A L E X A S T I R L I N G
The Greatest Female Golfer in the WWI Era
A col laborative exposition established by Atlanta Athletic Club and East Lake Golf Club
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F OR YOU R C ON S I DE R AT I ON . . .
Alexa Stirling is the greatest champion that women’s golf has ever forgotten. She has been called the “Glorious Golfing Girl” and “the finest iron player the feminine world of golf ever saw;” she was even compared to Mary Queen of Scots, the “Mother of Golf ”— unfortunately, like Mary Queen of Scots, Alexa Stirling’s history in golf seems to have been forgotten. Alexa Stirling began to play golf in 1908 but her march to greatness really began in 1915 when, at age 17 she became the youngest winner of the Women’s Southern Amateur. The next year, at just 18 years old — the youngest champion to that date — she won her first U.S. Women’s Amateur title. In eight short years, she had gone from a beginner to national champion. Alexa Stirling made a mark on women’s golf long before the LPGA was founded. In 1920, she won her third consecutive U.S. women’s Amateur title; an achievement made by only seven women players ever. The New York Times wrote about her, “No male amateur and no professional ever won an American golf title thrice in succession and only one woman ever accomplished this before now. But Miss Stirling’s feat is considerably more than that of her illustrious predecessor, Miss Beatrix Hoyt, since she won her three championships over a period of five years, from 1916 to 1920.” When speaking about this amazing feat, Bobby Jones’ grandson said, “if it hadn’t been for World War I, we would be talking about her in the same breath as my grandfather in terms of the dominant player of their day.” One month later, after winning the Canadian Women’s Amateur, Alexa Stirling solidified herself as the greatest female golfer in the world. It has now been over 100 years since Alexa Stirling’s
final U.S. Women’s Amateur victory and yet very few have ever heard her story; perhaps it’s because she didn’t have the luxury of a publicist like O.B. Keeler who traveled over 150,000 miles watching Bobby Jones and writing about it to be sure he got the accolades he deserved. So many outstanding female golfers have accomplished incredible feats and have played at the highest level, but the forerunner to all of this was Stirling. It would be fitting to finally induct Alexa Stirling into the World Golf Hall of Fame (WGHoF) as 2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the Atlanta Athletic Club where she and Bobby Jones began their friendship and played golf together; her instructor, a noted Scottish professional named Stewart Maiden, was credited with being the model for Jones’ swing. She was an extremely humble and modest woman and always avoided the limelight, her daughter once said, “she hid her light under a bushel.” In fact, her children never really appreciated the scope of their mother’s contributions to golf until she was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.
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Though Alexa Stirling’s years in the game of golf long precede the current criteria for induction into the WGHoF, no one more personifies a champion and a decent, sportsmanlike human. As Patty Berg, a founding member of the LPGA, WGHoF member, and winningest major champion of all time said of her, “I only hope when I leave competitive golf, I can be like Alexa. I have never met a golfer or a woman that I thought so much of. Alexa is the finest competitor and the finest lady the game has ever known.” As successful as Alexa Stirling was on the golf course, a great game was only one of many talents she had; she was truly a multifaceted renaissance woman with an amazing breadth of accomplishments. As accomplished as she was both on and off the course, she was equally gracious and kind. Perhaps the most perfect example of this was in 1950, at the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Women’s Amateur played at
Atlanta Athletic Club. On the 18th hole of the first round, she could have tied her opponent by sinking a seven-foot putt, but opted to pick up her ball and hold out her hand, so conceding the match. She later told Patty Berg that this was because “I had my time, this is their time.” A dear friend of Bobby Jones, a multiple time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and an advocate for the game, Alexa Stirling was most certainly a trailblazer. She was indeed one of the finest competitors and one of the finest women ever to swing a club; she is one of the most deserving and underappreciated women in the history of the sport and meets the criteria for consideration as both a competitor and as a contributor. The World Golf Hall of Fame has brought attention to many notable female golfers over the years including Patty Berg and Glenna Collett Vare both of whom were vocal about her contributions to the game along with many others against whom she played; the absence of Alexa Stirling is notable, and she deserves to have the light shine brightly on her legacy at WGHoF.
