Part III of our series showcasing the remarkable life and golfing career of Ada Mackenzie covers the period 1925 to 1935 when unquestionably she cemented her place in the elite constellation of champion women golfers and was a trailblazer on and off the Links.
If you have not read Part I, which narrated 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, then please click on Ada Mackenzie – Part I, Havergal College Alumna.
Similarly, if you have not read Part II, which chronicled how Ada almost single-handedly established the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto, the oldest existing club in the world founded by a woman for women, then please click on Ada Mackenzie – Part II, Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto.
Unavoidably there are sporadic passing references to Ada’s time and involvement in establishing the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto whilst covering her participation in various championships during 1925 and 1926.
For continuity with Part I, I make reference to Mississaugua (as it is known today) rather than Mississauga (as newspapers reported back in the 1920s), as in the Golf Club that Ada represented prior to the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto.
There is one particular storyline that continues after 1935 (the endpoint of Part III) up to the current day but it made sense to do so within the overall context of this article.
Once again I am deeply indebted to Margaret McLaren (self-appointed historian at Rivermead Golf Club, Ottawa) for her unconditional and incredibly generous support, sharing an array of awesome artefacts and photographs. Between us, we have uncovered a rich diversity of material about Ada Mackenzie from a variety of sources in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.
I hope you enjoy ‘Ada Mackenzie – Part III, Trailblazing Champion’.
During the summer of 1925 Ada Mackenzie, as a member of the par committee of the Canadian Ladies Golf Union (CLGU), played a series of exhibition matches in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island to help grow the Union by adding some of the courses located in the Canadian Maritime Provinces.
(The CLGU was established in 1913 with the aid of the British Ladies Golf Union to provide female golfers in Canada with a handicap system as well as organised golf matches and in 1925 the Maritime Provinces joined the CLGU as a provincial branch)
It was no surprise when Ada Mackenzie and Helen Paget reached the final of the 1925 Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship played at Rivermead Golf Club, Ottawa…but the way in which the match play final ended was a surprise!!
Ada was 15 to 30 yards longer off the tee than her opponent, so Helen Paget very much relied on her accuracy to the green and putting…this she did almost to perfection so by the time they reached the 17th, Helen was 1 up and had single-putted on 6 occasions.
The penultimate hole was a par 5 measuring 555 yards, with most observers believing this would provide an advantage to Ada, thus enabling her to square the match. Both players reached the green in 3 shots, with Ada only 8 feet from the pin, much nearer than Helen.
Helen putted beautifully once again, this time to within 6 inches of the hole and laid Ada a ‘dead stymie’. Ada had 2 putts to halve the hole as the stymie prevented any chance of a birdie but she misjudged the contours of the green…her ball struck Helen’s ball which in turn fell into the hole!! With that, Helen Paget won the Ladies’ Closed Championship by 2&1.
Alexa Stirling Fraser
The following week, the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship was staged at The Royal Ottawa Golf Club. The overwhelming favourite was the American Alexa Stirling, one of the all-time greats, who had already…
- won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in 1916, 1919 and 1920 (the championship was cancelled in 1917 and 1918 due to the First World War)
- been runner up in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in 1921 and 1923
- won the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship in 1920
In 1925 she married Wilbert Fraser, a Canadian doctor, and they made their home in Ottawa…Alexa Stirling Fraser, as she was now known, became an American-Canadian citizen and was made an honorary member of The Royal Ottawa Golf Club.
Between the end of the Closed Championship and the start of this Championship, Ada and Alexa had played a friendly match!! Alexa easily won, confirming her standing as the better player.
Alexa posted the lowest score in the 18 hole qualifying round…Ada, representing Mississaugua Golf Club, posted the second-lowest score. Both players continued their fine form throughout the match play rounds to reach the 36-hole final…Ada was particularly impressive, winning her (18-hole) matches 9&8, 4&3, 2up and 5&4.
As touched upon in Part I, Ada was continuing to learn that a key facet for success was to focus on her own game…and for this match, Ada was focused on a simple game plan which was to…
“play safe in the morning and in the afternoon just go out and play without fear and abandon safety…to play every shot as brilliantly as she could”
But could she execute this plan against one of the best ever women golfers?
The morning round was very much a cagey affair but Ada’s almost perfect iron play and putting resulted in the final being A/S at halfway…so far so good. Ada had the honour on the 19th and proceeded to execute her plan to perfection…from the 20th to 30th she was 2 under par (phenomenal scoring) and eventually won the final by 5&4.
As champion, Ada proudly received the Duchess of Connaught Cup, but unlike her previous success in 1919, this Championship (played at The Royal Ottawa Golf Club) was not restricted to golfers affiliated with Canadian golf clubs…a truly remarkable success, even more so when one considers she had not played much competitive golf due to her workload establishing the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto.
A fortnight later, Ada travelled to the St. Louis Country Club to play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
Ada easily qualified for the knockout stage but in the Round of 16 came up against none other than Glenna Collett (who you may remember from Part I and would dominate ladies golf in America during the 1920s and early 1930s and who Gene Sarazen called “the greatest woman golfer of all time”).
