A Capsule History of the LPGA in Canada
After WW2 Patty Berg gathered her pre-War golfing compatriots together for the purpose of forming a woman’s professional golf tour. This group included The Babe Zaharias, Betty Jamieson, Betty Hicks, and Hope Seignious, the daughter of a prominent cotton merchant. Helen and her father offered to provide the initial funding for a nation wide tour. They incorporated the fledgling group under the name the Woman’s Professional Golf Association (WPGA) Mr. Seignious offered to provide the purse money for a golf tour until the association gained enough sponsorships to fund the tour independently.
Hope Seignious Executive Secreatary Women’s Professional Golf Association
At this time the Spokane Athletic Round Table (ART) sought to bring top flight golfers to the Spokane region. The ART actively in sponsored prominent sporting events since the 1920’s in Spokane. Because their initial venture into golf by sponsoring the 1941 Men’s National Public Links proved so successful, they wanted to bring professional golf to Spokane after the War. The group hosted the 1944 PGA Championship, the 1945 Esmeralda Open, the first National Junior Championship, and the 1946 first National Women’s National Open.
To make the offer attractive to the WPGA , the ART offered to finance all expenses while in Spokane for all the players participating in the the first US Woman’s Open Championship. The list of stars included: Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, and Helen Detweiler. At this time a woman could not earn a decent living playing professional golf. The initial tournaments for the WPGA tour relied heavily on the local top amateur women playing in the event. This policy attracted crowds to see the local amateurs plus the women professionals. In the case of Spokane, Betty Jean Rucker, the area’s top amateur female golfer, pulled the upset of the tournament in the third round by defeating the Babe, probably the top-ranking US woman’s player at this time. Although Patty Berg, injured her back during the opening round in the 36-hole semi-final match, she managed to defeat BJ on the final hole.
From 1946 – 1949 Hope and her father struggled to keep the WPGA tour afloat. Unfortunately no major sponsor stepped forward to provide the struggling group with significant financial support. Patty Berg, the chief woman’s player on Wilson’s Advisory Board, contacted the owner L.B. Icely, the owner of the Wilson Sporting Goods Company, for assistance. In the summer 1949 L.B. contacted Fred Corcoran with a proposal. In the 1930’s Fred created the PGA Tour for the male professional golfers. Would he do the same for the women professionals? Corcoran assumed his duties in the fall of 1949. Icely believed he could convince other golf manufacturing companies to join him to finance the women’s tour. Wilson actually financed the initial years alone.
Fred Corcoran Founder of the PGA Men’s Tour and the LPGA Women’s Tour
Immediately Fred foresaw the need for a new professional woman’s golf association. The Seignious’ would not sell the charter for the WPGA to the new group. Fred contacted his friend, a New York lawyer for advice. His friend responded quickly. “You do not have any problem. Just change the name to the Ladies Professional Golfer’s Association.” The name LPGA remains today.
The WPGA held three (1946 – 1948) US Women’s Open Championships. Fred informed his new organization that his chief expertise rested in the promotion of woman’s golf not in running tournaments. Fred began the process to convince the United States Golf Association to operate the US Woman’s Open. He argued the USGA managed the men’s and women’s amateur championships and the Men’s US Open. Therefore, naturally the national body should oversee the women’s open. In 1953 the USGA agreed to assume the operation of the Women’s Championship Open.
Through a common acquaintance Fred learned Alvin Handmacher, the owner of the Weathervane Apparel Company, wanted to associate his company with the LPGA tour. But he did not want to just sponsor a single women’s tour event like most supporters. He wanted something different. Corcoran developed a unique series of 4 – 36 -hole local tour events played over several months across the country. The low 144- hole score won the overall championship. Hence the LPGA from 1950 – 1953 operated a series of Weathervane tournaments across the country. Players received bonuses from Weathervane for low scores, for winning the local events, and $10,000 for being the overall champion.
Weathervane provided the chief financial assistance to enable the LPGA Tour to remain in business while the popularity of the women professionals gained a foothold amongst the golfing public. Corcoran ran the LPGA for five years. Under his leadership the LPGA definitely established a base that placed it in a position to operate and expand over the next decades. Lenny Wirtz, who became known as the “Little Dictator” replaced him.
