Ada Mackenzie – Part I, Havergal College Alumna

In one of his several quotes on the subject, the world-renowned French philosopher Henri Bergson stated that for Homo sapiens sapiens:

‘It is the function of the brain to enable us to not remember but to forget’

Set against that philosophical proposition, I believe it is incumbent upon us all, in particular golf historians (or in my case someone who just really enjoys the challenges/diversity of researching and writing about the history and legends of golf), to always remember and never forget about the game we love…and how it has been shaped and influenced by golfers, architects, courses, clubs, caddies, organisations, tournaments, equipment, attire, etc. from the days of yore through to the modern-day.

Prologue

Back in May 2020, I published an article about Cecil Leitch, one of the great amateur golfers of the early twentieth century whose many championship successes included the 1921 Canadian Women’s Amateur. During my research for that article, the name of (Canadian golfer) Ada Mackenzie kept ‘popping up’. I have to be honest and say I had never heard of her before. Please don’t ask why, but for some reason, I made a note to myself to one day find out more about her…I am so pleased I did!!

Despite the ongoing restrictions imposed by the global pandemic, my research combed through an unbelievable array of material about Ada Mackenzie from a variety of sources in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

Concurrently, I reached out to Margaret McLaren, the (self-appointed) historian at Rivermead Golf Club, Ottawa, who previously supported me from a ‘Canadian viewpoint’ for the article about Cecil Leitch and for another article about James Douglas Edgar. Margaret kindly shared an astonishing treasure trove of artefacts about Ada Mackenzie, including a radio interview from the CBC Archives…Margaret, thanks for everything, I can’t thank you enough.

By discovering, or should that be uncovering, so much material about Ada Mackenzie, it was self-evident that her story should be conveyed as a chronological series as opposed to an ‘all-in-one’…though this approach is very much unchartered waters for Golfing Herald!!

Thus, Ada’s story is showcased as follows:

Part I, Havergal College Alumna…opening with Ada’s time growing up as a student and outstanding sportswoman at Havergal College, Toronto and her formative years as a golfer up to and including 1924.

Dated 1907, a photograph of Ada Mackenzie representing Havergal College at Hockey, by kind permission of 'Dr. Catherine Steele 1928 Archives, Havergal College'
Dated 1907, Ada Mackenzie representing Havergal College at Hockey, by kind permission of ‘Dr. Catherine Steele 1928 Archives, Havergal College’

Part II, Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto…recalling how Ada almost single-handedly established the oldest existing club in the world founded by a woman for women.

Part III, Trailblazing Champion…covering the years 1925 to 1935 when Ada unquestionably cemented her place in the elite constellation of champion women golfers and was a trailblazer on and off the Links.

Part IV, First Lady of Golf…the concluding chapters of Ada’s life from 1936 to 1973 when her astonishing achievements continued to be recognised whilst some of her golf was truly remarkable.

Outside of Canada, Ada Mackenzie’s standing within the pantheons of golf is possibly only kept alive by a handful of golfing aficionados and historians. I hope that chronicling her incredible life and golfing achievements in this series of articles will contribute towards ensuring Ada Mackenzie is always remembered and never forgotten by the global golfing community, in this and future generations.

Hope you enjoy

Family Tree

Ada Mackenzie's family tree showing her parents and her mother's parents only

Ada Charlotte Mackenzie was born on the 30th October 1891 in Toronto, Canada. She was the 2nd daughter of George and Mary Ann ‘Minnie’ Mackenzie (née Thompson), both of whom had Scottish heritage.

Ada’s maternal grandfather John Hall Thompson was elected as the Member of Parliament for Ontario North in the first Canadian Parliament which was in session from the 6th November 1867. Unfortunately, after serving his constituents for 5 years, he was defeated in the 1872 election.

Ada was raised in a relatively affluent environment so her parents were able to pursue various sporting and leisure activities. In particular, George and Mary Ann were both passionate about golf so it was no surprise that Ada caught the golfing bug from an early age. Although sketchy, newspaper archives would indicate that Ada started playing golf from about 10 years of age. Ada’s first golfing experience was when she and her brother were given two very old golf clubs and two brunette golf balls (hopefully a Golfing Herald reader can explain what a brunette golf ball was?)…they were then ‘permitted to play’ behind their parents!!

Havergal College

Founded in 1894, Havergal College is an independent school for girls and today is situated on a campus in Toronto. Ada Mackenzie was a student at Havergal from 1903 until her graduation in 1911.