There were many headlines and reports written about ‘The Match‘ days, weeks, months, even years afterwards but for the purposes of this composite narrative, I have referenced a searingly honest article written by Glenna Collett in 1928 (3 years later) as the primary source.
The article was titled ‘Sometimes I wish I were a Man!’…with many column inches focused on why women occasionally break 80 whilst men frequently break 70. The tenor of Glenna’s article was that she wanted to score much lower and wanted to find ways to improve whilst at the same time exploring the many reasons for the substantial differences in scoring, one of which was clothing, where she recalled her match against Ada Mackenzie at the 1925 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
It was a very hot day and so Ada decided to wear a thin knitted suit and light rubber-soled shoes instead of her usual tweeds and spiked shoes. In the words of Glenna Collett…
“Ada Mackenzie inspired me to an unexpected level of golf but I still found myself behind in the match”
After 13 holes of incredible golf by both players, Ada had opened up a 2 hole lead with 5 holes to play. But then…the heavens opened with torrential rain, gales and thunder!! Both players were absolutely soaked but stoically played on. However, Ada’s skirt had absorbed so much water that the hem of her skirt, which was just below her knees, stretched down by her ankles…and the sleeves of her light knitted coat fell below her wrists and despite rolling them up they continued to slip. Also, Ada was unable to get any grip from her shoes on the saturated fairways. Glenna noticed that Ada’s game started to deteriorate alarmingly and to such an extent that Ada lost the 14th, 15th and 16th to be 1 down. The final two holes were halved and thus Ada lost the match by 1 hole.
Following ‘The Match‘ the consensus of opinion was the combination of torrential rain and the knitted suit conspired against Ada…and commentators all agreed that lost her the American national championship at St. Louis in 1925.
Over the years, Ada readily and honestly admitted that her lack of preparedness against unseen circumstances constituted the greatest mistake of her golf career and that…
“It was an opportunity I may never get again and I wasted it through carelessness. I took chances with the elements I had no right to take. I learned my lesson and I will never play unprepared again”
Ada was true to her word, and as you read the remainder of Part III, whenever a championship was played in adverse weather, Ada perpetually dealt with the conditions better than the rest.
And unbeknown to Ada, her life changed five years later which had its genesis in ‘The Match‘…all will be revealed when Part III reaches the year 1930!!
(For the record, in the final Glenna Collett beat Alexa Stirling Fraser by 9&8. Glenna carded a 77 in the morning round and a 75 in the afternoon…as back then the players continued even when the match was over…a total of 152 on a course measuring 6,400 yards…without doubt, the best championship golf ever played by a woman up to that point)
In October 1925, Mississaugua Golf Club honoured Ada Mackenzie for bringing the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship back to Canada for the first time in six years and presented her with a beautiful gold wristwatch set with diamonds.
Also in October, Ada was the guest of honour at a luncheon held at the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto, as already covered in Part II.
Ada’s passion for the growth and development of ladies golf in Canada knew no bounds. In February 1926 Ada attended a meeting in Montreal held by the Canadian Ladies Golf Union where the main topic for discussion was the proposition to merge the Canadian Women’s Amateur & Ladies’ Closed Championships.
Ada spoke passionately in favour of keeping both Championships, outlining the need for younger players to gain experience, not only against ‘home’ players but also against the best international players from the United States and Great Britain, and that any financial losses should be absorbed by the Closed Championship.
After a lengthy and at times robust discussion, the subsequent vote resulted in 34 votes in favour of retaining both the Championships with only a single vote in favour of merging!!
As covered in Part I, Ada was a talented sportswoman at Havergal College but over time she realised that playing other sports was having repercussions on her golf. For example, Ada was an accomplished tennis player winning several trophies but started to overdevelop the muscle in her right forearm which impacted her golf swing and as a consequence, Ada had to stop playing.
However, one sport Ada continued to pursue was Figure Skating in that the agility, strength and lissomness required to skate complemented her golf.
And thus in March 1926, Ada won another title but not in golf…in partnership with Chauncey Bangs, she won the ice waltzing competition that was held in conjunction with the 1926 Canadian Figure Skating Championships!! The rules of the competition stipulated that each waltzing pair be comprised of a skater from a Toronto Club (Ada) and a skater from another Canadian city.
Chauncey Bangs was a Canadian pairs skater from Ottawa who was also an avid golfer!! He won the Canadian Figure Skating Championship in 1927, 1928 and 1931. And in 1932 he represented Canada at the Olympic Winter Games held in Lake Placid.
Due to her ongoing duties with the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto, Ada consciously cut down her playing schedule for 1926 to focus on three major championships namely the Canadian Women’s Amateur, Canadian Ladies’ Closed and the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Towards the end of August, Ada travelled from Toronto to Winnipeg to defend the Canadian Women’s Amateur title she had won less than 12 months earlier when defeating Alexa Stirling Fraser.
This was Ada’s first visit to Winnipeg where the Championship was played at the Elmhurst Golf & Country Club. It was the first time the event had been staged in Western Canada. Ada was full of praise for the beautiful Elmhurst course and in particular thought that the greens were exceptional and consistently true. When interviewed she believed the winner would be the golfer with the best short game (pitching, chipping and putting) and so she spent countless hours practising this facet of her game.