In 1965 the LPGA conducted 30 events throughout the US for a purse of over $300,000. As women’s professional golf gained popularity it would only be a matter of time when the women’s tour would expand beyond the US border. It is unclear why Gordon Thompson, the President of Supertest Petroleum Products would entertain the idea to bring the LPGA Tour to Canada, specifically his course Sunningdale GC in London ON.
Thompson hired Stanley Thompson (no relation) in 1932 to transform his farmland into a first – class golf course. The first nine holes opened in 1934. In the early 1950’s Supertest Petroleum operated gas stations throughout Ontario and Quebec. To market their operations the company sponsored Miss Supertest in the hydroplane races throughout eastern Canada and the US. Perhaps the company expected to use the LPGA Tour as a marketing tool for their company. For the first two years Thompson hosted the LPGA stars at his course. Then the Supertest Ladies open moved to Bayview in Toronto for another two years.
In the late 1960’s Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus dominated the men’s tour. The same can be said for the LPGA Tour. Carol Mann, Kathy Whitworth, and Mickey Wright dominated the women’s tour. Specifically for the seven events in Canada from 1966 – 1969 Carol Mann won five.
The Willow Park GC in Calgary annually held an $18,000 Pro – Am as one of the stops on the Canadian Men’s Tour. In 1968 the club decided to host the first LPGA event to be held in western Canada. The Willow Park Ladies Invitational sponsored by the Kelwood Corporation of Calgary sponsored the Willow Park Ladies Invitational. . The company offered $16,500 in prize with $2250 for the winner. Leonard Wirtz, the Little Dictator, declared the facility “is just what we are looking for. I like everything I’ve seen about the course and the facilities. I recommend the nines be reversed making holes seven, eight, nine, fine finishing holes. They’re great holes.” Mrs. Bolger, the tournament chair, believed this purse would attract at least the top ten best women golfers in the world to Willow Park. Besides the LPGA players she invited the top women amateurs in western Canada including Marilyn Palmer and Barb Turnbull to participate. Like most LPGA events the organizers placed an emphasis on junior girls to become involved in golf. Carol Mann showed her dominance on the LPGA Tour. By winning the event she established a season record $33,810. A new record with a month of tournaments still to play.
Lenny Wirtz “The Little Dictator” who ran the LPGA Tour
In 1969 Wirtz expanded the Canadian portion of the LPGA Tour to three events: Supertest at Bayhill in Toronto, the Glendale GC in Winnipeg and the Molson’s Ladies Open at Shaughnessy G&CC in Vancouver. The mini Canada Tour began in Toronto at the Bayview course July 10 – 13. Sandra Haynie broke Carol Mann’s three consecutive win streak. The next stop took the tour to the Glendale club in Winnipeg. Again Carol showed her dominance playing in Canada. She defeated unknown Jan Ferrais. With the next week off many of the tour players decided to drive to Vancouver through the Rockies. During that week the Rockies experienced a strange blizzard stranding some tour players for a few days.
The Molsos’n Canadian Women’s LPGA Tour Event logo 1969
The Shaughnessy Golf club planned for the arrival of the LPGA stars for many months. The club made few changes to the course the 1966 Canadian Open course. Wirzt shortened the yardage for the women from 6500 yards for the PGA pros to 6100 yards for the LPGA players. The Shaughnessy event had the added perk that that the event would be the final qualifying event for the contestants to play in the world Series of Golf scheduled for September. During his tour of the course Wirtz declared; “Shaughnessy was the second most difficult course the LPGA players had ever played.” After that bold statement the “local golfing experts” attempted to predict the winning score. Many recalled Don Massingale did not break 70 but still won the event. The PGA pros found Shaughnessy very long with the most difficult greens they had experienced.
Because Molson’s offered the highest total prize money ($25,500) ever offered in Canada, all the top LPGA professionals attended the event. A strange event occurred at the outset of tournament week. The weather turned unusually cold. The local private clubs in the lower mainland still operated under an archaic rule. “Women could not wear slacks on the golf course.” To overcome this rule, Jane Blalock and her compatriots wore rain pants under their miniskirts.
