Mackenzie, Ada Charlotte

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Ada Charlotte Mackenzie

Canadian golfer Ada Mackenzie (1891–1973) is considered a pioneering athlete in her sport, winning major tournaments in Canada throughout her long career.

In the early twentieth century, when female golfers were viewed as something of an oddity, Canadian-born Ada Mackenzie was a pioneer in women's sports. In a career that spanned a half-century, she won all her country's top golf honors for women, her final victory coming in 1969 at the Ontario Senior Women's Championship. An energetic athlete into her early 70s, Mackenzie transcended many of the stereotypes that held most women back from athletic competition. She was quoted in Golf in Canada: A History as once remarking: "I started golfing when women were supposed to know more about a cook stove than a niblick."

A Natural Athlete

Ada Charlotte Mackenzie was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on October 31, 1891. The fact that both her father and mother were passionate about the game of golf hinted at the young girl's future career: she also showed an athletic bent from an early age. As her family was relatively affluent, Mackenzie was sent, at the age of 12, to Toronto's Havergal College, a private school for girls. Havergal, founded in 1894 by Ellen Knox, was dedicated to building a stronger Canada by empowering the nation's young women through education, skill-building, and traditional values, and Mackenzie thrived in the school's challenging environment. Remaining at Havergal from 1903 until she turned 20 in 1911, Mackenzie began to develop her athletic abilities, joining the school's basketball, cricket, and tennis teams while also engaging in ice hockey and figure-skating events. Contributing to the success of her school in athletic competition, she was also distinguished for her efforts: for three years in a row she was awarded the title of Athlete of the Year and awarded the Havergal Cup. Mackenzie's record at Havergal remains unbroken.

While Mackenzie excelled in many areas of sport, golf remained her favorite. Deciding to remain at Havergal after graduating in 1911, she accepted a position as the school's athletic instructor and remained in that post for three years. When not involved with her young athletes, she devoted herself to improving her game. Although Mackenzie decided to pursue golf seriously, she retained a full-time job until the age of 40, working at the Toronto branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1914 until 1930.

The Rise of Women's Golf

Mackenzie grew up watching not only her father, but also her mother playing golf. Having the example of an athletic woman was a rarity in the early 20th century, when most adult women were confined to home and hearth, and most young girls were raised to embrace motherhood and marriage rather than follow personal dreams or career goals. However, Mackenzie also was raised in an affluent family, where adults were free to pursue leisure activities; she was exposed to the sport through her parent's interest in following golfing news. By the time she was ten the names Violet Pooley, Florence Harvey, M. Thompson, F. B. Scott and others—top-notch competitive golfers all—also served as inspiration.

Although golf had been around for centuries and women had played the game almost as long—16th-century monarch Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly had a passion for golf—the first all-female tournament was not held until England's Ladies' Golf Union began a championship in 1893. This first all-woman competition met with stiff resistance; as quoted by Rhonda Glenn in The Illustrated History of Women's Golf, a British golf official commented, "Constitutionally and physically women are unfitted for golf. They will never last through two rounds of a long course in a day. Nor can they ever hope to defy the wind and weather encountered … even in spring and summer. Temperamentally the strain will be too great for them. The first ladies' championship will be the last, unless I and others are greatly mistaken."

However, the Ladies' Golf Union championship was not a one-shot deal. Despite corsets, tight shoes, and heavy clothing that confined their movements, proper Victorian ladies in Great Britain and North America quickly took to the new sport, prompted by articles in such popular magazines as Ladies' Home Journal and Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly. By 1900 over 1,000 golf courses had popped up worldwide, and the game had become a popular sport for affluent men and, in lesser numbers, women. Canada's first golf course, the Royal Montreal Golf Club, was founded in 1873, and two years later the U.S. Golf Association organized the first U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, held on Long Island, New York, in November of 1895: there were four contestants. The first Canadian Women's Amateur Championship was not far off; it was inaugurated in 1901.

In 1919 27-year-old Mackenzie captured the Duchess of Connaught Gold Cup in honor of the first of her five Canadian Women's Open Amateur championships (in an "open" championship citizenship in the host country is not mandatory; in a "closed" championship it is). During the decade that followed she enjoyed being one of the top players in a sport that was undergoing extraordinary popularity among the upper classes. She took the Canadian Women's Open Amateur title again in 1925 and 1926 after being pushed to second place in 1924. Competing in the U.S. Women's Open Amateur Championship in 1925, Mackenzie narrowly lost to U.S. champion golfer Glenna Collett during the second round; she went on to compete in the U.S. championship's semifinals again in 1927 and 1932. Closer to home, in the Canadian Ladies' Closed Championship competition Mackenzie triumphed in 1926, 1927, 1929, and was runner-up in both 1923 and 1925. She also won the Ontario Ladies' Championship in 1922, 1923, and 1927.

During the 1930s Mackenzie continued to place in the sport's top tier of women athletes. She won the Canadian Open Amateur Championships in 1933, placed a close second in 1934, and then came back a year later to once again take the championship title. In the Canadian Ladies' Closed Championship competition she triumphed in 1931 and 1933 and took the Ontario Ladies' Champion title in 1931, 1933, and again in 1939.

