In a city known as the world’s greatest golf stage, a college coed competed for her own Augusta title in 1966.
Barbara Anne Harris, then 20, sang I Feel Pretty from West Side Story for the talent portion, won the swimsuit competition and was crowned “Miss Golf 1966.”
Originally from Greenville, S.C., Harris, now Barbara Anne Harris Sorkin, competed against 11 other young women from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina in the final Miss Golf beauty pageant. Between 40 and 50 contestants competed in the inaugural event in 1957.
Her visit to Augusta to compete in the pageant was Harris’ first visit to the city. In a phone interview from her winter home in a golf retirement community in West Palm Beach, Fla., she remembered the azaleas, a “festive spirit” and a well-organized event.
“I felt a congeniality among the judges. They made all the girls feel warm and welcomed,” she said.
In the early years of the pageant, contestants rode atop floats or in convertibles in a parade in downtown Augusta, according to The Augusta Chronicle archives. The competition was held at the Imperial Theatre, and the winner received her crown at a large dance called the Golf Ball, held at the Bon Air Hotel and later Bell Auditorium.
By the 1960s, Miss Golf, sponsored by the Augusta Jaycees, was well known among young women competing in the pageant circuit, Sorkin said. Many women, including Harris, competed in pageants to pay their way through college.
The pageant was similar to popular pageants held today, including an evening gown portion and an interview, Sorkin said. Before the interview, she broke out with fever blisters around her mouth, thinking her chances of winning were ruined.
The summer after she captured the Miss Golf title, she was crowned Miss South Carolina and went on to compete in the Miss America Pageant.
Miss Golf was lavished with prizes, including luggage, jewelry, clothing and a Florida vacation. Sorkin recounted winning a “very tall” circular tiara and a gold trophy that she still has in her home. She never cashed in a gift certificate for a pair of FootJoy golf shoes valued at $37.95.
Most memorable, however, was meeting golfers, including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. She walked the Augusta National Golf Club the day after the contest and stood near Nicklaus, the Masters Tournament winner, during the green jacket ceremony, where she collected autographs.
“Even if they don’t remember me, I’ll always remember them,” she said in an April 8, 1966, report in The Chronicle.