Golfer Glenna Collett Vare Biography

Golfer Glenna Collett Vare
Glenna Collett Vare is considered the greatest American female golfer of the pre-World War II era, an era when professional tournaments for women were nonexistent. In the biggest event she could play, the U.S. Women's Amateur, Collett Vare set tournament records that still stand today, including most victories (six).

Date of birth: June 20, 1903

Place of birth: New Haven, Connecticut

Date and place of death: February 3, 1989 in Gulf Stream, Florida

Also known as: Prior to marriage, she played as Glenna Collett. After marriage, she was often referred to in print as Mrs. Edwin H. Vare. Among her nicknames were "Queen of American Golf" and "the female Bobby Jones."

Collett Vare In the U.S. Women's Amateur

Only two golfers have won the U.S. Women's Amateur more than three times. JoAnne Carner won it five times. And Glenna Collett Vare won it a record six times. Collett Vare's wins and the score in each championship match:
  • 1922: def. Margaret Gavin, 5 and 4
  • 1925: def. Alexa Stirling, 9 and 8
  • 1928: def. Virginia Van Wie, 13 and 12
  • 1929: def. Leona Pressler, 4 and 3
  • 1930: def. Virginia Van Wie, 6 and 5
  • 1935: def. Patty Berg, 3 and 2
Collett Vare reached the championship match two other times. She lost to Helen Hicks in 1931, 2 and 1; and lost to Van Wie in 1932, 10 and 8. Collett Vare was the medalist in stroke-play qualifying six times, 1921, 1922, 1924, 1926, 1931 and 1934. In 1922, Collett Vare set a qualifying record with a round of 81; then, in 1924, she was the first golfer to break 80 in the U.S. Women's Amateur with a score of 79. Collett Vare's six times as medalist is tied for the tournament record.

Collett shares the tournament record of three consecutive victories (1928-30), and holds the tournament record of five consecutive finals (1928-32) and eight times overall reaching the championship match.

At the height of her powers, Collett was a dominant player, as evidenced in her championships against two other giants of pre-World War II American golf, Alexa Stirling and Virginia Van Wie. When Collett beat Stirling 9-and-8 to win in 1925, it established a tournament record for largest margin of victory in the final. But then Collett broke her own record, thrashing Van Wie 13-and-12 in 1928. (That record was later beaten in 1961 by Anne Quast Sander, who defeated Phyllis Preuss for the championship, 14-and-13.)

The closest to defeat Collett Vare came in any of her title years was in the quarterfinals in 1929. There, Dorothy Hibgie had Collett 4-down with four holes to play. But Collett won all four of those holes, then took the match on the first extra hole.

The 1935 U.S. Women's Amateur championship match can be thought of as a demarcation line in the history of women's golf in the United States. Collett Vare was 32 years old, and it was her final victory, and her last appearance in a championship match in this event. Her opponent, Patty Berg, was 17 years old and playing the tournament for the first time. Berg went on to become one of the earlier women's professional golfers and a founding member of the LPGA Tour, and still holds the women's record for major championship wins with 15.

Collett first made it into match play at the USWA in 1920, and continued playing the tournament almost every year into the 1950s.

List of Glenna Collett Vare's Biggest Wins

Collett Vare is usually credited with 49 wins in amateur tournaments. These are the biggest of those:
  • 1921 Berthellyn Cup
  • 1922 U.S. Women's Amateur
  • 1922 Eastern Amateur
  • 1922 North and South Championship
  • 1923 Canadian Amateur
  • 1923 Eastern Amateur
  • 1923 North and South Championship
  • 1924 Canadian Amateur
  • 1924 Eastern Amateur
  • 1924 North and South Championship
  • 1925 Gold Golf Ball Tourney (team event, partnered by Jess Sweetser)
  • 1925 U.S. Women's Amateur
  • 1925 French Amateur
  • 1927 Eastern Amateur
  • 1927 North and South Championship
  • 1928 U.S. Women's Amateur
  • 1929 U.S. Women's Amateur
  • 1929 North and South Championship
  • 1930 U.S. Women's Amateur
  • 1930 North and South Championship
  • 1932 Eastern Amateur
  • 1935 U.S. Women's Amateur
  • 1935 Eastern Amateur

More About Glenna Collett Vare

Glenna Collett was born in Connecticut but raised in Rhode Island, where she took up many sports at an early age, including swimming, tennis, diving and baseball. But young Glenna didn't play golf until age 14, when her father took her along to his club, Metacomet Club in Providence. Writing about that day after she'd become famous, Collett remembered:
"I had a natural golf swing, they said. With proper instruction, I could hit a golf ball as far, if not farther, than any of the women golfers. ... My destiny was settled: I would become a golfer."
And proper instruction she received: Collett took lessons from Alex Smith, the pro at Metacomet and winner of the 1906 U.S. Open and 1910 U.S. Open. Just two years later, in 1919, she first entered the U.S. Women's Amateur, and three years after that won it for the first of six times.