A col laborative exposition established by Atlanta Athletic Club and East Lake Golf Club
TA B L E O F C ON T E N T S
A L E X A S T I R L I N G TH E G R E AT E S T F EMA L E GO L F E R I N TH E WW I E R A
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II. Quotations and Annotations III. Women’s Golf ’s Greatest Forgotten Champion by Steve Eubanks, LPGA News IV. East Lake: Where Bobby Learned to Play Chapter 2: Glorious Golfing Girl by Linton C. Hopkins V. A Stirling Celebration by Stan Awtrey, Georgia Golf Magazine VI. Champions of Eastlake Chapter 5: Queen of the Links by Sidney L. Matthew VII. Letters of Endorsement Linton C. Hopkins
50 50 52 54 55 56 58 59 60 61 62 66 67
Kris Bulmer Stan Awtry Catherine M. Lewis Martha Kirouac
Kelli Kuehne Cristie Kerr Robert Jones IV Liz Hoffman & Meggan Gardner Sidney L. Matthew
VIII. Additional Resources VIIII. In Her Words
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I . B I O G R A P H Y
Alexa Stirling was born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 5, 1897, two years after her family moved from Edinburgh, Scotland. Growing up she played piano and violin, trained to be an operatic soprano, became an expert markswoman, built furniture, rode horses, and fly- fished, even tying her own flies. And because the Stirling family lived next door to the Atlanta Athletic Club at East Lake, “in her spare time,” wrote noted golf journalist Steve Eubanks, “she grew up to become the greatest female golfer in the world.” At East Lake, young Alexa was tutored by noted Scottish golf professional Stewart Maiden. She also became friendly with a young boy four years her junior named Bobby Jones. As children, Alexa and Jones played many rounds together. During one, Alexa’s father, Dr. Alexander Stirling, overheard Jones unleash a string of curses after a bad shot; he immediately forbade his daughter from playing with Jones again until he learned “some proper manners.” They didn’t play together for two years.
Alexa’s march to golf greatness began in 1915, when, at age 17, she became the youngest winner of the Women’s Southern Amateur. The next year, she won her first U.S. Women’s Amateur, making her both America’s youngest-ever major champion and the first Southerner to win a major. During World War I, with major golf events cancelled, Alexa toured the country with Jones and another East Lake alum, Perry Adair, playing exhibition matches in support of the Red Cross. As the “Dixie Whiz Kids,” they raised more than $150,000—the equivalent of almost $4 million today. After the war, her golf dominance picked up where it had left off. In 1919, she won her second straight U.S. Women’s Amateur, and in 1920 her third. One month later, she won the Canadian Women’s Amateur. (She would win it again in 1934, and finish runner up in ’21 and ’25.) Her Amateur streak ended in 1921, when she lost in the finals to Marion Hollins. Two years later, she lost in the finals again, this time to Edith Cummings. In between, she won the Met Women’s Amateur in both 1922 and ’23. She finished second in the U.S. Women’s Amateur—again—in 1925, to Glenna Collett.
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KEY CHAMPIONSHIP Victories Women’s Southern Amateur
Playing in the 1923 Canadian Women’s Open, she met Dr. Wilbert Grieve Fraser, who she married two years later. Living in Ottawa, they had three children between 1928 and ’39. She also continued to play golf, winning the ladies’ club championship at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club 9 times (along with various shooting and archery club championships). Stirling returned to Atlanta twice. In 1950, at the request of her old friend Bob Jones, she attended the golden anniversary of the Women’s Amateur, held at Atlanta Athletic Club on its East Lake course. In 1976, she visited the Atlanta Athletic Club, by then in its John’s Creek location, for the 1976 U.S. Open. Alexa Stirling died on April 15, 1977. When she was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame the next year, her children couldn’t understand why. As her daughter said, “We knew she played golf, but we had no idea.” No idea, indeed. As modest as she was dominant, Alexa Stirling deserves to join the World Golf Hall of Fame.