The crowds hoped Sandra Post, the three time Canadian Junior Champion, the 1964 Ontario women’s amateur champion, the 1968 LPGA Championship winner, and the 1968 LPGA Rookie of the Year, could win an LPGA event on home soil. Sandra finished tied for second with Kathy Whitworth three strokes back of who else but Carol Mann.. Her winning score 70-70-72 212 4 under par. Only three players shot scores in the 60’s – Judy Rankin (69), Sherry Wilder(68) and Canada’s Sandra Post(67).
Carol Mann winner of the Shaughnessy Women’s event
Many years later Carol Mann described her Shaughnessy victory. “They talk about a course or different shots fitting the player’s eye. I felt very comfortable at Shaughnessy. I never felt at odds with the angles, the architecture or the design features – in spite of the so-called difficulty of the course. I was in the zone. I think the environment helped me achieve that zone state when I won in 1969. I hit more quality shots than in any tournament I’ve ever played. I always held that week of golf as my standard for future events.”
Sandra Post Canada’s first female LPGA professional 2nd at Shaughnessy
Sandra Post recalled her week experience at Shaughnessy. “Shaughnessy was magnificent. The club did a wonderful job at presenting the event. Enthusiasm was great. The galleries were great. I remember having good feelings because Shaughnessy represented our country well. You always want your country to present in the best light, and it held up to the test. I was very proud. The course looked beautiful the way it sits on the water, and I never get over the magnificent trees there.
Like all LPGA events, the organizing committee attempted to use the LPGA players to attract young girls to golf. Prior to 1970 only minuscule numbers of junior girls participated in the junior events at the local clubs. Did the 1969 LPGA event in Vancouver cause a spike in numbers? A review of the CLGA annual reports for the period 1970 – 1975 indicate the numbers significantly increased. For example Point Grey G&CC had the largest increase of any club with the number rising from six to fifty over this period.
At the close of 1969, the LPGA Executive, discontinued their relationship with Lennie Wirtz. Over the next three years the number of tour events decreased. Bud Erickson, Wirtz’s replacement turned the tide in 1973. In Canada another rising star, Jocelyne Bourassa joined her compatriot Sandra Post, on the LPGA Tour. Jocelyne’s financial backer, J. Louis Levesque, decided to sponsor a LPGA Tour event in Montreal at the City of Montreal GC. He wanted a first class tournament offering the largest purse ($50,000) ever in Canada. That year only the S&H Green Stamp Classic and the Sealy-Faberge Classic offered $100,000 purses. Mr. Levesque also established the Canadian women’s Professional Golf Association under the leadership of Luc Brien. Brien oversaw the Levesque’s master plan to have a regular LPGA stop in Canada that represented the Woman’s National Open Championship.
Luc Bien and Donna Caponi
All Quebecers hoped their protégé Jocelyne could win a LPGA championship on home soil in front of her home town crowd. With all the pressure this presented the odds appeared very slim. Jocelyne joined the LPGA tour in 1972 after a stellar amateur career. Perhaps Vancouverites will recall Jocelyne’s final eighteen hole battle with Canada’s number one female golfer over the Capilano’s fairways in 1971. On the eighteenth hole Jocelyn drove her tee shot far enough to play her second shot to the eighteenth green. Because of this long driving ability Jocelyne won the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship on the final hole over Marlene Streit. Jocelyne represented Canada on the 1971 world amateur team then turned professional.
After a disappointing start on the LPGA Tour in 1973 Jocelyne skipped the event prior to the Montreal stop to practice on the City course. Entering the final eighteen holes Jocelyne’s (68-73) gave her a one stroke lead over Judy Rankin. Everything appeared lost when Jocelyne gave up the lead with two bogeys on the front nine. 4,000 loyal fans prayed she could recover to regain the lead over the final nine holes. She did not disappoint them. In fact she ended the 54 holes tied with Kathy Whitworth and Sandra Haynie. In the playoff starting on the 16th hole all players par 16. Whitworth bogeyed the 17th to drop out. On the 18th Haynie put her second in the lake to seal the victory for Jocelyn.