Ada was an outstanding athlete at College where she captained the Hockey, Tennis, Basketball and Cricket teams…and just for good measure, she was a member of the Figure Skating and Lacrosse teams as well as being the Golf Champion for 3 years!!

Ada received the prestigious Havergal Cup three years in succession for being the College’s ‘Athlete of the Year’…a record that I believe still stands to this day.

But golf was her passion…golf was her first love.

(Ada’s association with Havergal College continued throughout her lifetime. After graduating, she worked at various times at the college…as a coach and as a teacher. Ada was also involved with the alumnae association, serving on its executive committee for several years and as President of the association in 1922. Ada was posthumously inducted into the College’s Hall of Distinction in 1994)

Dated 1906, a photograph of Havergal College when it was located at 350 Jarvis St, Toronto...by kind permission of 'Dr. Catherine Steele 1928 Archives, Havergal College'
Dated 1906, Havergal College when it was located at 350 Jarvis St, Toronto…by kind permission of ‘Dr. Catherine Steele 1928 Archives, Havergal College’

Mississaugua Golf and Country Club

Her father George was a founding member of the Mississaugua Golf and Country Club when it was established in 1906. Ada became a junior member and proudly represented this historic golf club at home and abroad until the mid-1920’s when the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto was established.

For the next few years (usually during College vacations), Ada played many rounds of golf on her home course with her father and his friends. Then in early 1912, she had a number of lessons with William Locke who at the time was the professional at Mississaugua. He immediately recognised Ada’s ‘potential’ and encouraged her to enter the 1912 Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship.

An aerial view of the Mississaugua Golf Course, by kind permission of Mississaugua Golf and Country Club
By kind permission of Mississaugua Golf and Country Club

Oh So Close

So Ada travelled the short distance to Rosedale Golf Club to participate in that year’s Championship. Very much a novice, Ada played some incredible golf to reach the quarter-finals where she came up against the legendary Scottish amateur golfer Dorothy Campbell, who had moved to Canada in 1910. Dorothy Campbell had won the Canadian championship in 1910 and 1911 and was also the first woman to win the British, American and Canadian Women’s Amateur Championships.

Remarkably, Ada found herself dormie 2 but as great champions invariably do, Dorothy Campbell found a way to win the 17th and 18th and then got the better of Ada at the 1st hole of sudden death. Despite the very narrow defeat, Ada won many plaudits and gained invaluable experience.

For the record…Dorothy Campbell went on to win her third consecutive Canadian Championship, for which she was able to permanently keep the Lady Grey Trophy.

Dixie Golf Links

Twelve months later the Canadian Women’s Amateur was played on the Dixie Golf Links (home of the Royal Montreal Golf Club until 1959), attracting champions from Great Britain and the United States.

Ada Mackenzie was not in the best of form when the championship got underway but found a way to once again qualify for the match play stage (which had been extended to the top 32 qualifiers due to the quality of the field).

However, her lack of form persisted and Ada was defeated 3&2 in the Round of 16 by Mrs Ronald H Barlow (from Philadelphia), one of the best players in the United States.

Canadian Bank of Commerce

Ada Mackenzie made the decision to try and play amateur golf to the highest possible level whilst retaining (full-time) employment to support and fund her golfing dreams and ambitions. Thus in 1914, she commenced working for the Canadian Bank of Commerce at their head office in Toronto. She would continue to work for the Bank until 1930 when she established her own Sports Company (more about that business venture in Part III).

War Funds

Throughout the First World War, Canadian Golf Clubs and golfers took up the challenge to raise funds for the soldiers fighting on the front line…Prisoner of War Funds, the Red Cross, Hospitals, and so on.

For example, Golf Clubs positioned boxes where golfers left ten cents every time they played golf, even if they had only managed a few holes. Also, several clubs organised ‘field days’ where funds raised on the day, usually in excess of one thousand dollars, were split 50:50 between the various War Funds and a nominated National Charity.

Ada Mackenzie participated in at least two of these ‘field days’…in October 1915 at Hamilton Golf Club she managed to finish runner up in the handicap competition, despite still recovering from a very serious illness, and in June 1917 at Rosedale Golf Club she posted the best gross score…but taking part to support the war effort was all that really mattered.

Championship Golf Resumes

The Canadian Women’s Amateur was cancelled from 1914 to 1918 because of World War 1, resuming in 1919 when the championship was hosted by Beaconsfield Golf Club, Montreal.

The Royal Canadian Golf Association made the decision to restrict entry for the first championship since 1913 to ladies who were members of Canadian Golf Clubs. They believed that competitors from outside Canada would have had an unfair advantage as very few of the home players were able to play competitive golf during the war years. The championship might have been missing the usual sprinkling of International stars but the overall quality of the field and the golf was of the highest standard.

