Women who golfed: a look back at Club’s early years

| August 1, 2019 | 1 Comment

JOYCE WETHERED, shown here with the 1929 British Women’s Amateur Championship Cup, played at Wilshire in an exhibition match in 1937.

This is the first in a three-part series on the Wilshire Country Club turning 100 this year. A gala celebration for members will take place in September. This first part in the series, in the spirit of our Women of Larchmont issue, looks at the history of women within the club.

The year is 1919. World War I has ended, women have won their right to vote, and the country has declared war on alcohol. And a small group of Los Angeles businessmen has gathered on the oil fields in what is now the Hancock Park community, with a vision: They believe they’re seeing the future. And what do they see but a golf course.

These oil fields belong to G. Allan Hancock, oil tycoon. Looking out on the rolling hills of Hancock’s property, the businessmen saw the opportunity to open, in what would become the center of a growing city, their very own golf club, like the ones starting to crop up elsewhere in Los Angeles. Hancock, who had once suffered a nervous breakdown which only golf had been able to cure, readily agreed to rent them the land. And thus, the Wilshire Country Club (WCC) was born.

The club turns 100 this year and has continued to grow in membership and reputation, becoming a staple for Los Angeles golfers (and non-golfers alike, because the club admits non-golfing “social members”). To celebrate this centennial milestone, the club published “The History of Wilshire Country Club: A Centennial Celebration.” Written by member Douglas N. Dickey, the coffee table book is a 296-page love letter to the club, full of beautiful archival photographs commemorating its history and the members who have helped the club create its legacy.

Women who golf

At first glance, the club can look like it was founded by men for men to play golf, drink and avoid their wives. And this assessment wouldn’t be completely wrong. Golf is, after all, historically a man’s game. However, in a chapter titled “Women of Wilshire,” Dickey aims to illuminate the ways in which women have made their mark on the club.

WILSHIRE LADIES who participated in 1992 Southern California Golf Association team-play matches.

Memberships were available to women from the club’s founding, but the women initially had no voting rights and no financial interest in the property. But over time, as was slowly occurring nationwide, women began to accumulate the same rights as their male counterparts and became a fixture in the club’s culture.

The club hosts three annual women’s tournaments that have become famous throughout California. The first is Wilshire Women’s Club Championship. Of the women who have taken part in this tournament, the most successful has been Donna Travis, who became a club member in 1971 and proceeded to win the championship an astounding 15 times. When Travis ran out of competition at the club, she invited her friend Millie Stanley to join, and the two passed the championship cup between them for the next 13 years.

The club’s second annual tournament is the Lady Macbeth, named for the wife of the golf course architect, which pulls the top women’s duos throughout Southern California. The third is the Sato Cup, which dates back to the 1960s and is named for the silver cup that serves as its trophy, a gift from former Japanese Foreign Minister Naotake Sato during a visit to the club.

In the last two years, Wilshire also has hosted the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) players. In 2018, the LGPA tournament was titled the Hugel-JTVC LA Open, and it became the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open in 2019. Huge events that featured 144 of the world’s best women golfers each year and $1.5 million in prize money, the tournament weeks were popular with members and the public. The LPGA will be back in 2020.

The centennial history book notes that of the 100 best women players in the world, 93 were at Wilshire for the 2018 Open. That year’s winner was 23-year-old Moriya Jutanugarn of Bangkok, Thailand. 2019’s winner was Australia’s Minjee Lee.

The club has had many other female pros and non-pros play its 18-hole course over the years. Some of the most notable: Joyce Wethered, commonly hailed as one of the best women golfers of all time; Hollis Stacy, who won three US Women’s Opens; and actress Katherine Hepburn, who often would surreptitiously play the course with Howard Hughes. They lived together in the Roland Coate-designed house on Muirfield Road adjacent to the club’s 8th green.

MILLIE STANLEY, 1995 Women’s Club Champion, receives roses from club president T.Y. Hayes.

As the book notes, the club has never been known for churning out professional players. This doesn’t seem to bother its members, since they’re much happier being a club known for its sense of community. The club’s Women’s Association, for example, has been a fixture of the club since its early days, and it has kept its own well-recorded history of the club. Today, the Association has about 150 members who represent the club’s women golfers. Also, for a long time, the club had a group called the Brieferettes, women who supported the club in its dining rooms and at its bridge tables. Things like these are what make the club so special to its members, allowing the club to keep thriving after 100 years of play.

Next month

In the September issue, the Larchmont Chronicle will flesh out the founding years and early growth of WCC. In October, the later years and 2019 centennial celebration events will be featured.

By Sidney Gubernick, who will be a sophomore at St. John’s College, Annapolis, Md. this fall. The Chronicle thanks WCC for use of photographs from its centennial history book.

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