Jocelyne’s 1973 Canadian Women’s Championship in Montreal
Jocelyne credited “Her caddie, Mario, for his perception and knowledge reading the greens as playing the major role in her victory. We just picked imaginary spots on the green to assist in understanding the breaks.” Jocelyne remarked about her incredible victory on home soil. “I said on Sunday I would have to be super to win against these girls I am happy that my first win came at home before all these wonderful fans.” This win ranked Jocelyne alongside Pat Fletcher as the last Canadians to win their national championship for many years. In the case of Jocelyne’s win Brooke Henderson duplicated the accomplishment in 2018 at the Wascana CC in Regina, Saskatchewan. In the case of Pat fletcher Nick Taylor finally broke the jinx this 2023 at Oakdale G&CC.
In 1974 Luc Bien convinced the Imperial Tobacco company to add the LPGA tour event to their list of golf tournaments the company sponsored. For the next decade the event operated under the name the Peter Jackson Ladies Classic. The Classic alternated between courses in Ontario and Quebec. St George’s in Toronto became the permanent host of the event in the even years. In 1986 The Board of Trade CC in Toronto hosted the event. Luc Bien retired from his position of tournament chair in 1980. Because of nagging leg injuries Jocelyne’s pro career ended around this time. She replaced Luc to become the face of women’s professional golf in Canada overseeing the duMaurier Classic from 1980 – 2000 and the LPGA BMO Canadian Women’s open 2001 – 2003.
In 1976 a limited field of eight senior male golfers paired with eight LPGA players at the Victoria GC. In 1973 the LPGA expanded the regular tour to include Portland OR as a fall stop. The women members at Victoria volunteered to host a special limited event. The Scott Paper Company offered to sponsor the $45,000 event. On the Monday and Tuesday prior to the Portland stop eight LPGA players including: Carol Mann, Donna Caponi, Jan Stephenson, Laura Baugh, Pat Bradley, Mary Porter, Sandra Post, and jocelyne Bourassa paired with eight senior men including Art Wall, Sam Snead, Julius Boros, Stan Leonard, Tommy bolt, Doug Sanders, Mike Souchak, and Bob Rosburg . Art Wall and partner Pat Bradley won with a combined score of 279. Each players’ combined 36 hole score determined the winner.
Art Wall and Pat Bradley won the 1976 $5,000 Lady Scott at teh Victoria GC
Strangely the LPGA Tour never returned to BC or the west until 1988 at the Vancouver GC. The $500,000 duMaurier Classic attracted all the top stars. After suffering a series of injuries over the previous years, Sally Little arrived with few expectations. Injuries had plagued her career over the previous six years. Her second round course record 65, the lowest round for the tournament, setup the possibility she could win. The crowd favourite Laura Davies with her incredible drives placed pressure on Little in the final round. All week the crowds admired her shot making and finesse against the power game of Davies. The decision rested upon Little’s 25-foot putt on the 18th hole. “I felt good over the putt and sure that I could make it. You have to win it now. You don’t want to go to a playoff. When it dropped it was so exciting and fantastic. I have never wanted a win so much to win. I never had the feeling I was blowing it, but I was becoming nervous not having won for such a long time. Did it finally happen or is this a dream?”
Sally Little after dropping her winning putt at the Vancouver GC. in 1988
Because of the success of the 1988 event , the Imperial Tobacco Company returned to the Vancouver GC in 1991 with the $700,000 duMaurier Classic. . Like Sally Little, Nancy Scranton arrived with no expectations. This had been a horrendous year to this point. . Like Little she setup her victory with a course record 65 on Saturday. As the final round began Scranton had the feeling she would be fortunate to finish third. But, commencing on the 12th hole she exploded. She birdied #12, on #13 she holed a 110 yard wedge for an eagle, then birdied the 14th, 17th, and 18th to post a new course record 64. Her playing partner Debbie Massey described the last seven hole. “That was probably the most magnificent seven holes I’ve ever seen.
Because Pumpkin Ridge near Portland OR hosted the 2003 US Women’s Open, the RCGA decided to schedule their Canadian Women’s Open at Point Grey the following week. This schedule produced an extremely strong field of Canadian, US, and international stars playing in a high caliber field. Clearly Anika Shorenstein’s appearance made her the instant crowd favourite. Ten years earlier she definitely won over the crowd at the World Women’s Team Championship at Marine Drive. The field attracted the defending champion Meg Melon. Could a rising Asian star upset the veterans in the field?