U.S. Women’s Amateur Women’s Southern Amateur
U.S. Women’s Amateur Women’s Southern Amateur
U.S. Women’s Amateur Canadian Women’s Amateur
Met Women’s Amateur
Met Women’s Amateur
Canadian Women’s Amateur
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I I . Q U O T A T I O N S A N D A N N O T A T I O N S “I only hope when I leave competitive golf, I can be like Alexa. I’ve never met a golfer or a woman that I’ve thought so much of. Alexa is the finest competitor and the finest lady the game has ever known” Patty Berg*, Founding member of the LPGA, and World Golf Hall of Fame member *Said after watching Alexa (age 53) play her last competitive round (Patty had already won 8 of her record 15 majors)
“No woman golfer has ever been more admired and beloved by those she played against than Alexa Stirling” James A. Barclay * *Wrote Golf in Canada, was curator of the golf museum of the Royal Canadian Golf Association and was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame for leadership and for his careful research and writing. He was the author of the only biography of Alexa, The Golfer and the Carpenter, but died in 2011 before it was published.
“The most stylish and dangerous woman golfer ever to breach British shores”
Bernard Darwin*, British golf writer and World Golf Hall of Fame member *First writer ever to cover golf on a daily basis, and competed in The Amateur Championship on 26 occasions and the first Walker Cup
“It is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Stirling’s going will leave a gap…(she) has made a host of friends on this side” Eleanor Helme*, British Golf Illustrated *British golf journalist, author and 1923 English Ladies Amateur Champion
“(Alexa’s) form has been the model for countless women golfers whom she inspired to better games. I succumbed to her influence the first time I saw her play” “When she gave her full attention to golf ... she was almost invincible ... and when her powers were at their crest she went undefeated at match play for more than a few years.” Glenna Collett Vare*, World Golf Hall of Fame member *Won Six US Amateur Championships, two Canadian Ladies Opens, and the French Ladies Open. The Vare trophy is given annually to the LPGA player with the lowest scoring average of the season
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“…there is none who can deny Miss Alexa W. Stirling’s position at the pinnacle of the fair sex. Only superlatives can describe the little auburn haired Southern girl and her remarkable ability on the links. She stands today so high above the thousands of other women who are fast acquiring proficiency in the game that it is fairly incredible.” “In ranking the women golfers on the basis of their ability during 1919 Miss Stirling goes into her top place automatically.” “There is positively no American woman golfer close enough to the champion (Alexa) to be called a dangerous rival. She plays as near a perfect game on the links as any woman golfer who ever addressed the ball.” New York Times, Sunday, December 14, 1919 “(Alexa) was the finest iron player the feminine world of golf ever saw…To me nothing compares with Alexa, the feminine Bobby Jones of style, a golfer with a great heart…” “Alexa Stirling hasn’t a peer among the feminine golfers of these United States…There is not another woman who plays as sound and finished a game as the little red-headed girl from Atlanta” O.B. Keeler * *Nationally recognized authority on golf who chronicled every tournament stroke ever played by Bobby Jones and considered by Jones as “the greatest golf writer that has ever lived”
“I heaved numerous clubs and once threw the ball away. I read the pity in Alexa’s soft brown eyes and finally settled down…That experience had its proper effect. I resolved then that this sort of thing had to stop” Bobby Jones* *For whom the USGA’s highest award is given to the ‘individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones.’