After easily qualifying for the match play stage, Ada Mackenzie (representing Mississaugua Golf Club) played against and defeated some of Canada’s best women golfers by 6&5, 3&2 and 4&3 in the last 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively ‘en route’ to the final…where she met home club favourite, Kate Robertson.

At the turn, Ada was 1up and doubled her lead at the 10th. Kate Robertson immediately struck back by winning the 11th and 12th to level up the match and then proceeded to win the 15th to be 1up with 3 to play (the first time she had been ahead in the final). Always the competitor, at the 16th Ada brought the match back to A/S and with the final 2 holes halved the final went into sudden-death. On the 19th, an errant approach shot by her opponent ‘opened the door’ for Ada who played her approach ‘dead’ and with it won a terrific contest.

Thus just a couple of weeks shy of her 28th birthday, Ada Mackenzie was crowned ‘Canadian Women’s Amateur Champion’.

A Black & White Photograph of Ada Mackenzie during the 1919 Canadian Women's Amateur, kindly supplied by Margaret Mclaren
Photograph kindly supplied by Margaret McLaren
A photograph of seven players from the 1919 Championship with Ada Mackenzie 2nd from the right, kindly supplied by The Royal Ottawa Golf Club
Photograph kindly supplied by The Royal Ottawa Golf Club

Duchess of Connaught Cup

Back in 1914, Her Royal Highness Princess Louise Margaret the Duchess of Connaught, who was the viceregal consort of Canada when her husband served as Governor-General, donated a new trophy to be awarded annually ‘in perpetuity’ to the Canadian Women’s Amateur Champion, to replace the Lady Grey Trophy.

Ada Mackenzie should have been the first golfer to be presented with the Duchess of Connaught Cup…she was awarded the Royal Canadian Golf Association Gold Medal and the Canadian Ladies Golf Association Shield but no trophy….as it had gone missing!!

About a year later it was finally tracked down to a Jewellers in Ottawa where it had been ‘safely kept’ since 1914!! Then for reasons unknown, the trophy was retrospectively engraved with the name of the 1913 Champion (Muriel Dodd), so Ada Mackenzie was the second rather than the first recipient of this prestigious trophy!!

As a sad postscript, the Duchess of Connaught died in 1917 (aged only 56)…and thus never had the opportunity to present the trophy.

A photograph of the Duchess of Connaught Cup, kindly supplied by Margaret McLaren
Photograph of the Duchess of Connaught Cup, kindly supplied by Margaret McLaren

The Old Country

The following year, to further her ‘education and experience’ on the global golfing stage, Ada travelled to the ‘Old Country’ to play in several tournaments, including the 1920 British Ladies Amateur played at Royal County Down, Northern Ireland…which was won by Cecil Leitch.

This was Ada’s first appearance in an international calibre Amateur Championship. She finished a very creditable sixth in the qualifying round, only 5 shots behind Cecil Leitch and then progressed to the 2nd round of the knockout stage, where she was defeated by Florence Vanderbeck, who had been the champion golfer of the United States in 1915.

Upon her return to Toronto, Ada advocated that Canada should send a team of experienced and up and coming players to this championship in the years to come to gain much-needed exposure and experience.

Defending Champion

The 1920 renewal of the Canadian Women’s Amateur played at Hamilton Golf Club received a record number of 172 entries, headed by defending champion Ada Mackenzie and Alexa Stirling, who was originally from Atlanta, Georgia.

Still only 23, Alexa had already won the United States Women’s Amateur in 1916 and 1919 (the event was cancelled in 1917 and 1918 due to World War 1) and was very much viewed as the favourite to add the Canadian championship to her impressive golfing Résumé.

However, Ada Mackenzie demonstrated that her success a year earlier was no fluke by shooting the lowest score in the strokeplay qualifier…3 shots ahead of Alexa Stirling who was joint second.

As the match play rounds unfolded, it looked as if Ada and Alexa would meet in a much anticipated final but…in a repeat of the previous years final, Ada played Kate Robertson in the semi-final. This time though, Kate Robertson was always in control and the champion was dethroned by 3&1.

In the final, Kate Robertson was no match for Alexa Stirling who secured the Canadian Championship with a 5&3 success…and the following month she claimed her third United States Women’s Amateur Championship.

