Women’s National Golf Club

Mrs. Spencer Tracy and Marion Hollins, dressed for polo at Pasatiempo.

The winner of the 1921 U.S. Women’s Amateur was Marion Hollins, who improved the qualifying record by four strokes and won the final, 5 and 4, over Alexa Sterling, who had won the previous three years. In 1932, Hollins served as the playing captain of the victorious American team in the first Curtis Cup Match, which was played at the Wentworth Club, in England. She was also an expert horsewoman and an occasional automobile racer. Samuel F. B. Morse, the developer of Pebble Beach and most of the rest of the Monterey Peninsula, called her “the only good woman polo player I have ever known.”

In the early twenties, Morse hired Hollins as his athletic director. The idea of building a course at Cypress Point was largely hers, and it was she who secured the original option on that incomparable piece of property and organized the club.  Several years before, Morse had hired Seth Raynor to build several courses. After Raynor died, of pneumonia, in 1926, it was Hollins who suggested Alister MacKenzie as his replacement for Cypress Point. She worked closely with him and was credited by him with the design of that course’s most famous hole, the sixteenth, with its unforgettable tee shot over Monterey Bay.

“To give honor where it is due,” MacKenzie wrote in The Spirit of St. Andrews, “I must say that, except for minor details in construction, I was in no way responsible for the hole. It was largely due to the vision of Miss Marion Hollins (the founder of Cypress Point). It was suggested to her by the late Seth Raynor that it was a pity the carry over the ocean was too long to enable a hole to be designed on this particular site. Miss Hollins said she did not think it was an impossible carry. She then teed up a ball and drove to the middle of the site for the suggested green.”

In the late 1920s, Hollins was the creator of Pasatiempo, in Santa Cruz, California, a golf and real-estate development that served as a direct model for Augusta National. (Hollins and Bobby Jones played an exhibition at Pasatiempo in 1929, on the club’s opening day, after Jones had washed out of the U.S. Amateur, and they were accompanied that day by MacKenzie, who had designed the course.)

In 1923, Hollins founded Women’s National Golf and Tennis Club, in Glen Head, Long Island. The club that was financed entirely by women—among them Eleanor Mellon and the wives of Harold Pratt, Howard Whitney, and Childs Frick—and did not permit men as members. The course was designed by Devereux Emmet, with help from Seth Raynor, Charles Blair Macdonald, and Hollins herself, who gathered ideas for the layout during a lengthy research trip she took through Great Britain. The clubhouse, an old farmhouse, was moved from its original site, then remodeled and significantly expanded by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, & White. The club’s head professional was the legendary teacher Ernest Jones, whom Hollins had discovered in England in 1922 and brought to the United States. (Jones later divided his time between Women’s National and Pasatiempo. He wrote several classic instruction books, including Swinging Into Golf, which he dedicated to Hollins, and Swing the Clubhead.) 

Men could play Women’s National only as their guests. David Outerbridge, in a biography of Hollins called Champion in a Man’s World, writes, “The club opened to great success, and it became a center of play for the champion women golfers of the day, as well as good and average golfers, wives of members of Meadow Brook, Piping Rock, the Creek, and other nearby clubs; and Marion, of course, when she was east.” Well into the 1930s, Women’s National was far a more glamorous and economically vibrant operation than was Augusta National, which actually declared bankruptcy in 1935 and didn’t have even a minimally usable clubhouse until shortly before the war. Women’s National, at first, also had far more luck at attracting members than Augusta National did, even though its initiation fees were triple the fees at Augusta, and its annual dues were more than double. It survived as an all-female club for eighteen years, before being done in by the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the women themselves, who, fearing hard times ahead as the war began, elected to merge with the men of the nearby Creek Club. Today, what’s left of Women’s National belongs to Glen Head Country Club.

Hollins was gravely injured in an automobile accident in 1937. (A drunk driver crashed into her convertible as she was driving home to take care of a sick pet parrot, and she suffered a severe concussion that was not treated properly.) Within a year, she was deep in debt. She vowed that she would compete again as a golfer, and she did, in 1940, after a long and arduous recovery. But she died just four years after that, apparently of illnesses unrelated to her accident, in a rest home in Pacific Grove. She was fifty-one.

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