Vare, Glenna Collett (1903–1989)

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Vare, Glenna Collett (1903–1989)

American golfer who won more amateur golf championships than any other athlete and brought a new power and accuracy to the game. Name variations: Glenna Collett. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, on June 20, 1903; died on February 3, 1989, in Gulf-stream, Florida; daughter of Ada Collett and George Collett; married Edward Vare, in 1931.

Even today many women are forced to leave a sport when their amateur status ends. That this is not the case in golf is due in part to Glenna Collett Vare. Over her long career, she won numerous championships in an era when only amateur competition existed. Her career was so remarkable that she attracted the attention of many sportswriters. Gradually it became accepted that golf was a sport for women as well as men and that they, too, could become professionals. Before Glenna Collett Vare, one sportswriter's comments were typical of most, "The women swing at the ball as though they were beating off purse-snatchers with an umbrella." When Vare came on the course, such comments ceased.

Vare was born Glenna Collett in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1903, the daughter of George and Ada Collett . Athletics were important in the Collett family. Glenna, who played baseball and tennis with her brother, was also an outstanding swimmer and diver. Her interest in athletics coincided with the "Golden Age of Sports" in the 1920s, when sports celebrities and participating in new sports were the rage. George Collett took his daughter to the Metacoment Golf Course in East Providence when she was 13, and she added golf to her expanding list. Her enthusiasm grew two years later when she watched famed golfer Bobby Jones in an exhibition match. Vare began to work daily with Alex Smith, a Scottish golfer, to develop her powerful swing. She won the Berthellyn Cup in Philadelphia in 1921 and for the next decade was virtually unbeatable.

The public believed that a woman playing golf would be weak and inaccurate, but Vare soon proved that assumption wrong. She once drove a ball 307 yards off the tee. Her long, powerful drives were accurate as well, attracting the attention of journalists who wrote of her exploits. In 1922, Vare won the U.S. Women's Amateur championship, the first of six. A year later, she took the Canadian Women's Amateur. In 1924, probably her best year, Vare won 59 out of the 60 events she entered.

Although the Curtis Cup, featuring American and English women, had been established in 1905, the United States Golf Association (USGA) did not agree to make it a regular event until Vare arranged for a group of American women to play in Great Britain in 1930.

After Vare married in 1931, her playing dropped off for the next few years. In 1935, she was back on the course. Over 15,000 spectators came to watch her compete against Patty Berg , when Vare won her sixth U.S. Women's Amateur championship. She then began to play less frequently, but never totally set aside her clubs. At age 56, she won the Rhode Island State championship. At 83, she was still on the course, participating in her 62nd straight Rhode Island Invitational Tournament, at Pointe Judith.

sources:

Collett, Glenna. Ladies in the Rough. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928.

Condon, Robert J. Great Women Athletes of the 20th Century. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991.

Harvin, Al. "Glenna Collett Vare, 85, Golfer," in The New York Times Biographical Service. February 1989, p. 135.

Hollander, Phyllis. 100 Greatest Women in Sports. NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976.

Sonderberg, Paul, and Helen Washington, eds. The Big Book of Halls of Fame in the United States and Canada. NY: R.R. Bowker, 1977.

Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1992.

Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia