Bio of Irish Golf Champ Philomena Garvey

In the decades after World War II, Philomena Garvey dominated Irish women's golf. During the stretch from 1946-63, she won all but four years of the top Irish women's tournament. Garvey once refused to play in the Curtis Cup because Ireland was left out of the Team GB&I crest.

Date of birth: April 26, 1926

Place of birth: Baltray, County Louth, Ireland

Date and place of death: May 5, 2009 in Dublin, Ireland

Garvey's Biggest Wins

  • British Women's Amateur Championship: 1957
  • Irish Women's Amateur Close Championship: 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1970

In the Curtis Cup

After winning the 1957 British Ladies Amateur, Garvey was a certainty for the Great Britain & Ireland team for the 1958 Curtis Cup. Until, that is, the Ladies Golf Union decided that all team members would wear a badge displaying the Union Jack, the flag of Great Britain.

But Garvey wasn't British. She was proudly Irish. She asked the Ladies Golf Union to switch to a badge recognizing the full Team Great Britain & Ireland squad, one that included England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The LGU decided to stick with the Union Jack, and Garvey decided to withdraw from the team in protest. That Cup, in 1958, was the only one from 1948 through 1960 that Garvey didn't play. But the GB&I badge was changed after that to recognize the full squad.

Garvey played for Team GB&I six times, in 1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956 and 1960. At the time of Garvey's final Curtis Cup in 1960, she was tied for second-most appearances on Team GB&I.

She played 11 matches total, winning just two (overall record: 2-8-1), but did play on the first two GB&I teams in Curtis Cup history to win over Team USA. At the 1952 Curtis Cup, GB&I won 5 to 4. Garvey contributed a foursomes point that year, partnering Moira Paterson to a win over Polly Riley/Pat O'Sullivan. GB&I also won the 1956 Curtis Cup, again by a 5-4 score.

Garvey set an all-time Curtis Cup record in that 1956 victory, unfortunately one she'd rather not have. In singles, she lost to Wiffi Smith by a 9-and-8 score, still the largest margin ever in an 18-hole Curtis Cup singles match.

Garvey halved with Louise Suggs in singles in her debut at the 1948 Curtis Cup. She also had a singles win over Dorothy Kirby (3 and 1) in the 1954 Curtis Cup.

More About Philomena Garvey

At the time of her death at age 83 in 2009, the Irish Ladies Golf Union called Philomena Garvey "Ireland's most successful female amateur golfer to date" and "Ireland's greatest golfing legend."

She reached those heights despite being something close to a weekend golfer. Garvey spent weekdays working as a salesperson in the sports section of a Dublin department store. She practiced and played golf on weekends. And she did that, mostly, at County Louth Golf Club, where she was a lifetime member.

The Encyclopedia of Golf (1975) called Garvey "a fine, powerful striker of the ball with woods and irons." She used an interlocking grip, rare for women of her era. That grip was so rare for women in Britain and Ireland that in her 1961 book, A Gallery of Women Golfers (affiliate links), the English champion Enid Wilson devoted a short chapter to Garvey's use of it. Wilson said that Garvey "is the only woman golfer in the first flight who uses the interlocking grip."

Wilson also wrote that Garvey "has had a lot of trouble with her hands; her skin is tender and they blister very easily." Wilson also singled out Garvey for generating enough speed to create backspin:

"The strongest part of Miss Garvey's game is her command with the long irons. These shots she makes most impressively. The ball goes off with a click and bites when it hits the green. Few women develop sufficient strength in their wrists to make this shot effectively."
Garvey won the Irish Women's Amateur Close Championship (open only to Irish golfers) 15 times, first in 1946 at age 20, last in 1970 at age 44. She twice won it three years running, and won it four consecutive years from 1957-60. From 1946-63, she won it 14 out of 18 years. From 1953 through 1963, an 11-year-span, Garvey played the Irish Close nine times and won it all nine times.

Her biggest triumph was winning the Women's Amateur Championship (then called the British Ladies Amateur) in 1957. There Garvey beat Jessie Valentine in the championship match by a 4-and-3 score.

From 1946 to 1963, Garvey reached the championship match of the British Ladies Amateur five times, but her other four appearances resulted in losses. She fell to Jean Hetherington, 1-down, in 1946; to Marlene Stewart, 7 and 6, in 1953; to Barbara McIntire, 4 and 2, in 1960; and in 1963 to Brigitte Varangot, 3 and 1. She also reached the semifinals in 1949 and 1959.

In Britain, Garvey also won the Worplesdon Mixed Foursomes in 1955, partnered with Philip Scrutton. In Ireland, she won the Leinster Women's Championship six times and the Munster Women's Championship twice. Garvey claimed the Leitrim Cup title in 1951, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1962 and 1969.

In 1964, in a move that made headlines, Garvey turned pro. Why did it make headlines? Because she was the first woman golf professional in Ireland. But tournament opportunities for women pros in Ireland and Britain were virtually non-existent, and she was unable to mount a successful campaign on the LPGA Tour.

In 1968, Garvey petitioned to have her amateur status reinstated. It was, and she won her 15th and final Irish Close in 1970.

Garvey played lots of other team golf in addition to the Curtis Cup. She represented Ireland in the Home Internationals (Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales) 18 times, every year but one from 1947 through 1963, plus 1968 and 1969. She was the team captain in 1954, 1959 and 1960.

Garvey also played for Team GB&I in the Vagliano Trophy (GB&I vs. Continental Europe) seven times, all her teams victorious.

Garvey was the subject of a biography, published in 2009, titled Philomena Garvey: Queen of the Irish Fairways (affiliate link).

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