“Point Grey was in exceptional condition and provided a challenging but fair venue for the LPGA stars.” Unfortunately the flu like bug that hit Anika on the last day of the US Women’s Open persisted in Vancouver. But to her credit the star teed it up on the first day. Unfortunately on the 7th hole on the second day she could no longer participate. The winner did not emerge from the list of international stars until the final two holes of the event.
Veteran Beth Daniel played steady golf scoring four rounds in the 60’s, the only player to accomplish this feat. (69, 69, 69, 68). At the 17th “a nifty little 143 yard par 3 Daniel struck for a birdie. Inkster settled for a par. And the two veterans walked to the 18th tee tied.” The drama began to build when Inkster placed her 108 yard second shot ten feet from the cup. Daniel placed her second at six feet.” Daniel had 32 career wins coming into the tournament, but had not experienced success since 1995. Her aim of the week was to be the oldest LPGA player to win on the tour. She felt her opportunity to accomplish her goal was running out. Inkster missed her putt, but Daniel calmly knocked the putt home. “I’ve always believed in myself. A lot of people said I would never win on the Tour again. This win makes it really sweet. Longevity says a lot and I’m proud of myself.”
For BC golfers this event turned out to be Dawn Coe Jones’ swan song. On Tuesday the RCGA inducted her into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. She finished low Canadian; but more important her son Jimmy Jr., a hockey player, visited a golf course for the first time. He had never seen his mom compete in a LPGA event.
After serving the Canadian Women’s Open for over two decades, Jocelyne decided to step down. She elevated the event to a major tournament status during her stewardship. Her dedication and outgoing personality contributed to the success of the event. She showed the world women could compete on a scale equal to the men. She contributed much to women’s golf in Canada, but her legacy could be the creation of the pro series events across Canada. These events enabled the top women amateurs and professionals to earn spots in the Canadian Women’s Open annually.
A decade passed before the Women’s Open returned to the Vancouver area. The Vancouver GC hosted the in 2012 and 2015. Lydia Ko, first as an amateur and second time as a professional won the event. Her 2012 victory will always be part of the Vancouver Golf Club’s history. On August 26th, 2012 Lydia became the youngest LPGA winner. She accomplished the feat as an amateur. Two weeks earlier she won the USGA Women’s Amateur title. The last time an amateur won a LPGA event was Seattle’s JoAnne Carner in 1969. At the outset her goal was simply to make the cut. Her mother asked the caddie master to provide her with an older caddy who only wanted to carry for a couple of rounds. The 15 year old methodically rattled off rounds of 4-under, 4-under, even par, and finally a round of 6-under. She showed the veteran LPGA stars how easy the game could be with no pressure.
Lydia Ko with the Canadian Women’s Open trophy
Lydia won the championship twice as an amateur and once as a professional
When asked about her accomplishment she responded. ‘When I turn pro I’ll have that money. Hopefully I will have many wins.” The following year she duplicated the historical feat at the Royal Mayfair GC in Edmonton. Again she won and again she set a record by being the only amateur to win twice on the LPGA Tour. Again she shot rounds of 65, 69, 67, 64. In her acceptance speech she left the decision when to turn professional to her parents. “I think because I am only sixteen it is quite hard to make huge decisions. When I turn professional it’s like a job. Money is all about it. Every shot counts. I think my parents and New Zealand golf they’re all going to have a say. And hopefully we’ll all make the correct decision on when.
In 2015 Lydia returned to the site of her historical moment. She did not disappoint her loyal crowd. This time Lydia, the No 2 ranked player defeated the No 3 ranked Stacey Lewis in a play-off. Her previous experience on the course played a role in this win. “I didn’t know in 2012 I would be coming back in a couple of years and maybe winning again.”
In 2023 the LPGA tour returns to the Shaughnessy Golf Club. After the 1969 LPGA event, the club made major alterations to the original Vernon Macan design. Norman Wood’s changed all the greens and constructed new tees. The course will play shorter for the women than the 2011 Canadian Men’s Open. Will Lydia Ko win her third Canadian women’s open title.
Courses hosting both the Canadian Men’s Open and the Canadian Women’s Open.
St George’s G&CC (Toronto)
Glen Abbey GC (Oakville)
St CharlesCC (Winnipeg)
Royal Mayfair GC (Edmonton)
Point Grey G&CC (Vancouver)
Shaughnessy G&CC (Vancouver)
We will add the dates and conduct further research to identify other course