, and the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.
In the span of a decade, Pebble Beach Golf Links hosted a pair of U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships, plus the third-ever tournament on the newly founded LPGA Tour.
This Mother’s Day, we celebrate the pioneering women’s golf played at Pebble Beach Golf Links — going back to when it was known as the Pebble Beach Course at Del Monte Golf and Country Club:
THE PEBBLE BEACH CHAMPIONSHIP FOR WOMEN (1923-1951)
When Bob Hope filled in as the host of the 1973 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he quipped, “It’s great to be here, to play this benefit for Jack Nicklaus.” (Nicklaus, of course, went on to win.)
That’s what the field must have felt like competing against Marion Hollins, who won the first six Pebble Beach Championships — seven in all — and finished runner-up another six times.
Hollins, who also won the 1921 U.S. Women’s Amateur, even worked with architect Alister MacKenzie in the development of two of his most famous courses — Cypress Point Club and Pasatiempo Golf Club. MacKenzie goes so far as to credit Hollins for the design of the famous 16th hole at Cypress Point.
MacKenzie was planning on making the hole into a short par-4 because it would require a long carry over water as a par-3.
“He said it’s too long, the guys won’t go for it,” said Casey Reamer, the head pro at Cypress Point. “With that, Marion Hollins teed the ball up in the dirt, took her driver, took one long, beautiful swing, and knocked it all the way over and it landed right in the center of where the green is today. She said if a girl goes for it, the guys will go for it.
“And it became a par-3. She was instrumental in that, and hence, one of the greatest par-3s in the world.”
1940 U.S. WOMEN’S AMATEUR
Just 11 years after the USGA came out to Pebble Beach for the Men’s Amateur Championship, it returned for a star-studded Women’s Championship.
This Women’s Amateur would be one of golf’s last great dramas before World War II and the field was straight out of central casting: dancer Ruby Keeler and Vilma Banky, who had been Rudolph Valentino’s silent screen lover. Socialites Grace Amory, Mildred MacArthur and Peggy Chandler. And the poor, fated figures of Marge Ferrie, Marion Miley, Marion Hollins and Barbara Ransom.
But it was Betty Jameson who defended her title to win a second straight U.S. Women’s Amateur, capping a whirlwind year that also included victories at the Trans-Mississippi in St. Louis, and the Women’s Western Amateur in Seattle. The sensational summer was so attention-grabbing it even lured Time Magazine and The New York Times reporters to cover Jameson’s pursuit at Pebble Beach.
Jameson became one of the 13 founding members of the LPGA Tour in 1950, and went on to win three Majors and 13 titles.
1948 U.S. WOMEN’S AMATEUR
A year after Pebble Beach hosted its second Men’s Amateur, the USGA returned once again for the Women’s Championship. Every winner from 1938 through 1947 had turned pro, setting the stage for the birth of a new women’s golf star. A 21-year-old named Grace Lenczyk won, punctuating a spectacular stretch of golf that that included the Connecticut State Amateur, a National Intercollegiate title and two Canadian championships.
THE LPGA TOUR WEATHERVANE CHAMPIONSHIP (1950-1951)
The inaugural LPGA Tour season in 1950 included three Majors and 15 tournaments. The third tournament of the year was held at Pebble Beach, under a unique concept. There were four tournaments in the Weathervane series — all played in consecutive weeks across the country. A champion would be crowned after each 36 holes and earn $750, but scores would also carry over to the next tournament. A 144-hole champion would eventually be crowned, this time with a $5,000 payout — or four times more than what the U.S. Women’s Open winner would take home.
Transcendent talent Babe Didrikson Zaharias won both the Pebble Beach Weathervane Championship and the 144-hole title in 1950 during a historic season that included all three Majors and six victories. Zaharias was an other-worldly athlete who previously won gold medals in the 80-meter hurdles and the javelin at the 1932 Olympics — before picking up golf. The Associated Press ultimately recognized Zaharias as its “Woman Athlete of the 20th Century”. Zaharias is also the only woman to make the cut in a PGA TOUR event. Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote,
She is beyond all belief until you see her perform…Then you finally understand that you are looking at the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination, the world of sport has ever seen.
Zaharias captured two of the four Weathervane titles in 1951, but it was Patty Berg who won at Pebble Beach and claimed the 144-hole championship. Berg, who was a founding member of the LPGA Tour along with Zaharias and Jameson, finished her career with a record 15 Majors.
THE TAYLORMADE PEBBLE BEACH INVITATIONAL
PRESENTED BY DELL EMC (1972-PRESENT)
In the spirit of unique competitions, the Pebble Beach Invitational pits professionals from the PGA, LPGA, Champions and Web.com tours against each other in a fun format the week before Thanksgiving. Each tour plays a different course yardage, with the goal of leaving all pros approximately the same club into each green.
World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster is the only LPGA Tour player to win the event, edging Major champion Mark Brooks in 1990. Inskter is no stranger to Pebble Beach, as she also became the first woman to play in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 1977, and won the 1981 California Women’s Amateur here.