In the early years of the 1940s interest in athletic competition was replaced by other, more pressing concerns as war raged throughout Europe. When women returned to the golf course following the tournament hiatus prompted by World War II, Mackenzie once again proved herself a top player. In 1946 the 55-year-old golfer won the Ontario Ladies' Championship title, returning to repeat this performance in 1947 and again in 1950. She was also runner up in the Canadian Ladies' Closed Championship in 1950.

Among her other golf victories during her long career, Mackenzie earned top honors in the Bermuda Women's Tournament held in 1937 and also was named Bercanus Tournament champion in 1958. In her hometown of Toronto, she won that city's tournament ten times during her career and placed second on ten occasions at other amateur tournaments in her native Canada. Even at the height of her career, in 1926, Mackenzie did not confine herself to the links; that year she was also named Canadian waltzing champion.

With the emergence of fellow Canadian Marlene Stewart Streit in the mid-1950s, Mackenzie's reign as her country's top woman golfer was over; Streit, who won the Canadian Women's Amateur Championship all but four years during the 1950s, went on to gain international fame, holding titles in U.S., British, and Canadian championships. In 1955, at the age of 64, Mackenzie joined the senior field, winning the first of six successive Canadian Senior Women's Championships she entered. She returned to take the Canadian Senior Women's Championship again in 1952 and 1965; was runner up in 1961, 1963, 1966, and 1967; and took sixth place in 1969 at age seventy-eight. Mackenzie also competed in the Ontario Senior Women's Championships, taking that title in both 1965 and 1969.

As a championship-level athlete, Mackenzie had the opportunity to travel throughout North America, as well as Great Britain and Europe, to compete in her sport and developed close relationships with her fellow athletes. Her love of the game took her to some of the best golf courses in the world, as well as to private clubs. Among her many memories, Mackenzie recalled an invitation she received in 1929 to join the Scottish National Women's Team at the British Ladies' Open, an invitation she regretfully was unable to accept.

Honored for Achievements

Over the course of her high-profile athletic career many off-the-golf-course honors came Mackenzie's way. In 1933 the Canadian Press Corps awarded her its Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year award. During the decades that followed, so did other honors: Richmond Hill, Ontario, includes the Ada Mackenzie Park, and the Ada Mackenzie Trophy is awarded annually to an outstanding participant in the Canadian Ladies' Golf Association Senior Championships. In 1971, at age 80, Mackenzie was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. And the Ada Mackenzie Memorial Foundation, established in her honor, now provides financial aid to outstanding high school and college-level wheelchair athletes competing in championship-level events.

Active and Busy

Throughout her life, Mackenzie remained active in both her sport and her community. In the early 1920s, frustrated by the limitations put on her by her local Toronto course—women, even championship-level players like Mackenzie, were not allowed on the course on weekends—she decided to take the lead of British women. Establishing a stock company, she set about selling shares in what would become the first North American golf club where members, owners, and staff are exclusively women. With $30 000 and additional financial help offered by Toronto sports enthusiast J. P. Bicknell—who would eventually own the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team—in 1924 Mackenzie founded the 21-hole Ladies Golf and Tennis Club of Toronto on farmland in Thornhill, Ontario. The course, designed by Stanley Thompson, opened on August 23, 1926. Men have been welcomed at the club almost since its founding but have been restricted to playing only during non-prime-time hours. In another effort to encourage more women—especially younger women—to take up the sport of golf, in 1928 Mackenzie established the Ontario Junior Golf Championships.

A savvy woman who enjoyed financial success, Mackenzie transferred some of her energy to business. In 1930, after leaving her job at the Canadian Bank of Commerce, she established Ada Mackenzie Ltd., a clothing store that addressed the needs of women athletes. Mackenzie remained active in operating her store until she sold it in 1959.

Due to her high energy level, her positive outlook, and her robust health gained from many hours walking the golf course, Mackenzie led, by all accounts, a successful life. Despite the pressures of competition, she remained calm, refusing to succumb to the stresses of the sport. She was once quoted as saying in A Concise History of Sport in Canada: "Keeping active and busy has to be my key to success.… Some people have a tendency to over-indulge in sports. Not me. I treat athletics like recreation." The year 1969 proved to be Mackenzie's last playing golf as a professional; she passed away four years later, in January of 1973, at the age of eighty-one.


Barclay, James, Golf in Canada: A History, McClelland and Stewart, 1992.

A Concise History of Sport in Canada, Oxford University Press, 1989.

Glenn, Rhonda, The Illustrated History of Women's Golf, Taylor Publishing, 1991.

Kavanagh, L. V., History of Golf in Canada, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1973.


"Ada Mackenzie," Celebrating Women's Achievements: Women in Canadian Sport, (January 12, 2004).

Ada Mackenzie Memorial Foundation Web site, (January 17, 2004).

"Club History," Ladies' Golf Club of Toronto Web site, (January 17, 2004).

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Mackenzie, Ada Charlotte

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