In the Round of 16, Ada was given a massive scare by Dorothy Page, a young up and coming player from Canada. Ada found herself 2 down with 6 to play but as champions frequently do found a way to fight back and won the next 4 holes. But then Ada lost the 17th to be 1 up going up the last and had to sink a 10-foot putt for a half and the match!!
Ada successfully negotiated the quarter-finals and semi-finals to reach the final where she met Helen Paget, her conqueror (via the Stymie) at the previous year’s Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship. For the final, the course was playing ‘heavy’ due to overnight rain and a strong wind blew all day. In the morning round, Ada went 1 up at the 3rd and was never headed, extending her lead to 5 up after 18. In the afternoon, Helen played superb golf but that only elevated Ada’s game to another level…she defended her title and claimed a third Women’s Amateur with a stunning 8&6 victory.
The following week, the Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship was staged at the St. Charles Country Club in Winnipeg and once again the protagonists in the 18-hole final were Ada Mackenzie and Helen Paget!!
All commentators were in agreement that in the final Ada played brilliantly with a standard of golf never before witnessed on the demanding 6419 yards St. Charles course. Ada won emphatically by 7&6 and carded a course record 77 for the 18 holes (as stated earlier, players completed their rounds).
Thus Ada claimed her first Ladies’ Closed title and became the first lady golfer to achieve the ‘Canadian Double’ in the same season.
Ada never made excuses when she did not play well or was beaten on the day by a better player. But the emotional and physical demands of winning both Canadian Championships and then travelling to the Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania to participate in the 1926 U.S. Championship, all in such a short space of time, must have taken their toll.
(We aren’t certain of how the ladies travelled between Championships, but at the time it would have been a 30-hour drive or several days by train to make the journey)
Ada qualified for the knockout stages but in the Round of 32 she was defeated 3&2 by Helen Stetson…without exception, the newspapers reported this as a massive shock. And yet…Helen Stetson went on to win the Championship!!
To commemorate her astonishing ‘Double’ achievement the Mississaugua Golf Club presented Ada with a ‘beautiful rose-coloured leather golf bag and a matching travelling bag’.
The club thought that Ada would by now be representing the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto but Ada had stayed loyal to Mississaugua…in fact, at the presentation, Ada responded by saying that she would “always play for the club that had meant so much to her for so many years”…but circumstances must have changed as the following February (1927) at the Ladies’ Golf Club Annual Meeting Ada announced that with much regret she would leaving the Mississaugua Golf and Country Club and would now be representing the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto.
(We are unable to ascertain what changed but very likely it was due to the increasing demands to promote the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto)
Hole In Two
This small slice of trivia from late Spring 1927 is an excellent illustration of how times have changed. Mercury Mills, a Canadian company established in 1912 by John Penman who was an innovative knitting industry leader, sponsored a ‘Hole in 2′ competition. The idea was to encourage women golfers to register for the competition and if they managed to complete a hole in 2 shots (which nearly 100 years ago was not a regular occurrence) they would win a prize such as a knitted vest, bloomers and silk hose!!
Not surprisingly, Ada Mackenzie registered a 2 at the par 3 16th at the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto (at the time the hole measured 175 yards) and won a prize!!
The 1927 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship was staged at the Cherry Valley Club, Garden City, New York and attracted the strongest ever field up to that point.
As per usual, there was an 18-hole strokeplay qualifying round with the top 32 players reaching the knockout match play stage.
The weather was so bad during the qualifying round that the organisers nearly suspended play…against the backdrop of such challenging conditions, Ada Mackenzie shot an incredible 77 (39-38) and was awarded the medal for the lowest qualifying round.
Not only that, Ada’s score equalled the best ever qualifying score in the U.S. Championship. And at the time, the par for women at the Cherry Valley Club was 82 so Ada was 5 under par and set a new course record!!
In the Rounds of 32 and 16 Ada ‘overwhelmed’ her American opponents by 7&5 and 4&2 respectively. In the quarter-finals, Ada came up against Virginia Van Wie, an 18-year-old golfer from Illinois. Ada found herself 2 down with 5 to play but yet again found a way to secure victory by 1 up.
(To highlight how good a performance this was…in future U.S. Championships, Virginia Van Wie was the losing finalist in 1928 and 1930 and was crowned champion in 1932, 1933 and 1934!!)
Unfortunately, Ada was unable to maintain her incredible form and lost to Maureen Orcutt by 2 holes (as the rest of Ada’s story is revealed in Parts III and IV, Maureen Orcutt will keep re-appearing).
Ada was only a few weeks away from her 36th birthday and yet the quality of golf she played at Cherry Valley was her best ever…so far.
With precious little time to recover from her exertions at Cherry Valley, Ada was determined to defend the Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship which was played the following week at the Toronto Golf Club, where there was a record 200 entries.
Strong winds prevailed for most of the week and at times the spectators took shelter. This did not prevent Ada from shooting an impressive 80 to finish T1 in the qualifying round. In the subsequent match play knockout stage, Ada defeated three former holders of the Closed title on the way to the final, including her old adversary Helen Paget by 7&6 in the semi-final.
In the 18-hole final, Ada met Mrs E W Whittington of Toronto. The match was A/S after 4 and then…Ada swept to victory by winning the next 8 holes to win by 8&6 and retain the title.