“Miss Alexa Stirling of Atlanta, GA has not lost a golf match since the national Championship of 1915…but the women are all agreed there is no woman in this country who can beat the auburn-haired champion. The women players have called her the Glorious Golfing Girl, and her record bears this out.” “No male amateur and no professional ever won an American golf title thrice in succession and only one woman ever accomplished this before now. But Miss Stirling’s feat is considerably more than that of her illustrious predecessor, Miss Beatrix Hoyt, since she won her three championships over a period of five years, from 1916 to 1920 (There was no contest in 1917 and 1918 because of the war) From Glorious Golfing Girl, New York Times (October 1920)
“The race track has Man O’ War, baseball has its Babe Ruth, and billiards has its Willie Hoppe. In the same way women’s golf in America has its Alexa Stirling, who is just as predominant in her field as any male champion happens to be in his…”
Grantland Rice,* New York Herald Tribune *The most widely read sportswriter of his era
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I I I . W O M E N ’ S G O L F ’ S G R E A T E S T F O R G O T T E N C H A M P I O N WRITTEN AND PERMISSION GRANTED BY: STEVE EUBANKS, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR AND LPGA MANAGING EDITOR Published: March 17, 2021, www.LPGA.com/news
Women’s golf hardly began with the founding of the LPGA. In the 1500s, Mary Queen of Scots, known for her red hair and fierce disposition, kept a summer cottage in St Andrews and was such an avid player that she was dubbed “The Mother of Golf.” She is credited with inventing the word “caddie,” which was a carryover from the French “cadét,” young military trainees who carried her highness’s clubs as she was learning the game. Three and a half centuries later, another redheaded firecracker became America’s most famous sportswomen. Unfortunately, much like the Mary Queen of Scots, her history in golf is largely forgotten. Alexa Stirling was the middle of three daughters of an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor from Edinburgh, Scotland who immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia in the late 1800s. Like a lot of upper-class Atlantans at that time, the Stirlings escaped the coal-fired industrial smokestacks and wood-burning residential kitchens polluting the air of a city still rebuilding after being burned to the ground during the Civil War by moving to a resort community at the eastern end of the streetcar line. Dr. Alexander Stirling bought a modest white-brick bungalow adjacent to the Atlanta Athletic Club at East Lake where Alexa learned to play violin and piano and become a trained operatic soprano. She also learned to shoot all manner of firearms and would become an expert marksman. In an age and a place when Edwardian mores prohibited proper girls from venturing outdoors in anything less than ankle-length skirts or dresses, Alexa learned to build tables, chairs, and beds from freshly planed lumber. She also rode horses, became an impressive fly fisherwoman, who crafted an artistic collection of flies, and, in her spare time, she grew up to become the greatest female golfer in the world. Affable and precocious, Alexa fit right into the East Lake lifestyle with a boathouse, badminton, and a hunt club. She took up golf with several other kids, including a sickly runt, four years her junior, named Bobby Jones, whose parents had moved to East Lake in the hopes of keeping their anemic young son alive. “Little Bob” and Alexa fell under the tutelage of a crusty Scottish professional named Stewart Maiden, who was credited with being the model for Jones’ swing, but who considered Alexa his “special student,” one who absorbed information like a thick cotton towel. Maiden, who was rough as a dried corncob around most of
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his students, softened around Alexa, her wavy red hair tied in a ponytail and her smiling face littered with freckles. In a brogue he never lost and often enjoyed accentuating, Maiden often said, “If she’d only leave that damned fiddle bide awhile, she’d make a braw player.”
In the summer of 1908, Alexa, along with a sickly six-year-old Jones and two more children, Perry Adair, who would go on to win two Southern Amateur titles and be a teammate of Jones’ at Georgia Tech, and a local named Frank Meador, played a thrown-together tournament on a few of the high holes on East Lake’s north course. The prize was a small silver cup that Frank’s mother had bought. She owned the boarding house where Jones Father, R.P., a prominent attorney, had rented a couple of rooms (the home still stands just across Alston Drive from the second green at East Lake Golf Club). Mrs. Meador wanted to give the children some activity that didn’t involve firearms, catching snakes or have the potential for drowning.
At the end of play, however, scandal erupted. Everyone knew that Alexa had shot the lowest score. But Frank, who was the oldest child and thus put in charge of scorekeeping, couldn’t let a girl win. So, he jiggered the scorecard to give Little Bob a one-shot victory. “I’ll always believe that Alexa won that cup,” Jones wrote many years later. “I took it to bed with me that night. I’ve got 120 cups and vases and 30 medals, but there is one little cup that never fails of being well polished. And I never slept with another one.” Alexa, on the other hand, learned a hard lesson, one she never forgot: life isn’t fair, especially when a girl beats the boys.