A photograph of Ada Mackenzie and Alexa Stirling, kindly supplied by Margaret McLaren
Photograph of Ada Mackenzie and Alexa Stirling, kindly supplied by Margaret McLaren

Return to the Old Country

In January 1921, Ada set sail from Saint John (New Brunswick), embarking on a six-month trip to Great Britain to play in all of the major tournaments and championships, including the British Ladies played at Turnberry Golf Club, Scotland.

Upon arrival, she wrote to sports reporters back home in Canada saying (and I paraphrase):

“I am doing everything I can to encourage younger Canadian players to enter the British Ladies…I would like to see as many Canadian players as there are American players at this championship…now that I am in Britain I can make all of the necessary arrangements for other players if required and I really hope that several players will come over and join me”

This unconditional kindness, encouragement and support for others, not only in golf, was a ceaseless characteristic of Ada’s personality throughout her life.

Ada reached the 3rd round where she was beaten at the 20th by English player Doris Chambers…a fantastic performance as Doris Chambers was one of the finest players of her generation and who won the British Ladies a couple of years later.

Respected golf commentators were all in agreement that Ada Mackenzie was ‘without question the finest lady golfer that Canada has yet produced’ and that of all the overseas players who played in the 1921 British Ladies, she ‘undoubtedly made the best showing’.

Record Win

Returning to Canada, Ada Mackenzie entered the 1921 Canadian Women’s Amateur which was staged at Rivermead Golf Club, Ottawa. Joining her in the best field assembled up to that point for the Championship (as it was no longer restricted to golfers affiliated to Canadian clubs only) were the defending champion Alexa Stirling, the British Ladies Champion Cecil Leitch and her sister Edith.

Whilst previewing the Championship, several newspapers reported that Ada had actually ‘persuaded’ Cecil and Edith Leitch to change their travel plans and golfing itinerary and to first sail to Canada rather than New York…to enable them to play in both the Canadian and United States Championships.

Ada reached the quarter-finals but was defeated 2&1 by Edith Leitch who in turn was defeated by Canadian Molly McBride in their semi-final. In the other semi-final, Cecil Leitch won a thrilling encounter against Alexa Stirling.

As briefly stated in the Prologue, Cecil Leitch won that year’s Championship…in fact, she emphatically won the 36-hole final by 17&15, which still stands to this day as the biggest winning margin of any major amateur final.

(And I am sure that Ada had no regrets ‘enticing’ Cecil and Edith Leitch to play in Canada!!)

A panoramic view of Rivermead Golf Course Ottawa, Canada...by kind permission of Rivermead Golf Club
By kind permission of Rivermead Golf Club

Student of Psychology

Briefly turning back the clock to 1912 when Ada Mackenzie almost defeated Dorothy Campbell in their titanic quarter-final match (at the Canadian Championship), the expectations of ‘others’ mushroomed…and yet over the next two years, Ada’s form slumped to such an extent that she was defeated in matches she was expected to win…over and over again.

And then…Ada discovered ‘Psychology’ and commenced to voraciously acquire knowledge about this discipline. Ada quickly reached the conclusion that psychology was the greatest factor in golf and that if she was to ever become a champion golfer then the key lesson to be gleaned from her slump was one of ‘concentration’.

For Ada, concentration meant focusing on her own game to the exclusion of outside influences (for example the gallery) and being prepared before playing, whatever the format. Ada also realised that she played better the more nervous she was as long as she could ‘control her nerves’. Another lesson, which she learnt from none other than Cecil Leitch, was to never underestimate your opponent.

Throughout the various chapters of her golfing career, Ada incrementally ‘learnt and adapted’ her mental approach…a never-ending process of continuous improvement.

Anecdote

A true story to illustrate Ada’s steadily improving powers of concentration occurred during a match where large sums of money had been wagered on her opponent. Ada was slightly ahead in the match when a gentleman in the gallery called out:

“Miss Mackenzie…you are playing very, very well”

From his inflexion, Ada realised he was attempting to ‘put her off’!! Ada did not turn her head to acknowledge the gentleman or display any signs of having heard what he had said. Rather, she walked to the other side of the fairway and just concentrated on the match…which she proceeded to win!!

Afterwards in the clubhouse, the same gentleman sought out Ada Mackenzie and apologised for what he had said…Ada responded by saying:

“If you had not mentioned it I should never have thought of it again, for I made my mind up to forget it”

A photograph of Ada Mackenzie on the hill overlooking the valley part of Mississaugua Golf Course, by kind permission of Mississaugua Golf and Country Club
Ada Mackenzie on the hill overlooking the valley part of Mississaugua Golf Course, by kind permission of Mississaugua Golf and Country Club

For Completeness

In 1922 Ada secured her first Ontario Ladies’ Amateur Championship. A few months later she played brilliantly to jointly lead the strokeplay qualifying of the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship. But unlike today’s amateur championships, the draw for the match play was not seeded based on qualifying position…in fact, I was unable to ascertain or understand exactly what criteria was used to determine the draw!!