The following week, Ada was installed as the favourite to also retain the Canadian Women’s Amateur but it was just one tournament too many and she lost 5&3 in the quarter-finals to her nemesis…Alexa Stirling Fraser.
At the end of the year, Ada was ranked #8 in the top 10 women golfers of North America.
As mentioned previously, throughout her life Ada continually strove to encourage girls and women to play golf. In September 1927, she established the Toronto Junior Girls Championship with the inaugural event held at the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto. It was an unqualified success…so much so that the following year the Championship was extended to become the Ontario Junior Girls Championship…and in subsequent years all Canadian Provinces established championships for Junior Girls.
George Grieve Mackenzie
In the early months of 1928, Ada played in the annual Bahamas and Bermuda Championships reaching the final in the latter. She was then scheduled to play a further series of exhibition matches in Western Canada to support and encourage the expansion of the Canadian Ladies Golf Union but she had to cancel at the last minute as her father, George Grieve Mackenzie, fell ill.
Sadly he died on 23rd July 1928, aged 71. His obituary noted that he was a keen follower of the Royal & Ancient game and that his early tuition and advice had contributed to Ada’s great success on the golf courses of Canada.
Ada was very close to her parents and siblings and so that probably explains why she did not play much golf in 1928 and did not enter either of the Canadian Championships (although the Closed was cancelled and effectively merged with the Canadian Women’s Amateur due to severe winter-kill conditions at the Royal Montreal Golf Club and no suitable alternative venue could be found in time).
Returns In Style
Ada returned to competitive golf (in 1929) by winning the early season Bahamas Championship and finishing runner up in the Bermuda Invitational Tournament where she lost by 2 holes in the 36-hole final to Helen Hicks (more on Helen very soon).
In July at an Invitational Tournament staged at the Hamilton Golf & Country Club, Ada broke the course record (previously held by Glenna Collett) with a blistering 4 under par 74, which included 6 birdies.
Three In A Row
With the previous year’s Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship having been cancelled, Ada was the defending champion at the 1929 renewal staged at Scarboro Golf and Country Club, Toronto. Newspapers reported that “over recent years the Golf Club has completely altered the contour of its links and as a consequence, the fairways have been greatly improved, whilst the greens have been reconstructed and today are unequalled in Canada”.
But could Ada secure three Closed titles in succession? She finished second in qualifying and then in the match-play phase played magnificent golf to reach yet another final where she met Mrs S G Bennett of the Lambton Golf Club, Toronto who was a relative newcomer to championship golf. A large gallery watched excitedly as the match went all the way to the 18th hole where Ada skilfully stymied her opponent who had no option but to concede the match.
Ada had won her third consecutive National Championship.
A fortnight later, the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship was hosted by the Hamilton Golf & Country Club, where Ada had broken the course record only a few months earlier.
Glenna Collett headed the strokeplay qualifiers with Ada T3 with Helen Hicks. But then in the Round of 32, there was a huge upset when Ada was surprisingly defeated.
Helen Hicks, who was only 18, went on to win the Championship…during her long and distinguished amateur and professional career she also won the U.S. Amateur, 2 Major Professional championships and in 1950 was one of the thirteen women who founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
At the AGM of the Canadian Ladies Golf Union, the question of actually discontinuing the Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship was once again discussed. The problem was that the Closed was run in conjunction with the Canadian Women’s Amateur and as such players such as Ada Mackenzie were expected to play championship golf over 2 consecutive weeks (which as implied in this article contributed at times to why Ada could not sustain her form for such an intense and prolonged period of time).
Proposed options to be considered in the future were to either space out the events or at least ensure that the Closed was played after the Women’s Amateur to provide Ada and other elite Canadian golfers the best possible chance to compete against the best women golfers from the United States and Great Britain.
Ontario Handicap Cup
The Ontario Handicap Cup was awarded to the player having the greatest percentage reduction in their handicap during a season. In 1929, Ada reduced her handicap by 66.66% having started the season playing off a handicap of 3 and finishing the season with a handicap of 1.
It was noted that “Miss Mackenzie played very fine golf indeed to obtain the splendid percentage of 66.66…she had a most difficult task as players, under the Canadian Ladies Golf Union system, to obtain a handicap of 4, 3, 2 or 1 must return at least one score on 3 separate courses”.
Canada vs. United States
As an hors d’oeuvre for the 1930 Canadian Women’s Amateur, Canada met the United States for the very first time in an international match, played at Laval-sur-le-Lac, Montreal. Ada Mackenzie captained a very inexperienced Canadian team against an incredibly strong American team.
The United States were victorious by 11 matches to 2, with 1 match tied. Ada lost her singles match by 4&3 to Helen Hicks…but the result of her individual contest and of the overall match was of secondary importance as for Ada this match meant another crucial step on the golfing ladder for the Canadian women to gain much-needed experience.
Best Ever Field
The 1930 Canadian Women’s Amateur got underway the following day (at Laval-sur-le-Lac) and with the United States team playing this was by some distance the best ever field assembled for the Championship.