She also learned over time what a frightful fit some men can pitch when threatened by a confident woman. During one of their many rounds together, Jones hit a bad shot and let fly a torrent of vulgarities at the exact moment Dr. Stirling wandered out of his house and onto the course. The good doctor, who was the British consul general to Atlanta at that time, stuck an imposing figure with a bushy handlebar mustache,
stiff white collar and homburg hat that made him look seven feet tall, especially to a kid. “Young man,” Dr. Stirling said, the Edinburgh accent thicker than normal, “haven’t you learned better than to use that kind of language around a lady?” Then, putting his arm around his daughter and escorting her off the course, he said to Jones, “She’ll not play with you again until you learn some proper manners.” “Good,” Jones shot back. “A lot of good it does me to play with girls anyway. If I’m going to be a golfer, I’ve got to play with the men.” Alexa would later say of Jones, “He was a handsome boy with a gentle, wry way of smiling, and, except for his bursts of temper on the course, his manners were impeccable.”
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She and Bob did not play golf together for two years. How much those incidents motivated her is lost to history. But in 1915, at the tender age of 17, Alexa became the youngest winner of the Women’s Southern Amateur, one of the nation’s most prestigious titles. A year later, and a month shy of her 19th birthday, she defeated Mildred Caverly at Belmont Springs Country Club in Massachusetts to win the United States Amateur Championship, becoming, as the banner headlines in the Atlanta newspapers screamed, the “First Southerner Ever to Win a Major Championship.” She was also, at age 18, America’s youngest-ever major champion. Her father attempted to telegram her, but Western Union refused to deliver the message. Alexa’s nickname at home had started out as Lexie but had, over time, morphed in Sexie, or, sometimes simply, Sex. Telegrams were priced by the letter, so when Dr. Stirling sent a note that read, “Hurray for Sex!” the telegram company deemed it improper. That story was retold in Atlanta for years. She loved her father dearly. While he wasn’t much of a golfer, Alexa would later say, “When Father gave me my own set of clubs, he said, ‘Alexa, play to win. But even more important than winning is your conduct on the course. Do not lose your temper at a poor shot. Do not sulk in defeat. Be gracious in victory.’”
She was all that and more. After 1915, the USGA suspended the U.S. Women’s Amateur as America joined Great Britain, France, and others in World War I. During the war years, Alexa, Jones, and Perry Adair toured the country as the Dixie Whiz Kids, playing exhibitions for the Red Cross. The trio raised more than $150,000, the equivalent of almost $4 million today. Alexa also enlisted and became an ambulance driver for the Army Medical Corps. She reached the rank of lieutenant before the end of the war.
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In 1919, she picked up where she left off on the course. A mature 21-year-old, Alexa won the U.S. Women’s Amateur for a second straight time. She became known as the pound-for-pound longest hitter in the game. At 110 pounds, her drives bounded well past the 250-yard mark with hickory-shafted clubs and out-of- round rubber balls many modern players couldn’t get off the ground. Noted write O.B. Keeler wrote of her, “It has been the comment through the galleries, which have included many professionals and veteran golfers, that no such prodigious hitting ever has been done by a woman golfer in America.”