In the Round of 16, Ada came up against Alexa Stirling, who had finished 4th in qualifying!! A magnificent match play contest ensued which all came down to the 18th where Ada missed a 9-foot putt to force sudden death…though once again nothing was lost in defeat.

In 1923, she reached the quarter-finals of the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship and retained her Ontario Ladies’ Amateur Championship. Ada was also runner up in the Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship.

And Ada continued to dedicate herself to growing women’s golf by serving on the executive of the Canadian Ladies Golf Union.

Spirit of Friendship

Hamilton Golf Club was the venue for the 1924 Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship with the geographic demographics (apologies if that is the incorrect term) of the entries much changed from previous years, in that almost a third of the competitors were from the United States.

Heading the list of entries was the defending champion, 21-year-old Glenna Collett from Providence, Rhode Island…she was affectionately known as the female Bobby Jones, she was that good!! Despite the fact that it was now five years since she tasted success in her home championship, Ada Mackenzie once again led the Canadian challenge.

Many of the golfers from the United States brought steel-shafted clubs which were not permitted as the Championship was adhering to the rules set (at the time) by the R&A. However, in the spirit of friendship, the Canadian Ladies Golf Union waived the rule!!

The 36-hole final was contested by Glenna Collett and Ada Mackenzie. Commentators were unanimous in their verdict that the golf played by Glenna Collett in the final, in particular during the morning round when she shot 76 (40+36) to be 8up, was the most sensational golf ever witnessed. To Ada’s credit, she never gave up and the afternoon round was evenly matched but in the end, Ada conceded at the 28th.

(For the record, in that year Glenna Collett won 59 out of 60 matches!!)

To Be Continued…

As the first part of this series draws to a close…Ada Mackenzie was by now 33 years of age with the next generation (Glenna Collett, Alexa Stirling, Cecil Leitch and Joyce Wethered inter alia) looking as if they would dominate the major Women’s Amateur Championships (Canadian, United States and British).

Could Ada find a way to take her game up a level? Not only in Canada but in America and Great Britain, to join the rarefied echelon of elite lady golfers…only time would tell.

I hope you have enjoyed the first instalment of Ada Mackenzie’s life and golfing story. If you wish to read Part II then please click on Ada Mackenzie – Part II, Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto.

Acknowledgements

And finally, a massive thanks to…

  • Margaret McLaren ~ ‘Self-appointed’ Historian, Rivermead Golf Club
  • Marlene Stewart Streit ~ Member of the World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Margaret Auld ~ Archivist, Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto
  • Paul Doucet ~ General Manager, Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto
  • Debra Latcham ~ Archivist, Dr Catherine Steele 1928 Archives, Havergal College
  • Karen Varga ~ Director of Communications, Mississaugua Golf and Country Club
  • Meggan Gardner ~ Director, Heritage Services, Golf Canada
  • Jean Leduc ~ Golf and Operations Director, Rivermead Golf Club
  • Jaime Steedman ~ Head Professional, Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto
  • Josée Dallaire ~ Communications and Technology, Rivermead Golf Club
  • Mackenzie Knowles ~ Owner of Ada’s Golf Boutique
  • Joyel Singfield ~ General Manager, The Royal Ottawa Golf Club
  • Alexandra Pappas ~ Communications Manager, Scarboro Golf and Country Club
  • Jason Ludke ~ General Manager, Pine Ridge Golf Club
  • Irene Nalaskowski ~ Publications, Cherry Valley Club
  • Kim Daniels ~ Office Administrator, Toronto Golf Club
  • Matt Lorenz ~ Head Golf Professional, Elmhurst Golf & Country Club
  • Alex Podlogar ~ Senior Media Relations Manager, Pinehurst Resort & Country Club
  • Oliver Baines ~ Assistant Manager, Hollinwell Golf Club
  • Brandie Cooper ~ Membership and Communications Manager, London Hunt and Country Club
  • John Edwards ~ Secretary, Royal Porthcawl Golf Club
  • Stuart Leech ~ Secretary Manager, Formby Golf Club
  • Jim Mackenzie ~ A distant relative of Ada
  • Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto
  • St Andrews Links Trust
  • Mississippi Valley Textile Museum

…who so kindly provided assistance and support for this series of articles about Ada Mackenzie.

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