After easily qualifying, Ada cruised through to the semi-finals where she played the defending champion, Helen Hicks. A gallery of about 1,500 witnessed the best ever golf ever seen at Laval, but unfortunately not from Ada. According to reports, Helen Hicks played golf that was simply irresistible and invincible, playing the first 9 holes in an astonishing 35 shots…3 under par (for women) and what would have been 1 under par (for gentlemen), eventually running out the winner by 7&6.
However, in the final, Helen Hicks lost to Maureen Orcutt, who in an earlier round had accounted for Alexa Stirling Fraser.
The following week, Ada failed in her attempt to win the Closed title for the fourth time in succession when she gracefully bowed out of the championship following a surprise defeat in the quarter-finals.
Ada Mackenzie Ltd.
After 16 years of service Ada left her job working for the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Toronto…but what next?
Continually frustrated with the impracticality of women’s athletic apparel, and with only $35 Canadian Dollars in the Bank, she established Ada Mackenzie Ltd., a sportswear clothing store that addressed the needs of women athletes. Her store was located at 26 Bloor Street, Toronto.
Whenever Ada was asked why she moved into the sportswear business she always referred to ‘The Match‘ against Glenna Collett, explaining how her outfit had contributed to the loss of such an important game.
Ada not only imported quality European clothes, in particular from England, but she also began to have her own designs manufactured…shorter skirts with pleats in the back and blouses with longer tails so they would stay tucked in. Ada wanted all the designs to be functional as well as fashionable.
Many out of town customers had for some time hoped that Ada would open another store, but this time close to the downtown Toronto hotels…their hopes were realised when in 1941 Ada opened a second store, located closer to downtown Toronto at 1 Adelaide Street. Magazine articles also noted the enthusiasm of visiting celebrities at the new store when procuring sportswear in the finest traditions of the Old Country!!
In January 1945, a fire took hold in the basement of shops located in the old Brass Building at Young and Adelaide…there was damage to the building and heavy damage to the contents of five stores, one of which was Ada’s…though the fire was reportedly started in another store within the complex.
In 1950, with the development of much larger development stores on Bloor Street (Toronto’s 5th Avenue!!), Ada’s original store moved to 54 Bloor Street.
During the 1950s, some of the sweaters and cardigans sold in the stores were designed by Martha Moenig, who had emigrated with her family from Germany to Canada. The quality of Martha’s work became widely recognised and soon she was also designing and embellishing sweaters, handkerchiefs, tablecloths, pillows and other items for the fashion leaders of Toronto society. Martha sadly passed away in 2011 aged 93, but a celebration of her work was on display at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, Ontario
(We are currently awaiting notification from the Curator of the Museum on whether any of Martha’s designs for Ada were part of this exhibition…so hopefully, I will be able to update this passage within the overall article)
The daily management of Ada Mackenzie Ltd. kept Ada very busy until 1958 when she decided to sell the business (though the deal was not finally completed until the following year) to 30-year-old Donald Farncomb who saw the business as a growing enterprise.
(Donald Farncomb’s great great great uncle was the merchant and ship-owner Thomas Farncomb who was selected as Lord Mayor of London in 1849)
The shop kept the name ‘Ada Mackenzie’ and continued to stock quality, classic-style tailored clothing. Donald Farncomb eventually moved the shop to 94 Cumberland Street in Yorkville, a trendy location for shops and restaurants just a short walk from Ada’s original store in Bloor Street.
After the economic downturn, the ‘Ada Mackenzie Shop’ closed on 30th June 1994, as per the notification below.
Ada’s Golf Boutique
Even though Ada relinquished her sportswear business over sixty years ago, this particular storyline is far from over…in fact, it has re-started with a flourish with some incredible similarities and an almost unbelievable inspirational family connection…and very fortuitous synchronicity for Part III of this series.
Mackenzie Knowles thoroughly enjoyed her time working in Corporate sales and events but decided to return to college to further develop her knowledge of Marketing. After internships with the PGA of Canada and Wasserman, Mackenzie spotted a gap in the women’s golf market and thus on International Women’s Day 2021 (8th March), launched Ada’s Golf Boutique.
Based in Toronto, the vision of Ada’s Golf Boutique is to provide high quality, accessible, fashionable golf apparel which has been carefully selected for women, by women from brands across North America on a single online platform…and to help and support the growth of women’s golf in Canada.
Mackenzie’s role as owner includes buying, creative marketing campaigns, accounts and much much more. And the inspiration behind naming the Golf Boutique Ada’s? From an early age, Mackenzie was destined to be part of the golf industry, as she admired and called Ada Mackenzie her great great aunt as they both descended from the same historic family!!
Back To Back
At the start of the 1931 season, it was reported that Ada would hopefully be able to dedicate more time to competitive golf, having spent much of the previous year launching her sportswear business.
Despite the ongoing debate, the Canadian Women’s Amateur and Ladies’ Closed Championships were played over consecutive weeks at Rosedale Golf Club and Lambton Golf & Country Club respectively, proceeded the week before by the U.S. Women’s Amateur played at The Country Club of Buffalo.
At Buffalo, Ada lost in the Round of 32. In the following weeks’ Canadian Women’s Amateur, Ada was defeated in the Round of 16 at the first sudden-death hole by Virginia Van Wie. To highlight how close this contest was, Ada and Virginia halved 10 consecutive holes from the 3rd to the 12th!! The Championship was won by Maureen Orcutt, who defeated Canadian Marjorie Kirkham in the final.
