The 123rd U.S. Women's Amateur Golf Championship will begin on August 7th at the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. Although there have been several Men's championship tournaments held at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, only one Women's championship has been held there, the 1900 Women’s Amateur Golf Championship. One of the earliest golf clubs to form in the United States, the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club was founded in 1891. At its founding, the club allowed women to play (one of its founding members was Jeanette “Nettie” Hoyt, daughter of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon Chase).
Although Southampton was considered somewhat remote in 1900, the tournament still attracted 62 of the best women golfers in the country. Highlighting this line-up was Beatrix Hoyt, daughter of founding member Nettie. Beatrix was a teenage golf sensation, winning the U. S. Women's Amateur Championship in 1896 at age 17, with a playing style described as “… graceful and vigorous, though unorthodox..." She then won the next two Women’s Amateur Championships (1897 and 1898) and was the favorite to win the 1899 Championship when she was shockingly beaten in the 1st round by 39 year old Margaret Fox. For the 1900 tournament, playing on her home course, the now 20-year old Beatrix was the local favorite. Three talented players were expected to challenge her for the championship.
Ruth Underhill, the winner of the 1899 tournament, was expected to be Hoyt’s primary competition. From the Nassau Country Club, the 26-year old Underhill was the “senior” of the three main challengers. The youngest challenger (and another golf prodigy) was 17-year old Margaret Curtis from Boston. Curtis made her amateur debut at the 1897 U.S. Women's tournament as a 13-year old. In addition to being a top golfer, Curtis excelled at tennis. The third challenger was Frances Griscom (“Miss Pansy,” as her family and friends called her), from the Merion Golf Club, just outside of Philadelphia. The 21-year old Griscom was highly motivated after losing in the first round of the 1899 tournament to Elizabeth “Elsie” Cassatt (niece of the painter Mary Cassatt).
The qualifying round for the 1900 Championship began on August 28th with, as described by the New York Times, “Elegant weather and a grand field of high-class feminine golfing talent…” Hoyt quickly demonstrated her talent, qualifying with a low score of 94, followed by Griscom with a 96. Curtis also qualified, shooting a 101 and Underhill just made the cut with a score of 110. The first round of Match play began the next day, with Hoyt, Griscom and Curtis advancing. Ruth Underhill, the reigning champion, lost her match and, like Hoyt the year before, was unable to advance.
The next day, in a rematch of the 1899 Final, Hoyt again faced Margaret Fox. It was a close match, tied at the 17th hole, but Hoyt won the 18th hole (and the game) to avenge her prior year’s loss. Completing the field for the semifinal round, Griscom and Curtis also advanced, Curtis shooting the low score of the day, a 78. Also advancing was Eunice Terry from the Ardsley Country Club.
In the semifinal round, played on Friday, August 31, Beatrix Hoyt was matched against Margaret Curtis and Francis Griscom matched against Eunice Terry. As the New York Times described the semifinals, “never…have two such spirited and nerve-racking finishes been seen…”. Both matches were close, with Griscom beating Terry on the 19th hole and the local favorite Hoyt losing to Curtis on the 20th hole. The tournament final, between Curtis and Griscom, was expected to be equally competitive. However, the 17 year old Curtis was not up to the challenge and was easily beaten by Griscom. Play ended after the 14th hole, with Griscom up by five strokes.
1900 was not only the beginning of a new century, it also marked the beginning of a new era in women’s golf. After dominating women’s golf, but failing to win two championships in a row (the last in front of a home crowd), Beatrix Hoyt decided to retired from competitive golf. She is one of the few golfers to win three amateur championships in a row. The new young star was Margaret Curtis. Margaret reached the final match in the 1905 Women's Amateur and she captured her first of three U.S. championships in 1907 by beating her older sister Harriot in the finals. In 1908 she lost in the quarter-finals, but then went on to win back-to-back titles in 1911 and 1912. In 1908 Margaret also won the U.S. Open doubles tennis championship, becoming the only woman to simultaneously hold the U.S. golf and tennis titles. In addition to Margaret and Harriot Curtis’s combined four national golf titles and the founding of the Curtis Cup, they are also remembered for their service off the course. The sisters founded a clinic for the poor in Boston in 1909 and during World War I, Margaret joined the Red Cross in France, where she served as the head of its Bureau for Refugees.