Coleman Recalls First U.S. Girls’ Experience
It was the summer of ’46 and it all started with an RC Cola and a bag of peanuts.
Eleven-year-old Babs Coleman was enjoying the pool at Anniston (Alabama) Country Club when she decided to run up to the pro shop and indulge in one of her favorite treats, peanuts poured into one of those 12-ounce Royal Crown Colas.
There was a golf club leaning against the wall, and she picked it up and made a few swings. The golf professional, Bill Davis, watched those swings and liked what he saw. He called little Barbara’s father and suggested that he let her take some golf lessons.
Three years later, Babs was in Philadelphia, teeing it up in a brand new event, the inaugural U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. The 61st version of that championship will be played at the Country Club of North Carolina July 19-24, and the re-enactment naturally brings memories flooding back for Coleman.
“Actually, what I remember most are the shaking knees and the giggles,” she said.
The championship was played on Philadelphia Country Club’s Bala Course, and there were 28 girls entered. There was no qualifying and the girls were simply seeded into match play.
“Most of us had our mothers with us,” Coleman said. “I was 14, and my mother and I caught a train from Alabama and went to what seemed like the end of the world to get there.
“I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mrs. Glenna Vare (for whom the LPGA’s Vare Trophy for low stroke average is named), because I was playing her daughter in the first round. I won that one and then beat a girl from New York state. I lost to another New York girl, Barbara Bruning, in the semifinals.”
Marlene Bauer, who went on to LPGA fame, won the title, beating Bruning 2-up in the final match.
“I felt tremendous pressure,” Coleman said. “I got a fistful of telegrams from people at home, and as wonderful as that was, it added pressure. I really wasn’t sophisticated enough to deal with it.”
That original field held a reunion in 1998 and seven women showed up.
“That was a lovely time,” Coleman said, smiling at the memory. “Two of them, Marlene and Barbara Romack, had great LPGA careers. Barbara McIntyre remained an amateur and distinguished herself on the Curtis Cup team. Ann Henderson served on the USGA Girls’ Committee for many years. All of those women have really given back to the game.
“My first tournament was the Alabama Girls’ Championship,” Coleman recalled. “I played in it twice, at 14 and 15, and was runner-up both times. Many years later, I was also the runner-up in the Delaware Women’s Championship.”
Coleman met and played with some of the game’s greats but never really considered turning professional.
“When I was growing up, one wall of my bedroom was covered with pictures of the great movie stars of the time,” she said, “and the other was covered with pictures of the great women golfers.
“I went on and got more education, got married and had four kids,” she said. “I’ve had a full life. I guess my biggest accomplishment in golf was getting my handicap down to four. Didn’t stay there long, though.
“I was invited to play in some amateur tournaments in Georgia,” she said, “and played in exhibitions with Louise Suggs and Patty Berg. Living in Alabama, we were in proximity with Suggs, who lived in Georgia. When I was 15 or 16, I saw Suggs at Sea Island (Ga.), and after dinner, Babe Zaharias entertained us with her harmonica. Betty Dodd accompanied Babe on a guitar, and it was a wonderful evening.
“Babe was outgoing and liked to have a good time. Marilynn Smith was around, too, and she was always so helpful to junior players. She was a sweetheart.”
Another of Coleman’s memories involves Peggy Kirk Bell, the legendary owner of Pine Needles and Mid Pines Resorts.
“I played in the Women’s Western Amateur, and there were a lot of tournaments around the Chicago area,” she said, producing a ticket from one that showed an admission fee of $2.40, including tax. “We used to go out and watch the pros play in the All-American and the World Championships, tournaments sponsored by George May.
“I remember watching Peggy Kirk hit practice balls. Oh, she could hit it a ton. I think Bullet (Peggy’s late husband) was with her.”
Coleman met her husband, John, during a summer when she worked at Eseeola Lodge in Linville. She was the restaurant hostess and director of social services for youth and also worked in the golf shop at Linville Golf Club.
John, who was attending Georgia Tech, was visiting the lodge with friends. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I went on to undergrad study at Stetson (Fla.) University, then to the University of Kentucky for my MEE in guidance and counseling,” Coleman said. “Then I went back to school and was certified as a psychologist and worked with Down syndrome children.”
The Colemans live in the Mid South Golf Club complex, but Babs has experienced health problems over the past few years and, at the age of 75, doesn’t play golf anymore. She still loves the game and keeps up with it, though.
“We had been to the Pinehurst area many times on vacation,” she said, “and we retired here in 1992 the first time. We moved to Callawassie Island, but the climate there didn’t agree with me, and the doctors advised us to move to Tucson, Ariz. But we’re Southerners and we wanted to get back, so we moved here.
“I love this golf course and was able to play a few times before my health got worse. Actually, I played some of the best golf of my life here before I had to quit. Finally, in my ripe old age, I was learning to hit down on the ball with my irons; I had always been a sweeper. I shot a 35 on the front nine not long before I had to give it up.”
Despite the health problems, Coleman is staying active in the community, serving on the board of the Friends of Moore County Guardian ad Litem (GAL), an organization to promote community awareness and support for abused and neglected children in the Moore County court system.
Some of the activities GAL sponsors are providing school supplies, playground improvements, anger management for parents and summer camp experiences.
Anyone who’d like to get involved can call (910) 947-4843 or visit the website at friendsofmooregal.org.
Because of her health concerns, Coleman isn’t sure how much of the U.S. Girls Championship she’ll be able to experience at CCNC. But she does have some advice for the players.
“As a group, those first 28 girls weren’t as sophisticated as today’s girls,” she said. “We certainly weren’t as fashionable and not as competitive. There were no scholarships to fight for back then.
“I would tell them to remember that golf is a great game, but don’t be consumed by it. Try to concentrate on the friendships and the relationships they make. And always protect the integrity of the game, because that’s what makes it so special.
“Some people say golf teaches character. I tend to agree, but I also feel that golf brings out character. It’s a game, but it sure brings out the character of a person.”
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