Marjorie Kirkham was the defending Closed Ladies’ Champion and despite losing in the final of the Women’s Amateur the previous week was viewed as the favourite to retain her title. As expected she reached the final as did…Ada Mackenzie.
Once again, Ada sailed through her knockout matches apart from the semi-final where she had to really battle to finally clinch victory on the 18th.
A large gallery gathered to watch a much-anticipated match…Ada played the first 7 holes in an unbelievable level 4s. To her credit, Marjorie prevented a rout by battling away but the early blitz was just too much to recover and Ada sealed the victory and her fourth closed title in six years by 3&1.
A couple of interesting facts…
- Marjorie Kirkham and Ada Mackenzie somehow found the time to play a fourball exhibition match between the two Canadian Championships!!
- In 1937, Marjorie Kirkham became Canada’s first woman golf professional.
Age Is Just A Number
The following year, Ada clinched the (early season) invitational Belmont Manor Ladies’ Championship played in Bermuda by winning the 36-hole final 10&8, which included setting a new course record of 76 in the morning round.
Ada was unable to defend her Canadian Ladies’ Closed title as the event was cancelled to allow time for the competitors to play in the Canadian Women’s Amateur and then travel to Salem Country Club in Massachusetts for the U.S. Women’s Amateur…and for reason(s) unknown, Ada only entered the American Championship…which attracted a terrific array of golfers from the United States, Great Britain and Canada.
Could Ada emulate Ross Somerville, who earlier in 1932 became the first Canadian gentleman to win the U.S. Amateur Championship?
Ada defeated American ladies in the Round of 32 and Round of 16 and in the quarter-finals was drawn against Maureen Orcutt from New Jersey, who was favourite to win that years Championship…Ada had other ideas and secured a sensational 2&1 victory to reach her second U.S. Women’s Amateur semi-final…where she met Glenna Collett-Vare (who had married Edwin Vare twelve months earlier).
Ada started well and won the 1st and the crowd started to wonder if a famous Canadian Double at the American Championships (Ross & Ada) was on the cards…alas, despite playing some brilliant golf Ada was unable to take the prize scalp of Glenna Collett-Vare.
What should not be overlooked was that Ada was fast approaching her 41st birthday and yet she continued to improve and was still ranked as one of the foremost women players in the world.
Yet again the United States and (two) Canadian Championships were scheduled over three consecutive weeks in 1933…if that was not tough enough, the travelling time involved between Chicago and Winnipeg (the host venues for the respective championships) was a challenge in itself. That possibly explains why Ada was the only Canadian golfer to play in Chicago and why no American golfers travelled to Winnipeg.
Ada was surprisingly defeated during an early round of the U.S. Women’s Amateur…the only consolation being that she had slightly longer to recover from the journey to Winnipeg and prepare for the Canadian Women’s Amateur played at Pine Ridge Golf Club, a course designed by the world-renowned golf course architect Donald Ross.
Ada won the medal for the best gross score in qualifying and reached the final where her opponent was once again Marjorie Kirkham, the defending champion.
The 36-hole decider was played on water-soaked greens and fairways and the drizzling rain fell intermittently…but Ada was prepared!! Throughout the final, Ada’s driving from the tee was exceptionally accurate and her putting was of the highest quality. In the afternoon round, she finished the match in style with birdies at the 28th and 29th holes to win by 8&7…her fourth success in the prestigious Women’s Amateur Championship.
(Ada also won the long drive prize at the Championship with a drive of 229 yards!!)
The following week, the Canadian Closed Ladies’ Championship was also played in Winnipeg, this time at the St. Charles Country Club. Since there were no outside competitors at the previous weeks’ Championship the Closed Championship comprised of more or less the same participants…and yes (you guessed correctly), Ada met Marjorie Kirkham in the 18-hole final.
In the final, Ada outdrove her opponent and was steady on the greens but kept hooking her long iron shots and at times finding some challenging spots on the golf course!! After 8 holes, Ada was 1 up but then found trouble behind a tree…a spectacular recovery with her next shot by playing through the upper branches followed by an 18-foot putt for a birdie saw Ada double her advantage.
Ada maintained her 2 holes lead until the 16th where she accidentally grounded her club in a bunker and forfeited the hole…but Ada won the 17th to win 2&1.
This was the fifth time that Ada had been crowned national champion of Canada and just as she had done in 1926 achieved the ‘Double’.
Female Athlete Of The Year
In 1932, the sportswriters of the Canadian Press had conducted their inaugural poll to decide Canada’s female athlete of the year…the first-ever recipient was Hilda Strike who won silver medals in the 100m and the 4×100 metre relay at the 1932 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles.
Ada Mackenzie became the second recipient and the first golfer to win this poll as the Press considered her comeback to the golfing heights the outstanding individual performance in women’s sport in the year 1933 and recognised the competitive greatness of this unassuming and much-loved golfer and sportswoman. Other golfers who have since won (this poll) include Marlene Stewart Streit and Brooke Henderson.
