We’re celebrating some extraordinary women during March, National Women’s History Month, individuals who have made their mark from the sports field to politics and government, from the courtroom to the board room.
We’ll be introducing our readers to some individuals they may not know, and others they do. What they all have in common is that their lives, their stories, inspire us – not only women but all of us. They are focused, tenacious, smart, and courageous.
Meet Glenna Collett-Vare, considered among America’s greatest female golfers. Born in New Haven, CT, and raised in Providence, Collett-Vare was “a pioneer in American women’s golf before the professional era and a charter member of the Women’s Golf Hall of Fame,” according to her obituary in the New York Times on Feb. 3, 1989. She was 85.
Gene Sarazen called her “the greatest woman golfer of all time,” and in Phyllis Hollander’s 1977 book, Hollander listed her among the One Hundred Greatest Women in Sports.
Her parents were characterized as “athletic-minded,” and a young Glenna Collett was involved in swimming and diving before turning to golf when she was 14, after accompanying her father to his golf club, Metacomet in East Providence. She entered her first U.S. Women’s Amateur two years later, winning her opening match.
Collett-Vare still holds the record for most wins in the U.S. Women’s Amateur with six, accomplished between 1922 and 1935, including three in a row from 1928-1930.
According to numerous accounts, it could have been one more had it not been for her opponent’s incredible luck and Glenna’s bad luck.
It was the semi-final of the 1924 Women’s Amateur. Her opponent was Mary Browne, a tennis champion who had turned to golf. Glenna was one up on the 18th, surely anticipating victory. Browne’s fairway wood headed toward the trees, only to hit a tree and land on the green. She sank the putt forcing a playoff – a 19th hole. Here again, luck was on Browne’s side. With Glenna’s ball much closer to the hole, Browne’s putt hit Glenna’s ball and ended up in the hole for this improbable victory. In those days, golfers did not mark their balls on the green. It turned out to be Glenna’s only loss of the year, winning 59 of 60 matches.
During her career, she won 49 championships, the last of which, according to accounts, the 1959 Rhode Island Women’s Golf Association tournament, when she was 56.
Besides her U.S. Women’s Amateur wins, Collett-Vare counts among her victories six North and South Women’s Amateurs, six Women’s Eastern Amateurs, the French Women’s Amateur, and twice was runner-up in the British Ladies Amateur.
She helped found the Curtis Cup Matches between teams from America and England, playing on six Curtis Cup teams, including two in which she also captained. She was a non-playing captain in four other Curtis Cup Matches.
Her strength was off the tee, and several accounts said at the age of 18 she hit a drive that measured 307 yards.
Collett-Vare was the author of two books: Golf for Young Players (1926) and Ladies in the Rough (1928).
Besides her induction in the Women’s Golf Hall of Fame, she received the Bob Jones Award from the United States Golf Association, an award given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship. The Ladies Professional Golf Association, of which she was never a member, began awarding the Vare Trophy in 1953 to the golfer with the lowest average strokes per round in professional tour events.
She played under the name Collett before her marriage in 1931 to Edwin H. Vare, after which she went by the name Glenna Collett-Vare. She and Edwin had two children.
This story was originally published on March 5, 2021.