WPGA Tour celebrates 50th anniversary – Inside Golf
IT all started 50 years ago when South Australian businessman and keen golfer Alan Gillott had a light-bulb moment while reading a golf magazine article featuring American female teaching professional Jeanette Rector.
Right then, Alan thought to himself: “Why can’t we have women professional golfers in Australia?”
This inspired 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 to the US on a fact-finding mission and to experience women’s professional golf firsthand.
He met with female teaching professionals from across the country, 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 to Australia buoyed by what he had witnessed the decision had already been made and on August 15, 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.
FLASHBACK: LPGA executive director Alan Gillott pours champagne at the gala opening of women’s professional golf in Australia. Gillott is surrounded by the Australian and international professionals who contested the inaugural tournament at Wollongong Golf Club. From left: Robert Simpson, Jackie Pung, Judy Proctor, Anne Kenny, Laureen Radford, Betty Dalgleish, (Gillott), Jackie Taylor, Penny Pulz, Marilyn Smith and Barbara McHutchinson.
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 said: “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.”
It was a truly prophetic statement from 1972, which thanks to the many generations of women golfers who have supported the tour in Australia, continues to ring true to this very day.
The very first Australian LPGA tournament teed off on March 30, 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 Australians 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, are grateful not only to Alan and Hugh for having the foresight to start the women’s professional tour in Australia, but truly thankful to those 12 brave founding members who made the transition from amateur golf into the unknown realm of professional golf five decades 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 December 2, 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 10 founding members who were inducted as life members of the then ALPG Tour 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 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 as well as 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 thank a number of people who have assisted me with the planning of the 50th anniversary celebration: WPGA Tour life and founding member Laureen Ford, Tiffany Cherry and Therese Magdulski from Golf Australia; Kingston Heath Golf Club general manager Andrew Taylor, the PGA and Golf Australia public affairs and marketing teams.
About Karen Lunn
Karen Lunn is the CEO of the APLG.
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