When Hee Young Park won last year’s season-ending Titleholders event on the LPGA circuit, she claimed a check for a cool half-million.
That’s a far cry from the first purse for a women’s golf tournament in Augusta. When the Women’s Titleholders was held at the Augusta Country Club from 1937-1966, there were many firsts, including the first offering of money, a $600 purse for competitors.
Bill Bottomley, the former president of the Women’s Titleholders Golf Association, delivered a lecture on the “Titleholders Tournament and the Beginning of the LPGA” on Wednesday at the Augusta Museum of History. The tournament began 75 years ago at Augusta Country Club, and its impact remains as strong as ever.
The Titleholders began in 1937 as a women’s companion to the famed Masters Tournament. Because there were few women’s golfers and women’s tournaments at the time, a field of just six amateurs competed, with Patty Berg winning the first of seven Titleholders titles. By 1940, the field had tripled.
The tournament continued to grow in stature and became a “major,” even awarding a light green jacket to the winner. Many of the women’s professional greats of the day won a Titleholders event – Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Babe Zaharias and Louise Suggs. Even golf legend Bobby Jones came to the awards ceremony for several years to honor the champion.
During the tournament’s run, the LPGA was founded in 1950. As the new tournament grew roots, the Titleholders continued to thrive.
In its final year (1966), the event offered a $10,000 purse, making it the richest event on the women’s circuit. With its purse, though, came the struggles of sustaining funding, and the event died out in Augusta.
“We had a tough time financially,” Bottomley said.
The tournament moved to North Carolina for one year in 1972 and returned to the LPGA for a three-year run in the 1990s.
The tournament name returned to dormancy until LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan revived it last year; Bottomley said he signed over rights to the name to the LPGA.
The Titleholders name is alive and well thanks to a five-year contract with corporate sponsor CME Group. The season-ending tournament, which offers the second-biggest champion’s check ($500,000) on the LPGA Tour, runs through 2015.
“I hope it will continue on,” Bottomley said. “If the present commissioner has his way, it will.”