Then, in 1920, at Mayfield Country Club outside Cleveland, Ohio, Alexa defeated 113 other competitors to win her third consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur title, the first woman to do so since Beatrix Hoyt won the first three championships ever played from 1896 through 1898. One month later, Alexa solidified herself as the greatest golfer in the world by winning the Canadian Women’s Amateur. At the time, she was the most famous female athlete and one of the most recognized celebrities in the world. In 1921, she made it to the finals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur again, losing to Marion Hollins, the creator of Pasatiempo and Cypress Point Club and a 2020 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Hollins had lost to Alexa in the second round of the 1919 Amateur. Alexa won the Met Women’s Amateur in 1922 and 1923. Later that summer, she advanced to the finals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur again, this time losing to Edith Cummings, who was famously known as the “Fairway Flapper” and was the model for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character, Jordan Baker, in The Great Gatsby. In the process, Alexa defeated championship favorite Glenna Collett, who would later become Glenna Collett Vare, the namesake of the Vare Trophy. After that 1923 Amateur, Alexa traveled to Ottawa for the Canadian Women’s Open. There she met Dr. Wilbert Grieve Fraser. The two hit it off immediately. He fished and hunted and loved the outdoors. The two were married in a spectacular ceremony hosted by Atlanta Athletic Club in 1925. Alexa was 28. They sailed to Europe on a month-long honeymoon, then returned to Ottawa where Alexa gave birth to a daughter, Sandra, in 1928. A son, Glen, came in 1933. Their third child, Richard, was born in 1939. While not reclusive, the Frasers didn’t travel much. Alexa was a member at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club where she won the ladies’ club championship 13 straight times as well as being a shooting and archery champion. She also belonged to the Ottawa Hunt Club where she hunted pheasants more often than she played golf. Then, in 1950, a letter arrived at the Fraser residence. The handwriting was gnarled and halting. But the language was unmistakable. As Alexa would later say, Bob Jones had written, “The United States Golf Association was going to have a celebration of the golden anniversary of the Women’s Amateur Golf Championship, and he very much wanted me to come to Atlanta to participate.” She was stunned by what she found. The effects of syringomyelia, a debilitating and degenerative spinal disease, had crippled her childhood friend.
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Reporters and photographers met me at Atlanta’s Peachtree Station and told me that Bob was waiting at the top of the stairs,” Alexa later wrote. “The news came as a shock. He really couldn’t walk downstairs! Until this moment, I hadn’t quite believed it. Halfway up the stairs I saw him, and I felt as though a steel band had clamped around my chest. On the retina of my memory was impressed the picture of a handsome young man in knickers swinging a golf club with tremendous power and grace. In tragic contrast, there stood before me a man slumped on two canes, a brace on his right leg, his face gray.” Alexa did not return to Atlanta again until 1976 when the Atlanta Athletic Club hosted the U.S. Open. By then the club had abandoned the East Lake location for the northern suburbs of Atlanta, a town now known as John’s Creek. Jerry Pate, a rookie, won that championship with a spectacular 5-iron from the rough on the final hole, a shot most golf historians recall with clarity. But fewer remember the eloquent speech Alexa gave on what it meant to her and to the memory of Bob Jones to have championship golf return to their home club. Not long after returning to Ottawa, Alexa was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died on April 15, 1977. She was once again honored when she was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1978. The Fraser children were invited. But for the life of them, they couldn’t figure out why. Alexa’s daughter, Sandra, said, “We had no idea what our mother had done. We just assumed they were making a fuss because Southerners are hospitable.” When she realized all that her mother had accomplished, Sandra wept, saying that Alexa had never told them any of it. “We knew she played golf, but we had no idea,” she said.
Years later, LPGA Founder Patty Berg was asked to name the greatest champion in women’s golf. Most assumed that Berg would call out Babe Didrikson Zaharias or Mickey Wright or Kathy Whitworth. Instead, Berg said, “Alexa Stirling is the finest competitor and the finest lady the game has ever known.” To date, the World Golf Hall of Fame has yet to recognize Alexa Stirling. The house she grew up in still stands and is owned by East Lake Golf Club and the East Lake Foundation.
