A First on the Links

A First on the Links

The 1937-39 Los Angeles Open golf tournaments were held on the Wilson and Harding courses in Griffith Park. Here is a scene from the 1938 Open, noteworthy for the participation of Babe Didrikson, who became the first (and still only) woman to play in a men's professional golf tournament.

Photo: UCLA Department of Special Collections

The second Los Angeles Open played in Griffith Park was noteworthy for a golfer who missed the cut after the second round.

Babe Didrikson was probably the greatest female athlete of her time, maybe the greatest in history. And on a sunny day in Griffith Park in January 1938 she became the first--and to this day the only--woman to play in a Professional Golfers' Association tournament.

At 23, Didrikson was at an awkward point in her career. Her 1932 Olympic exploits fading from popular memory, she bounced from sport to sport in an era that offered few professional opportunities for women in sports. Her career became a barnstorming tour, with Didrikson often picking up her biggest paychecks by playing alongside the top male athletes of the time.

Lost Her Amateur Status

In 1935 these activities lost Didrikson her status as an amateur golfer in Texas, her home state. Since the Ladies' Professional Golf Association didn't exist yet, she was somewhat at a loss about where to compete. Media-savvy and comfortable matching her talents against men, Didrikson (who was now living near Paramount Studios in Hollywood) chose a course that would draw attention to her and cement her in public perception as the nation's top woman golfer.

She entered the Los Angeles Open, held in Griffith Park. Women were a fairly common sight on the links at Griffith Park. The Women's City Golf Championship had been held in the park since at least 1930, when the event turned a profit of $3.60. But this wasn't a women's tournament. Actually, it wasn't explicitly a men's tournament, either. An open tournament meant just that. Anyone could enter. "There was no rule that said a woman couldn't play in it," she recalled in her autobiography. "So I got in there."

An Unlikely Threesome

She was put into a threesome that was unlikely to break any course records: C. Pardee Erdman, a Presbyterian minister who was professor of religion at Occidental College; George Zaharis, a professional wrestler; and herself.

They drew a fair amount of attention. Sports photographers, forever looking for an angle, egged the big, good-natured Zaharias to demonstrate various wrestling holds on Didrikson, who was apparently up for anything. Although they had met only minutes earlier, they hammed it up for the cameras.

And even though the pros were tearing the place apart and posting some spectacular rounds--there were two 65s on the first day of the tournament--nearly the entire gallery followed the minister, the wrestler and the woman. But Didrikson recalled, "Those people didn't see too much good golf." She shot an 84. Zaharis had an 83. Rev. Erdman, though, was on his game, shooting a 75.

The next day Didrikson posted a second less-than-glittering round and missed the cut for the final two days of the tournament. But her pioneer status--the only woman to play in a men's Professional Golf Association tournament--was confirmed on those two days on the links in Griffith Park.

Oh, and those two days were productive in a second, completely different way. In December 1938 she became Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

Writer's note: This article, one of an occasional series, is part of the Griffith Park History Project, an attempt to chronicle the park's long and remarkable life.

What memories do you have of Griffith Park? Suggestions? Questions? Criticisms?

Please call me at Glendale College 240-1000, Ext. 5352 (I have voice mail, so you can leave a message at any time.)

Write to me, Mike Eberts, Griffith Park History Project, Glendale Community College, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, CA 91208.

E-mail me at MEberts@glendale.cc.ca.us

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