Courtesy of the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation
The illustrious list of past champions at Westchester Country Club in Harrison, New York is filled with some of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tony Lema, Julius Boros, Johnny Miller, Raymond Floyd, Seve Ballesteros, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Fred Couples and Inbee Park all have collected wins on Westchester’s West Course, which was designed by Walter Travis and opened in 1922.
Though he never won at Westchester, the great Ben Hogan played his last competitive round of his career on the West Course on July 5, 1970, in the Thunderbird Classic.
One name that might be familiar only to Westchester’s distinguished membership, golf historians and literary scholars is that of Edith Cummings, who won the first championship hosted by Westchester Country Club, the 1923 U.S. Women's Amateur, defeating Alexa Stirling 3 and 2 in the final.
Known as the “Fairway Flapper,” Cummings led a privileged life as a wealthy Chicago socialite and spent most of her adult life playing golf and giving away money. A celebrity teenage debutante during the Jazz Age, Cummings learned to play golf at Onwentsia Country Club in Lake Forest, Ill. where both of her parents had been club champions. Her brother, Dexter, won the back-to-back intercollegiate championships in 1923 and ’24 and the Western Amateur in 1925.
Edith also won Onwentsia’s club championship in 1918 and three years later, competed in the British Ladies Amateur. In 1922, Cummings entered the U.S. Women’s Amateur and was eliminated on the final hole by an 18-year-old from Rhode Island by the name of Glenna Collett-Vare, who won a record six U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships, two Canadian Women’s Amateurs and a French Women’s Amateur in the pre-professional era.
Unfazed, Cummings was back in the U.S. Women’s Amateur the following year at the newly opened Westchester Country Club. Cummings ran the table and defeated three-time former champion Stirling, 3 and 2 in the championship match.
“She swaggered like a bullfighter, ready to pounce on any mistake her opponent made,” wrote one reporter.
Time, August 1924
The victory, combined with her striking looks, boundless energy, wealth and educational pedigree, landed the newly crowned major champion on the cover of Time
in August of 1924, making her the first female athlete featured on the magazine’s cover.
story came out as Cummings was preparing to defend her Amateur title at Rhode Island Country Club, but she struggled to rekindle the magic of the previous year at Westchester and was eliminated in the early round of match play. Cummings never won another golf tournament following the 1923 U.S. Women’s Amateur and retired from competitive golf altogether in 1926, although she continued to play well into her 80s.
Nine years before she graced the cover of Time
, Cummings met a young Princeton student named F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had fallen in love with her close friend and classmate, Ginevra King. Fitzgerald immortalized both women in his 1925 novel, "The Great Gatsby", with the character of Jordan Baker, the beautiful, tall and tanned amateur golfer with a sarcastic streak and an aloof attitude, based on Cummings, and Daisy Buchanan, a shallow, self-absorbed, and young debutante, modeled after King.
heads will remember Jordan Baker was accused of cheating to win her first golf tournament by allegedly improving her lie, which was fictional depiction of her behavior as opposed to any evidence or detail in Cummings’ background.
Alexa Stirling (l) and Edith Cummings
Cummings marriage to wealthy Detroit businessman Curtis B. Munson in 1934 allowed her to take part in many philanthropical endeavors. Today, the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation provides seed funding for numerous conservation programs.
Her legacy also is commemorated by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association through the the Edith Cummings Munson Award, presented annually to a female NCAA Division I student-athlete who is an upper classman and both a WGCA All-American Scholar and a WGCA All-American. A donation of $5,000 is given from the Curtis & Edith Cummings Munson Foundation to the general scholarship fund of the recipient's institution. Past winners include Amanda Blumenherst of Duke and Azahara Munoz of Arizona State.
While Westchester Country Club prepares to add another chapter to its storied history this week with the playing of the 122nd U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, chances are the champion-to-be has never heard of Edith Cummings.
But 99 years ago, golf’s first female celebrity hoisted the Robert Cox Trophy on the same course where the best female amateur players will converge this week to write their own novels – minus the two-piece dresses, blouses, pleaded skirts and knit cardigan sweaters.