Senior Open marks first women’s championship at Chicago Golf in 115 years


On a fall day in 1903, Bessie Anthony and J. Anna Carpenter provided a dream matchup for spectators at Chicago Golf Club.

Anthony claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at the Wheaton course. Carpenter finished second.

“Both of them were just rock stars,” says Nancy Flannery, the encyclopedic mind behind a Wheaton Public Library exhibit on local luminaries of the game. “There were articles written about them. They had a huge fan base. They were as high as you could get in golf.”

And now the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open starting Thursday at Chicago Golf is a watershed moment for legendary players who have waited years for the 50-and-over event. It also marks the first time the fabled course on Plamondon Road has hosted a marquee women’s championship since Anthony defeated Carpenter for the Amateur title 115 years ago.

That history won’t be lost on the all-time greats of the LPGA Tour who are playing this week. It’s an occasion to look back on Anthony, Carpenter and the other notable characters with ties to the club, one of five founding members of Amateur Golf Association of the United States — later known as the USGA.

Bessie Anthony and J. Anna Carpenter

Carpenter’s stepfather owned a family farm in present-day Downers Grove, the site of the club’s original location before moving to Wheaton in 1895. She also learned the game from Charles Blair MacDonald, the club’s founder, course architect and a prominent player who won the first U.S. Amateur Championship.

“He actually interceded on her behalf at least once to allow her to play in a tournament with the other women at Chicago Golf,” says John Moran, the club historian.

Both Anthony and Carpenter would share a sad fate outside of the spotlight of competitive golf.

“After Anthony won the Amateur title, she married a well-to-do man from Pittsburgh. They had three sons, and she died at the age of 32 in childbirth with a daughter,” Flannery says.

Carpenter married a professor at Northwestern University, but they separated after a short period, Flannery says. Her husband died in 1915.

Flannery learned Carpenter was a nurse, but Wheaton’s historic commission chairwoman hit a dead-end in her research trying to find out what happened to Carpenter after her husband’s death.

“She kind of fell on hard times because even though women played golf, you had to have a certain amount of wealth to afford it. Her husband did not support her,” Flannery says. “She ended up selling her golf trophies because women back then, when they won a trophy, they usually won like a solid silver jewelry box or something of precious metal. She ended up selling her trophies just to survive.”

Flannery uncovered the story in preparation for the library exhibit and a lecture, “Wheaton, IL — Golf History Starts Here,” she’s giving at the Mary Lubko Center at Wheaton’s Memorial Park at 1 p.m. Aug. 15.

The Foulis family

The Foulis brothers are the authors of some of the most important early inventions in the sport, and Chicago Golf Club was their testing grounds.

Chicago Golf engaged James Foulis, a native of Scotland, as the first club professional in 1895. His brother, David, joined him as a professional in 1896.

The brothers were credited with designing the mashie-niblick, which became the 7-iron. David Foulis also holds an August 1913 patent for the “Golf Flag Support.” The library exhibit displays copies of their other patents.

How good was their game? Well, James Foulis won the second U.S. Open Championship, held at Shinnecock Hills in New York in 1896.

Margaret Abbott

Margaret Abbott is America’s first female Olympic champion, but she died in 1955 without knowing she made history as the winner of the golf event at the disorganized 1900 Games in Paris.

“She literally had no idea she was participating in the Olympics,” Moran says.

She played Chicago Golf as the daughter of Mary Abbott, a summer member. Her official Olympic Games bio calls her an “unwitting trailblazer.”

“As well as being women’s golf’s one and only Olympic champion through to Rio 2016,” the bio reads, “she was also her country’s first ever female gold medal winner, not that she was ever aware of having achieved such a feat, as it was only after her death that the competition she won was formally acknowledged to have been on the Olympic programme.”

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