In an imaginary time-warp of women’s amateur golf, the lamented Broadmoor Ladies Invitation would be the perfect setting: Ruby Keeler, of Hollywood fame, dances at the famed steak fry. Majel Roddenberry, a player in TV’s Star Trek series, ambles through the buffet line. Judy Bell, future USGA president, plays her first 18 holes at the age of 11. And Babe Zaharias overwhelms Dot Kielty to capture her third consecutive Broadmoor title.
That victory also entitled me to permanent possession of the Broadmoor trophy, which was a big silver cup with a lot of beautiful handiwork on it, Zaharias wrote in her autobiography, This Life I’ve Led. It had cost them a lot of money. I don’t believe they thought anyone would ever retire it. I could see they weren’t too happy about having to give it up, so I told them just to make up a plaque for me and keep the cup in competition.
Today the trophy stands in a case at The Broadmoor, site of this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, tangible evidence of a beloved tournament that began in 1928 and is no more. For 54 years the Broadmoor Ladies Invitation was a must-play for striving amateurs. The original Donald Ross-designed golf course, superb. A good time, guaranteed. Many contestants remember a pub called The Golden Bee as fondly as the golf course.
Atmosphere, great. Noise, loud. Sing-a-longs, raucous. The staff plants a golden bee logo on the shirts of survivors like a medal.
When John Cook won the men’s Broadmoor Invitation one year, he said he played so well because, they kept us out of the Golden Bee.
In 1928, Anna Monsted Fowler, the mother-in-law of past USGA Women’s Committee Chairman Evelyn Monsted, won the first Broadmoor Ladies Invitation. The tournament wasn’t played again until 1942, when Mrs. Murray Goss, wife of The Broadmoor’s green superintendent, was champion.
Early tournaments were run by Niente Borchert. She was the grande dame of golf and society at The Broadmoor, said Judy Bell, of Colorado Springs. She ran it in the early years, with Jim Baird, manager of the golf club. They had a list and nobody could get on it without passing through Niente and Mr. Baird.
In 1962, Bell and Barbara McIntire, a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, began heading the tournament committee, a group that included top amateurs and Broadmoor members. McIntire won the tournament that year and in 1965. Bell won in 1957, 1958 and 1960. Over the years, a long list of top amateurs enhanced the Broadmoor field.
It gave some young players – do the names Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez ring a bell – a place to not only test their games against the best amateur players in the country but also get a taste of what they would face in their future as professionals, said Steve Trivett , former longtime Colorado Springs golf reporter. It was a place that tied the history of the game from past to present to future. I remember one year when there were four U.S. Women’s Amateur champions in the field.
Over the years, Broadmoor champions accounted for six U.S. Women’s Amateur titles, seven U.S. Women’s Open championships and 44 slots on USA Curtis Cup teams.
Carol Semple Thompson, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was runner-up twice. There was the challenge of the altitude and the devilish greens with their optical illusions on the East Course, said Thompson of the current layout that has nine Ross holes and nine designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. The combination of great golf and great friends made every year quite special. Of course, we were all a bit younger then, but the memories are perfect.
The annual steak fry at Rotten Log Hollow on Cheyenne Mountain was a tournament tradition. Libations flowed and long tables groaned under the fare of steaks and corn-on-the-cob. There was always a band. Tournament officials refereed traditional games, like the egg-toss, a popular, messy contest with unlikely pairings battling for prizes. Then, there was The Show. After days of rehearsals, costumed locals like Bell and Tish Preuss, a five-time Curtis Cup player, and a supporting cast performed hilarious musical skits written by Colleen Cassel, a committee member. Bell’s turns as General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf one year and as Dolly Parton another were both memorable.
Ruby Keeler entertained at the steak fry in 1967. Keeler, a contestant, was enjoying the bonfire and watching contestants perform in the talent show when she was approached by Bell, who had played with her in California. I asked her if she and her daughter would like to sing, said Bell. I thought that’s what she did, sing. I had no idea that she danced until Barbara McIntire told me later. It’s a little hard to dance at the steak fry, so she did sing, with her daughter, and she scooted around out there in the dirt. You talk about a great sport. Ruby Keeler was. She just loved the game and was terrific. You wouldn’t have known that she was a celebrity.
Rotten Log Hollow overlooks the vast western landscape and offers prime seating for fireworks, which were shot off into the Colorado night sky when the Ladies Invitation fell on July 4. It was a great kick-off before play began.
At The Broadmoor, any old rivalries were forgotten. Golfers played hard, shook hands and then dressed for the next party. The tournament was pure golf. Toward the end, a Mid-Amateur division was added. The championship was decided with a 36-hole final. Many great players held that cup, including Zaharias, Betsy Rawls, Jean Ashley, Barbara Fay White, Jane Bastanchury, Nancy Roth Syms, Sarah LeBrun Ingram and Jill McGill, along with Preuss, McIntire, Bell and other stellar amateurs. In 1976, Nancy Lopez was runner-up to Debbie Massey before blazing through professional golf.
In 1990, Brandie Burton made short work of the late Toni Weisner in the final. Weisner, a left-hander, won the Doherty and the Women’s Southern but she was no match for Burton. The teenager had a special day, firing out 260-yard drives and crashing onto the long par-5 holes in two shots. She eclipsed Weisner by double digits. Bell and Thompson consoled Weisner by admitting that they, too, had once lost matches by similar margins.
At the trophy presentation, Weisner rallied. Good luck on the LPGA Tour, Brandie, she told the victor, and everyone laughed. Burton, the 1989 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, would, indeed, go on to a great professional career, one at least partially launched that final night at The Golden Bee.
The Broadmoor Ladies Invitation would last only a few more years. In 1995, it was suspended when the Women’s Open was played at The Broadmoor for the first time. By 1998, the Broadmoor Ladies Invitation was only a pleasant memory. The old loyalties to the tournament didn’t hold. The Broadmoor Hotel had changed hands and hotel guests needed access to the famed East Course in the prime summer season.
I miss it a lot, said Bell. It was the first championship I played in, the first thing I touched, and so for me it was really very important and very important to my family and for our friends from The Broadmoor.
By the mid-1990s, American amateur golf was changing too. A new generation of young players couldn’t afford to stay in luxurious, five-star hotels. College victories became more strategic in winning slots on international teams. Life evolves. The Broadmoor Ladies Invitation was a group of women amateurs of all ages and varied skills playing a great course for an important title and, along the way, having a grand time. Few will experience that sort of amateur competition. Fewer still will have glowing memories of a tournament where, if you lost, you consoled your spirit with a victory in the egg toss.
The loss of the Broadmoor Ladies Invitation was a loss to both the players and the game, said Trivett, the former sports writer. There was nothing like it – and there hasn’t been anything like it since.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.