Cecil Leitch: Profile of English Golf Champion

golfer Cecil Leitch
Cecil Leitch was an English amateur golfer who was the dominant player in British Women's golf in the 1910s and part of the 1920s. Although World War I undoubtedly cost her victories, she won the French Ladies Amateur five times, the British women's Amateur a record four times, and had multiple other significant wins. She is remembered as one of the first women golfers to make a more aggressive, powerful swing.

Full name: Charlotte Cecilia Pitcairn Leitch

Date of birth: April 13, 1891

Place of birth: Silloth, Cumberland, England

Date and place of death: September 16, 1977 in London, England

Nickname: Cecil was short for Cecilia

Her Biggest Wins

  • 1912 French Ladies Amateur
  • 1912 Gold Vase
  • 1913 Gold Vase
  • 1914 English Women's Amateur
  • 1914 British Women's Amateur
  • 1914 French Ladies Amateur
  • 1914 Gold Vase
  • 1919 English Women's Amateur
  • 1920 French Ladies Amateur
  • 1920 British Women's Amateur
  • 1921 French Ladies Amateur
  • 1921 British Women's Amateur
  • 1921 Canadian Women's Amateur
  • 1924 French Ladies Amateur
  • 1924 Middlesex Championship
  • 1925 Open Mixed Foursomes
  • 1926 British Women's Amateur
  • 1928 Roehampton Gold Cup

Leitch's Record for British Women's Amateur Wins

Cecil Leitch was the first golfer to win the British Women's Amateur Championship (then called the British Ladies Amateur) four times. Just three years after Leitch's fourth, Joyce Wethered joined her as a four-time champ. To this day, Leitch and Wethered are the only golfers with four wins in the British Women's Amateur.

There are the championship scores in each of Leitch's four wins:

  • 1914: def. Gladys Ravenscroft, 2 and 1
  • 1920: def. Molly Griffiths, 7 and 6
  • 1921: def. Joyce Wethered, 4 and 3
  • 1926: def. Marjorie Ross Garon, 8 and 7
Leitch was 23 years old when she beat Ravenscroft, the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champ, for her first title in 1914. Her biggest win was the one over Wethered, but Leitch also lost twice to Wethered in the championship match.

Leitch won the last British Women's Amateur before World War I (1914) and the first after (1920). Her first three wins (1914, 1920, 1921) were, therefore, consecutive. And the war probably cost her more titles. (The tournament was scheduled to resume in 1919, but was canceled when a railway strike made travel to the site too difficult for most competitors.)

More About Cecil Leitch

Cecil Leitch was "a strong, attacking player" according to Peter Alliss' 1983 encyclopedia, The Who's Who of Golf (affiliate links used in this post; commissions earned). In the 2009 book Players: 250 Men, Women and Animals Who Created Modern Sport, author Tim Harris called Leitch "the first (woman) to regularly give the ball a bloody good whack."

In 1919, writing in the British Vanity Fair magazine, Harold Hilton described Leitch as "a tall, strapping young lady" who "on the links does not look a tall girl, as she is strongly and compactly built and treads the turf like an athlete."

Leitch first played the British Amateur in 1908 and reached the semifinals at age 17. The authors of the 1975 Encyclopedia of Golf called her arrival "the beginning of a fresh era in women's golf" and wrote that her "outstanding power and authority with woods and irons set fresh standards."

Her driving was so well-regarded that in James Braid's How to Play Golf book, it was Leitch who wrote the chapter titled, "Play With the Wooden Clubs."

Leitch was born into a physician's family, so they were relatively well-off. She had six siblings and all five sisters were golfers; two of her sisters, Edith and May, later, like Cecil, became English Internationals in golf. All grew up playing the Silloth Golf Club course that was near the family home.

Cecil received attention for her so-called "manly" approach to the game — swinging more aggressively and playing more boldly than was typical for most women at the time — after her run to the British Amateur semifinals in 1908. So much so that in 1910, Leitch took part in two of the earliest man-vs.-woman matches that involved top talent.

Playing from closer tees and "receiving a half" (the gap in scoring between top men and top women was large at the time), Leitch defeated Tom Ball. She then, under the same parameters, played Harold Hilton in a 72-hole challenge match. Hilton, the 2-time British Open winner who is quoted above, was beaten 2-and-1.

Leitch won the first of her five French Ladies Amateur titles in 1912, then in 1914 won both the English Women's and British Women's amateur championships. No telling what her tournament title count would be had not World War I virtually shut down golf in the U.K. for the next five years.

When golf resumed in 1919, Leitch picked right up, winning her second and final English championship. In 1920, she added the French and British titles again.

And in 1920, Leitch first met in competition Joyce Wethered, the golfer who would replace her as Britain's best. Their first encounter was in the English Women's Amateur championship match, which was the first big tournament played by Wethered, and Leitch won. Their battles soon attracted attention the likes of which women's golf had rarely seen before in U.K. newspapers.

Peter Alliss once wrote, "There was little doubt that Joyce was the better player, but there were a number of close-fought matches between the two and Cecil Leitch sometimes came out on top. In 1921 (Leitch) beat (Wethered) in the finals of the British and French championships, though that was the last time she was do so."

That year, 1921, was Leitch's glory year. In addition to wins over Wethered to claim the French and British championships, she also won the Canadian Women's Amateur. In the 36-hole title match at the Can-Am, Leitch won by a score of 17-and-15, at one point running off wins on 14 consecutive holes. It might be the most dominating performance in the history of championship finals at major tournaments.

Wethered got the better of Leitch in the British finals in 1922 and 1925, the 1925 match lasting to the 37th hole before Wethered won, 1-up. They met only one time in competition prior to a championship match: In the sixth round of the 1924 British Women's, Wethered won on her way to the title. In 1926, Leitch claimed her final win in the tournament, but Wethered was not in the field that year.

Leitch only made one attempt at the U.S. Women's Amateur, in 1921, but was knocked out in the second round. Among her other tournament showings, she was runner-up in the 1926 French Amateur. Leitch represented England in the Home Internationals 12 times from 1910 through 1928. She won 29 of the 33 matches she played.

She retired from competitive golf at the end of 1928, having won 12 international championships.

Leitch also wrote about golf. She published three books: Golf for Girls (1911); Golf (1922); and Golf Simplified (1924). She wrote many articles for newspapers and magazines.

After her playing career ended, Leitch served in some roles with the Ladies Golf Union, which governed women's golf in Britain at the time (and into the 2010s, before merging into the R&A). She also aided in the creation of the Women Golfers' Museum in 1938, which is still around today as part of the British Golf Museum in St. Andrews, Scotland.

In her later years she enjoyed attending top women's tournaments in England. Leitch was 86 years old at the time of her death in 1977.

Today, her hometown Silloth Golf Clubs honors Leitch in several ways. The first hole is named Horse-Shoe, after a spot 240 yards down the fairway where Leitch regularly hit her drives. A large portrait of her graces the clubhouse, and the club's dining room is named after her.

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