Dorothy 'Dot' Kirby: Profile of the Golfer

amateur golf champion Dorothy Kirby
Dorothy "Dot" Kirby was a golfer who won big amateur tournaments in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. And although she never turned professional, she also won a couple of LPGA major championships.

Full name: Mary Dorothy Kirby

Date of birth: January 15, 1920

Place of birth: West Point, Georgia

Date and place of death: December 12, 2000 in Atlanta, Georgia

Nickname: Dot

Her Biggest Wins

Kirby won two tournaments now counted as LPGA major championship wins plus the U.S. Women's Amateur:
  • 1941 Titleholders Championship
  • 1942 Titleholders Championship
  • 1951 U.S. Women's Amateur
In addition to those wins, Kirby's other victories included (this list is incomplete):
  • 1933 Georgia Women's Amateur
  • 1935 Georgia Women's Amateur
  • 1936 Georgia Women's Amateur
  • 1937 Southern Women's Amateur
  • 1941 Georgia Women's Amateur
  • 1943 North and South Women's Amateur
  • 1952 Georgia Women's Amateur
  • 1953 Georgia Women's Amateur

Dot Kirby in LPGA Majors

The Titleholders Championship was a pro golf tournament first played in 1937 and last played in 1972. Today, the LPGA Tour recognizes it as a major championship, and all its winners are counted as LPGA major champions.

And that makes Dorothy Kirby a 2-time LPGA major winner, even though the bulk of her career was played prior to the LPGA's existence, and even though she never turned pro.

Kirby won the 1941 Titleholders by a whopping 16 strokes. She opened with an 80 at Augusta Country Club, then, in the second round, broke the course scoring record for women with a 72. In the third round, Kirby tied her own record with another 72.

The next year, Kirby made it back-to-back Titleholders wins, although by a more modest five-stroke margin of victory.

The Titleholders was the tournament now called an LPGA major that Kirby played most-often. In addition to her two wins, Kirby was runner-up four other times: by three strokes to Patty Berg in the inaugural 1937 tournament; by two strokes to Berg in 1939; by five strokes to Babe Zaharias in 1947; and to Berg again in 1949, two strokes behind tied for second.

Kirby was also third in the 1946 Titleholders, fifth in 1948, seventh in 1950 and eighth in 1952.

She twice reached the championship match in the Women's Western Open when that event, also now considered an LPGA major, used a match-play format. She lost 1-down to Berg (her again) in 1943; and Louise Suggs beat Kirby in the final in 1947, 4 and 2.

Kirby's best showing in the U.S. Women's Open was seventh place in 1951.

Kirby in the U.S. Women's Amateur

Kirby won the 1951 U.S. Women's Amateur at a time when she was playing out of Atlanta's Capital City Club. Her biggest conquest on the way to the final was beating future LPGA star Mary Lena Faulk in the second round. In the championship match, Kirby closed out a 2-and-1 win over Claire Doran with an 8-foot-putt on the 17th hole.

When Kirby arrived back in Atlanta, the welcoming committee that greeted her included Bobby Jones, Georgia Governor Herman Talmage and Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield, who, in a ceremony at City Hall, proclaimed it "Dorothy Kirby Day."

Kirby reached the championship match in the U.S. Women's Amateur two other times. In 1939, she lost to Betty Jameson in the final, 3 and 2. And in 1947, Louise Suggs beat Kirby in the final, 2-up. Kirby's road to the final that year included wins over Glenna Collett Vare and Polly Riley.

She also reached the semifinals in 1948 and 1949, and the quarterfinals in 1950 in 1953. Kirby was U.S. Women's Amateur medalist (low scorer in the stroke-play qualifying round) in 1946 and 1952.

More About Dorothy Kirby

Dorothy Kirby never turned professional, even after the LPGA Tour was founded in 1950 at a time when she was still highly competitive. She once explained that she played for fun — and that the golfers playing for money did not appear, to her, to be having all that much fun.

In a USGA Journal article published in 1951, USGA Executive Director Joseph Dey described Kirby as being:

"... (O)ne of the fastest of players, a crisp and decisive stroke-maker who rarely hesitates long over a problem. She simplifies the golf swing about as much as anyone you can think of — no fuss and feathers about it — just a natural-looking stroke from start to finish."
Her family moved to Atlanta when Dorothy was 10 years old, and moved into a house near a miniature golf course. It was actually that mini-golf course that sparked young Dot's interest in golf. Soon she was playing real golf will intense dedication: By sixth grade, Kirby was getting in holes both before and after school, nearly every day.

She was only 12 years old when, in 1932, Kirby entered the Georgia Women's Amateur, and advanced all the way to the semifinals. The next year, she went all the way, becoming the youngest golfer to win the state amateur. It was the first of an eventual six wins in the Georgia State Amateur for Kirby, stretching from 1933 until 1953.

In 1934, at age 14, she played the U.S. Women's Amateur for the first time. Her fame within Atlanta and Georgia was such that Kirby, at age 15 in 1935, was invited to play in a highly publicized and anticipated exhibition match by Bobby Jones himself.

The legendary British champion Joyce Wethered, of whom Jones was a great admirer, was on an exhibition tour of the United States. Jones invited her to East Lake in Atlanta, Jones' home club, to play. He set up a fourball for the exhibition: Wethered partnered Charlie Yates while Jones invited 15-year-old Dorothy Kirby to be his partner. Not surprisingly, Kirby had the high score of the foursome with an 84, but just imagine the pressure she was under trying to keep up with the other three — two of whom, Jones and Wethered, were arguably the greatest golfers of their respective genders who had ever played to that point.

In 1937 Kirby won the Southern Women's Amateur and in 1943 the prestigious North and South Amateur. Her U.S. Women's Amateur victory followed in 1951.

She also represented the United States in the Curtis Cup four times, which, at the time of her last appearance, was the Team USA record (since broken) for appearances. Kirby played in the Curtis Cups of 1948, 1950, 1952 and 1954. In her debut at the 1948 Curtis Cup, Kirby got to partner the great Glenna Collett Vare in a foursomes match, which they won. Kirby's overall record in the event was four wins and three losses.

Within a few years of her final Curtis Cup, Kirby retired from tournament golf. After that, she became a pioneer of sports broadcasting by women and worked for more than three decades at Atlanta's WSB-TV and WSB Radio stations.

A portrait of her was commissioned and presented to Capital City Club, the Atlanta club where Kirby played as a child and became a lifelong member, by Bobby Jones. The Atlanta Country Club, for many years, played a tournament in her honor, the Dorothy Kirby Invitational, established in 1971.

Kirby was 80 years old when she died in 2000. She is a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (inducted in 1974) and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame (1980).

Photo credit: Photograph of Dorothy Kirby, October 8, 1946; (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc390647/: accessed December 23, 2020), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.

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