In 1978, the poll was formalised into an award which is named after Bobbie Rosenfeld, in tribute to her being named Canada’s Female Athlete of the first half of the 20th Century.
One Of Those Days
At the 1934 Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship played at Scarboro Golf and Country Club, Ada (the defending champion) navigated safely through to the semi-finals without much difficulty…in fact in the qualifying round and in the knockout matches, she was consistently playing under-par rounds.
In the semi-finals, she met Mrs Gouinlock…to the surprise of all Ada found herself 1 down at the turn and after misjudging her pitch at the 11th Ada found herself 2 down with 7 holes to play. She then proceeded to make a mess of the 12th to be 3 down with only 6 holes to somehow find a way to quickly recover the situation and the match.
Ada decided that the American size golf ball was not behaving as she would have liked so reverted to playing with the smaller but heavier Canadian size golf ball…all to no avail as this resulted in Ada completely losing her putting touch and her downfall was sealed!!
Not sure what the moral of this story is other than maybe when it is not your day it really doesn’t matter what you do the result will be the same.
(It was not until 1952 that the USGA and The R&A established a joint code for the rules of golf but this did not address the issue of a common size ball. For years, differing sizes and weights of golf balls were used all around the golfing world. Over time, two sizes were standardized…the American Golf Ball (minimum golf ball diameter of 1.68 inches) and the British Golf Ball (minimum golf ball diameter of 1.62 inches), with both balls not exceeding 1.62 ounces in weight. Eventually, in 1990, the rules of golf were finally standardized and as such the golf ball must be a minimum of 1.68 inches in diameter and not exceed 1.62 ounces)
Canada vs. Great Britain
The biennial Curtis Cup Match between the United States and Great Britain started in 1932 with the inaugural match played at Wentworth Golf Club, England and so 1934 was the first time the contest was staged in the United States.
The itinerary for the Great Britain team before the Curtis Cup was to play against the Canadian team (for the very first time) at the Toronto Golf Club and then play in the following weeks Canadian Women’s Amateur.
Ada Mackenzie and Doris Chambers captained the respective teams and the match was billed as one of the feature events to celebrate the Centennial of the City of Toronto in 1934…with the added bonus (for Ada) of further experience for the Canadian Ladies.
Great Britain won the match by 8&1/2 to 3&1/2. Ada played in the top match in the morning foursomes but lost 2&1…though reports of the game stated that only the brilliant putting and recovery shots by Ada kept the match alive until the 17th!! In the afternoon singles, Ada once again played in the top match but a rare lapse of form got the better of her (and maybe from playing 36 holes in one day and the responsibilities of being the playing captain) and she lost 7&5.
The schedule for the Canadian and U.S. Championships and the Curtis Cup facilitated an incredibly strong field to assemble for the 1934 Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship, which was also played at the Toronto Golf Club…five of the Great Britain Ladies, a sprinkling of American stars…with Ada Mackenzie (defending champion) and Alexa Stirling Fraser (former champion) carrying the hopes of the host nation.
Ada Mackenzie started the defence of her crown in stunning style by winning the medal for the lowest gross score (81) in the strokeplay qualifying.
In the Round of 32, Ada defeated Mrs Arends (of Detroit) 5&3 with a consistently brilliant display of golf. In the following round Ada came up against Mrs J B Walker, a very experienced international player from Ireland…but Ada came through this incredibly tough match 1 hole to the good.
Doris Chambers, the playing captain of the Great Britain team, stood between Ada and a place in the semi-finals…a ‘nip and tuck’ match ensued with Ada eventually getting the better of Doris by 2&1. In the semi-finals, Ada easily accounted for the only surviving British challenger Molly Gourlay by 5&4. The other half of the draw culminated in Alexa Stirling Fraser reaching the 36-hole final.
After the morning round of the final, Ada held a narrow 1 hole lead. In the afternoon, Ada continued to have slightly better of the contest and doubled her lead with 9 holes to play. But an errant sliced tee shot by Ada at the 10th and 3 putts at the 14th allowed Alexa to square the contest. On the 15th, Ada displayed all of her battling qualities by sinking a 12-foot birdie putt for a half. But further putting lapses by Ada at the 16th and 17th presented Alexa with a dormie 1 advantage.
Playing their 36th hole, Alexa was just over the back of the green in two whilst Ada was short and right of the green in two…needing to win the hole to force sudden death, Ada played an exquisite chip to within 2 feet of the hole whilst Alexa failed to get up and down…so for the first time since the final had been extended to 36 holes in 1920, sudden death was required.
The 37th was halved in pars and then Alexa found a way to win the 38th and with it the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship for a second time. Ada lost absolutely nothing in defeat…and the players were on the course for almost 7 hours to play 38 holes (an impressive pace of play by today’s standards!!).
Ada’s endeavours finally caught up with her as the following week she lost 4&2 to Maureen Orcutt in the Round of 32 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
At the end of 1934, Ada once again won the Ontario Handicap Cup…this time by reducing her handicap during the season from 2 to scratch, the lowest handicap of any Canadian woman golfer. A phenomenal achievement when one considers that back in the 1930s very few players in the world attained a handicap of scratch…and also Ada was by now 43 years of age!!
