Annie Fricke took up golf in the 1920s to improve her handicap. During the war, though, she sent a message across the Atlantic: play for our country
Born in New York in 1887, Annie Fricke played golf when she was in her late 20s, aiming to improve her ‘poor’ handicap of 8. She soon discovered that winning a handicap increase was even easier than she had thought. She signed up for the National Golf League and soon made history, becoming the first female golfer to win the Metropolitan and US Women’s Tour in 1928, and later of the 10-woman International Women’s Tour that started in 1930. She finished second in both the Metropolitan and International competitions in 1932.
Following the deaths of her father and husband, she started the American Women’s Golf Association to promote the sport among women. Women, she said, “tend to stick to themselves, to their sports.”
By 1921, GARA reported revenues of $170,000, more than $2m in inflation-adjusted dollars. In 1926, GARA sent several clubs to Australian troops in the war to encourage them to take up golf, and Australian women soon followed suit.
Though some Australian companies owned by Fricke donated to the cause, foreign governments usually contributed through states, car companies and the Royal Australian Golf Club. Western New Zealand and Britain sent coaches and the Australian clubs offered prize money to any women who played.
When the war ended in 1945, women began competing in the International Women’s Professional Golf Tour, established at the end of 1945. Canada and Mexico won the first championships, though the LPGA as we know it only took off in 1949.
Golf courses were usually handicapped facilities, especially at the beginning. Today a woman can play on a course that was built entirely with women’s golf in mind. The Federal Amateur Golf Course is designed specifically for women and two in Canada have been built to welcome women.
Women’s golf quickly progressed to be recognised as one of the fastest growing professional sports. In 1923, Fricke was inducted into the Women’s Professional Golf Association Hall of Fame and became the first ever inductee from New York and the first ever woman to win a pro tournament – the United States Women’s Open championship. She received a medal and commemorative pin, which were framed and hung in her office at Bronxville Country Club. In 1962, the The White House made a presentation to a women’s golf reception for President John F Kennedy, presenting her with a medallion as well as a photo of the White House.
For a person who changed the face of women’s golf, Fricke was hardly a household name until her death in 1964. Golf has changed immensely since she played, especially in the world of business and politics. Those around her must have believed she was one of the greatest ever.