At 5-foot-6 with an athletic disposition, Collett was a long hitter in the women's game from the time she joined elite competition. At age 18, Collett hit a drive that was measured at 307 yards — an enormous distance in women's golf (or men's golf, for that matter) of that era, and believed to be, at the time, a world record for a woman.

That distance allowed her to play aggressively at a time when few women did. Richard Tufts, who served as president of the USGA in 1956-57, famously said this:

"Glenna was the first woman to attack the hole rather than just to play to the green."
Collett's first tournament win was the 1921 Berthellyn Cup in Philadelphia, in which she defeated Cecil Leitch, who had already won two of her four British Women's Amateur titles, in the final. In 1922, she broke onto the national scene in a huge way, winning three tournaments — the U.S. Women's Amateur, the Women's Eastern Amateur, and the North & South Women's Amateur — that she went on to win six times each.

Collett added the Canadian Women's Amateur championship in 1923 and 1924, and the French Women's Amateur title in 1925 (beating Simone de la Chaume in the final).

There were years when Collett went the entire golf season without losing a competitive match. In 1924, however, she won "only" 59 of 60 matches played. That one loss happened in a flukey way in the semifinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur.

Her opponent was tennis-champ-turned-golfer Mary K. Browne. Collett was 1-up as they played the 18th hole. Browne's fairway wood approach shot veered into the trees, only to hit one of those trees and bounce onto the green. She sank the putt to win the hole and extend the match. On the 19th hole, Collett had her ball on the green and much closer to the hole, but in those days golf balls weren't marked and lifted on greens. Browne struck her much longer putt, and her ball ran into Collett's, which redirected Browne's putt right into the hole. Two ricochets, two losses on the last two holes, and a lost match for Collett. That was what it took to beat Collett in some years.

Earlier on the same 1925 trip in which Collett won the French Amateur, she entered the British Women's Amateur for the first time. And for the first of three times, Collett met her only rival for global supremacy in women's golf during the period from the mid-1920s into the early 1930s, British giant Joyce Wethered.

All three times they met, Wethered won. They played again in the championship match of the British Women's Amateur in 1930. Collett raced out to a lead by shooting 34 on the front nine and held a 5-up lead at one point. But Wethered kept whittling away, at one point making six birdies in 10 holes, and in the end Wethered beat Collett a second time, 3 and 1.

Collett Vare never won the British Women's Amateur, losing again in the championship match in 1932, this time to Diana Fishwick, 4 and 3. (Fishwick later named one of her daughters Glenna in Vare's honor.)

Collett married Edwin H. Vare Jr. in 1931, after which she went by Glenna Collett Vare. Her competitive career was interrupted in the early 1930s by the births of their two children, but Collett Vare still managed more victories. Her final North & South win was in 1930, her last U.S. Women's Amateur win in 1934, and her last Eastern Amateur win in 1935.

In the early 1930s, Vare played a role in initiating the Curtis Cup matches between teams of women amateurs representing America and Britain. Collett Vare took a team to Britain in 1930 for unofficial matches. The following year the British Ladies Golf Union and USGA agreed to the new competition, and Collett Vare was on U.S. team at the first Curtis Cup in 1932.

Collett Vare played in four Curtis Cups and captained in four more, twice serving as player-captain. So six times she was part of Team USA in the USA vs. Great Britain & Ireland match.

In the inaugural 1932 Curtis Cup, the match everyone was waiting on was the Wethered/Collett Vare rematch. Once again, Wethered got the better of Collett Vare, winning 6 and 4.

Collett Vare captained Team USA to victory in 1934, but did not play. In 1936, she was playing captain in a tie, so Team USA retained the Cup. In 1938, she was a player only, winning her singles match in a victory. In 1948, Collett Vare was playing captain again and led the team to victory again. And finally, in 1950, she went out a winner as non-playing Team USA captain. Collett Vare was also in attendance at the 1982 Curtis Cup as part of the event's 50th anniversary celebration.

Collett Vare never turned pro, and was never involved in the LPGA, which was founded in 1950. Her final tournament win of note was in the Rhode Island Women's Golf Association Championship in 1959, when she was 56 years old. In 1962, she entered the first-ever U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Championship and finished second to Maureen Orcutt.

In her "elder statesman" years, Collett Vare was frequently recognized for her contributions to the game. She was presented the Bob Jones Award by the USGA in 1965. She was part of the very first class inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975. She is also a member of the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame, Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame, Rhode Island Golf Hall of Fame, and International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.

Since 1953, the golfer with the lowest scoring average on the LPGA Tour each year has received the Vare Trophy. And the winner of the U.S. Junior Girls Championship is awarded the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy by the USGA.

Collett authored two books in the 1920s: Golf For Young Players (affiliate links), published in 1926; and Ladies In the Rough, published in 1928.

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