Champions Charity Match
Such was her Ada’s standing around the world, in particular in Great Britain, that the Press Association (operating in UK and Ireland) reported at the beginning of May 1935 that Ada would be sailing over from Canada to play in the British Ladies Amateur Championship at Royal County Down…one of her favourite courses and where Ada had conceived the idea for the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto back in 1920. Unfortunately, Ada lost by 2&1 to Lady Eddis and after the match was quoted as saying she “had played too carefully”.
During the following month, Ada played in various events in England including a charity match (part fourball, part foursomes) at Bramley Golf Club, Guildford in aid of St. Dunstans…the other players involved were Enid Wilson (British Ladies Champion in 1931, 1932 and 1933), Diana Fishwick (British Ladies Champion in 1930) and Mlle Francine Tollon (French Champion in 1933, 1935 and 1942)…not a bad fourball!!
At the end of August 1935, Ada was unexpectedly defeated by a local 17-year-old American player in the Round of 16 at the U.S Women’s Amateur Championship…her conqueror was Patty Berg. In hindsight, maybe not that unexpected as Patty Berg went on to reach the final (though beaten by Glenna Collett-Vare), won the U.S. Championship in 1938 and as a professional won 15 majors which to this day remains the all-time record for a female golfer. Patty Berg was also one of the founding members of the LPGA.
This defeat is a perfect illustration of a recurring theme throughout Ada’s golfing career, in particular during the period covered by Part III, in that when she lost a match it was invariably against an opponent who…
- Was already a golfing legend such as Glenna Collett-Vare and Alexa Stirling Fraser or
- Would become a golfing legend such as Patty Berg and Virginia Van Wie or
- Eventually won the Championship such as Helen Stetson in the U.S. Championships of 1926.
An indication of just how good Ada Mackenzie was within the elite championship golfing circles.
The 1935 Canadian Women’s Amateur was played on the historic links of Jericho Country Club, Vancouver. Once again Ada led the qualifiers with an 81 and then proceeded to reach the final by convincingly winning her matches by 6&5, 4&3, 4&3 and 4&3!!
The final was billed as a contest between a tested links performer (Ada Mackenzie) and a brilliant shot-maker (Ragene Dagenais of Montreal).
The morning round of the final was played in torrential rain. So bad were the conditions that it was reported that “only sixteen staunch golf fans dared brave the elements for the morning round” and that the club professional Alex Duthie, who hailed from Carnoustie, Scotland “strode the course in large gumboots!!”.
(Further trivia…on June 24th 1911, Alex Duthie played in a nine-hole exhibition match to celebrate the opening of the BC Golf Club, now called the Vancouver Golf Club…something of a hole-in-one specialist throughout his long career, he amazingly scored back to back holes-in-one at the third and fourth holes!!)
Ada was more than prepared whatever the conditions and as such wore a (supposedly hampering) Drizzle Suit. Ada won the first 3 holes but the highlight of her morning round was a stunning eagle 3 on the 13th…and thus after 18 holes of the final Ada was 4 up.
The start of the afternoon round was greeted by the murky skies beginning to clear and the gathering of a large-sized gallery. Despite losing the 19th, Ada continued to play at a relentless pace and won the sixth, seventh, ninth, tenth and eleventh holes to seal her fifth Canadian Women’s Amateur by 8&7.
The following week, Ada led the qualifiers at the 1935 Canadian Ladies’ Closed Championship played at Royal Colwood Golf Club, but lost at the 19th in the quarter-finals.
(In 1942 the Jericho Country Club, the first golf club in Vancouver, was taken over by the Department of National Defence for the use of the Royal Canadian Air Force and sadly disbanded as a golf course)
Hole In One
On Saturday 12th October 1935, Ada recorded her first-ever hole in one!! Aptly it was achieved (with a 7 iron) on the 138 yards par 3 13th at her home club…the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto.
Golf Is My Hobby
By now, Ada’s “Achievements Board” included…
- Established the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto
- Canadian Women’s Amateur Champion (1919, 1925, 1926, 1933 and 1935)
- Canadian Ladies’ Closed Champion (1926, 1927, 1929, 1931 and 1933)
- U.S. Women’s Amateur Semi-Finalist (1927 and 1932)
- U.S. Women’s Amateur Medal Winner (1927)
- Ontario Ladies’ Amateur Champion (1922, 1923, 1927, 1931 and 1933)
- Canada’s Female Athlete of the Year (1933)
- Canada’s International Golf Team Captain
- Launched a Sportswear Store
- Scratch Handicap
- Ice Waltzing Champion (1926)
- Established the Ontario Junior Girls Championship
Without a doubt, Ada Mackenzie was a Trailblazing Champion on and off the links and demonstrated that excelling in sport whilst carving a successful career can go hand in hand.
At the end of the year (1935), Ada was asked a question along the lines of how long did she think she could continue to play golf at such an elite standard to which Ada seriously replied, albeit laced with her ready sense of humour…
“Golf is my hobby and when the day comes that I don’t get a lot of fun out of it, I will quit”
Only time would tell how long the fun would last…
To Be Concluded…
I hope you have enjoyed the third instalment of Ada Mackenzie’s life and golfing story.
If you wish to read the concluding part of the series then please click on Ada Mackenzie – Part IV, First Lady of Golf.
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.