Glenna Collett Vare

Inducted: 1966
Born: 06/20/1903
Died: 02/03/1989

“Glenna Collett Vare is regarded as Rhode Island’s greatest female athlete. While she was highly skilled in tennis. swimming and diving, she was an extraordinary golfer, dominating the sport in the 1920s,” according to Dr. Patrick T. Conley, Historian Laureate of Rhode Island. She was born in New Haven, Conn., on June 20, 1903, and raised in Providence, R.I. The Colletts were a family of sports lovers, and Glenna had ample opportunity to show her athletic talents early in life. Whether in the pool as a swimmer and diver, on the tennis court, or on the baseball field with her brother and neighbors, she could certainly hold her own. In 1917, when she was just 14 years old, she asked her father if she could try her hand at golf. Her parents had been hoping their daughter would take to a sport more feminine than baseball, and when she drove the ball more than 100 yards on her first attempt, it became clear that she belonged on the green.

Just two short years after she picked up her first club, she was winning titles. She won her first-round match in the U.S. Women’s Amateur and Golf Championship in 1919 and by 1921 posted the Championship’s lowest qualifying score. She went on to dominate the sport over the course of the decade, winning title after title, both in the U.S. and abroad. She attributed much of her success to the persistence of her coach, Alex Smith, a golf professional in his own right. She was also highly superstitious and had particular hats she would wear in specific tournament situations. However, it was clearly her capacity to drive the ball long distances that was the true key to her continued success.

In the pre-professional era, the U.S. Women’s Amateur was the most prestigious event in the country. Her strength was off the tee. While setting a new single-round scoring record in 1922, Glenna Collett claimed her first of six U.S. championships. The following year, she was upset in the third round but went north to win the Canadian Women’s Amateur. In 1924, Glenna Collett achieved the most remarkable record in golfing history, both female and male. Despite setting a new single-round qualifying scoring record, Collett lost by a fluke in the semifinal of the 1924 U.S. Women’s Amateur when, on the 19th hole, Mary Browne’s ball caromed off hers and into the cup. However, that would be her only loss in a year where she won an astonishing 59 out of 60 matches, including her second consecutive Canadian championship.

Glenna Collett won the U.S. Women’s Amateur again in 1925 and reeled off three straight titles between 1928 and 1930 while recording 16 consecutive tournament victories. She won six North and South Women’s Amateurs and six Women’s Eastern Amateurs, and in between all these, she was the runner-up in the 1929 and 1930 British Ladies Amateurs. She also went to France, where she won the French Women’s Amateur. In the early 1930s, Collett-Vare married Edwin H. Vare Jr. and had two children. She returned to golf, losing in the semifinals to Virginia Van Wie. However, she won her sixth U.S. championship the following year by defeating future star Patty Berg in the finals.

After winning 49 championships, she ended her competitive golf career at the age of 56, with a victory at the 1959 Rhode Island Women’s Golf Association tournament. Since 1953, the Ladies Professional Golf Association has awarded the Vare Trophy to the golfer with the lowest average strokes per round in professional tour events. In 1965, she was the recipient of the Bob Jones Award, the United States Golf Association’s highest honor given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf.   

At the age of 81, she still had a 15 handicap and played in her 61st consecutive Invitational event in 1984 at the Point Judith Country Club in Rhode Island. In her 1977 book, One Hundred Greatest Women in Sports, author Phyllis Hollander listed Glenna Collett Vare ahead of Babe Zaharias and Patty Berg, stating that “her career was unequaled in the annals of golf.” Gene Sarazen called her “the greatest woman golfer of all time.”. She earned induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975 when she was described as the greatest female golfer of her day. 

Glenna Vare died on Feb. 3, 1989, at the age of 86. She was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1966, and the World Golf Hall of Fame and The Connecticut Hall of Fame in 1975.

For additional reading:

Golf For Young Players by Glenna Collett (1926) – Little, Brown and Company

Ladies in the Rough by Glenna Collett with a foreword by Bobby Jones (1928) – Alfred A. Knopf

One Hundred Greatest Women in Sports – Phyllis Hollander (1977). Putnam  

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