Frances Griscom, Early American Women's Golf Champ

American golfer Frances Griscom

Frances Griscom was one of the earliest champions of women's golf in the United States. Her biggest achievement was winning a U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, one of the few (and by miles the biggest) women's golf events of her era. She also had a role in inspiring the Curtis Cup.

Full name: Frances Canby Griscom

Date of birth: April 19, 1879

Place of birth: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date of death: March 30, 1973

Also known as: Frequently referred to with her middle initial — Frances C. Griscom.

Griscom in the U.S. Women's Amateur

Frances Griscom won the 1900 U.S. Women's Amateur, which was the sixth time that tournament was played. It took place at Shinnecock Hills. Griscom was playing out of Merion Golf Club.

Sixty-two women entered the stroke-play qualifying, most of them, like Griscom, from the upper-crust of society, and many of whom couldn't break 100. The medalist in qualifying was Beatrix Hoyt, a 3-time champion, with a 94.

Griscom won her first-round match 3-and-2, her second round match 4-and-2, and needed 19 holes to win 1-up in the semifinals. In the championship match, Griscom thoroughly dispatched Margaret Curtis (one of the Curtis Cup namesakes), 6-and-5. Curtis was making her U.S. Women's Amateur debut.

In 1954, Griscom donated the putting cleek she used in winning that title to the USGA Museum. In the November 1954 issue of the USGA publication Through the Green, the organization explained:

"In presenting this, Miss Griscom said that in the early 1900s Miss Margaret Curtis had a mate to it, a fact which added to the friendly rivalry between the two. A good deal of lead has been added to the back of the clubhead to compensate for weight lost in shining and buffing it. Short of shaft and having considerably more loft than most putting cleeks, it had been used by Miss Griscom until it was retired to the USGA Museum this fall."
Griscom made her U.S. Women's Amateur debut in 1896, the second year the tournament was played, when only eight women advanced to match play. So her first match ever was a quarterfinal. She lost 8 and 6 to Cora Oliver, a margin of defeat that was tied until 1972 for worst loss in tournament history in an 18-hole quarterfinal.

In 1897 she won her first match but lost her second, which, again because only eight women advanced into match play, was a semifinal. In 1898 the match-play bracket expanded to 16 and Griscom won two matches before losing in the semifinals.

After a first-round loss in 1899, Griscom had her championship run of 1900. But she failed to qualify in 1901, and never again advanced beyond the third round. Her final appearance in the match-play bracket was in 1914.

More About Frances Griscom

Frances Griscom was born into high society in 1879. Her father was shipping magnate Clement Griscom, who was CEO of a J.P. Morgan-backed shipping trust and also served on the boards of directors at U.S. Steel and the Pennsylvania Railroad. Frances was also a descendant of Thomas Lloyd, an ally of and assistant to Pennsylvania colony founder William Penn, and who served as lieutenant governor of the colony in the 1690s.

Griscom's interest in sport extended beyond just golf. She was an angler and trap-shooter, as well. And she was famous in the society pages for her non-golf driving skills. According to Who's Who in Golf (affiliate link), a biographical encyclopedia published in 1976, Griscom:

"... liked nothing better than to drive a coach-and-four at full gallop. She also was reputed to be the first woman in Philadelphia to own and drive an automobile. During World War I, she drove a Red Cross ambulance."
Frances' U.S. Women's Amateur trophy wasn't her only significant contribution to golf, however. According to the USGA, it was Griscom who, in 1905, suggested a group of American women travel to Great Britain to play the British Women's Amateur, after which a team match was arranged against a group of British women. The Curtis sisters, Margaret (whom Griscom beat in the final to win her U.S. Amateur) and Harriot, were part of the American side, and that 1905 team competition served as the inspiration for the Curtis Cup that was founded nearly 30 years later.

Also, in 1900, the Griscom family donated a trophy, called the Challenge Cup, for a team competition between the Women's Golf Association of Philadelphia and the Women's Massachusetts Golf Association. ("Conflicting reports make it unclear whether the donation was made by Clement Griscom in honor of his daughter Frances, who was the reigning U.S. Amateur Champion, or by Frances in honor of her father," the WMGA website states.) Today, the Griscom Cup is still played, now contested between the state women's golf associations of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York.

In her 1907 book Ladies' Golf (affiliate link), May Hezlet, a 3-time British amateur champ, wrote that Griscom was "one of the first women to take up golf in America ... She has an orthodox half-swing, but her approaching and putting are her strong points. A very pleasing golfer to watch, her knowledge of the game is very complete."

Photo credit: Frances C. Griscom photographed by the Chicago Daily News in 1903, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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