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I V . G L O R I O U S G O L F I N G G I R L R E N A I S S A N C E W O M A N WRITTEN AND PERMISSION GRANTED BY: LINTON C. HOPKINS Alexa was born in Atlanta, Ga., on September 5, 1897. As Bobby Jones’s childhood golfing partner, she was dubbed “The First Lady of East Lake” and “The Empress of Golf ” to match Mr. Jones’s “Emperor” nickname. Quiet and competitive, she won her first title at East Lake at the age of 12. In 1916, three days before her 19th birthday, she won the first of her three U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships. When the tournament resumed after World War I, she successfully defended her crown in 1919 and 1920 and placed second in 1921, 1923, and 1925. She won the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship in 1920 and 1934 and finished second in 1922 and 1925. She became an honorary member of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club and maintained her interest in golf throughout her life. Her last visit to Atlanta was to open the museum at the Atlanta Athletic Club during the 1976 U.S. Open. She died on April 15, 1977, and was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 1989. [ ] East Lake: Where Bobby Learned to Play, Chapter 2
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Alexa Stirling was not silver; she was a multi-faceted gemstone. She began playing the violin at age six and took it to the level of performing on stage at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium with the symphony orchestra of her day. She was a good enough driver and mechanic to become a certified ambulance driver on the home front during WWI. She was responsible for maintaining the engine and brakes and responding to disasters. During the Great Fire of Atlanta in 1917, she transported the injured to hospitals. It took so much attention, she called her ambulance her War Baby. She was an expert carpenter throughout her life. In 1921 she even worked in finance (Barclay 2001). After becoming a golf champion, she described how her golf was enhanced by her other interests. In 1917, when she was the twenty-year-old U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, she had also become a writer. A short
autobiography requested by Golf Illustrated had an unusual opening. The editor now comes insisting I write about myself — some sort of an autobiography. I was very much flattered. If others do not care for the subject, that is the editor’s fault, and his magazine’s misfortune … He wants me to detail some of the things which influenced my golf … As a manufacturer of boxes, fiddles, etc., I was productive if not profitable. My hands still bear the saw marks of bygone days. Out of the mechanical triumphs in my boyish days came something which was to influence all my life, even my golf. From a cigar box, a stick, and some string, I manufactured a fiddle, an instrument I had seen a little neighbor play … My pleasing performances (they were inaudible) upon this cigar box attracted the attention of my fond parents, who were prevented from forgetting them by my continual demands for a real fiddle … my parents thought one should be available for one dollar, but the clerk was a good salesman and prevailed upon them that I was no doubt a genius in the bud and seven dollars would be cheap for a first class little second-hand instrument. I made my debut when still only six years old. That fiddle got me accustomed to appearing before people, and at each performance I seemed to lose more and more of my nervousness … being watched by a gallery never disturbed my equilibrium … I give the violin great credit for what strength I have. But the power won by golf has helped my violin more than my violin has helped my golf. And in 1920, in “Glorious Golfing Girl,” an interview in Canadian Golfer :
I have never had any particular trouble with my iron shots, and this is due largely to the fact that even when I was a tiny tot I did not play with dolls as most girls do. I played instead with hammer and nails, and I still have scars on my hands where the hammer hit me instead of the nail. I like to do carpentry and plumbing jobs around the house. Of course I do not have to do this, but I do it because I like it and get a lot of fun out of it. I cut the lawn, tinker around my automobile, and do a lot of things that men usually do. I play the violin quite a bit, and all this has strengthened my wrists, my forearms and my fingers. My wrists are more like a man’s than any other woman golfer I know … the iron shots of women are not compact. They are weak. Women do not put what you call ‘stuff ’ into their shots. The short biographic sketch has her born in Atlanta in 1897. Who were her parents? Where did they come from? Why did they come to Atlanta?
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Her biographer, James Barclay, answered the first two questions: She was the second of three daughters of Dr. Alexander Williamson Stirling from Peebles, Scotland and Opera singer Nora Bromley of Yorkshire, England. Nora had been born in Bellevue House at the village of Goole, which stood on large grounds. Her father had a flourishing wine importing business. Alexa’s mother had a fine voice and was offered a role in Gilbert and Sullivan’s, ‘The Gondoliers.’ If she had accepted, she would have toured America with the D’Oyley Carte Company. Dr. Stirling’s specialty was eye, ear, nose and throat. While working as an eye surgeon at the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital in London, his studies took him to the University of Berlin and an eye clinic in Paris. To finance these continued studies, he became a ship’s doctor for short periods, traveling as far as Buenos Aires. On a trip to the United States, he took the time to visit New York, Chicago, and Denver, with a mind to settling in North America. For by now, he had met his future wife and was determined to settle somewhere. He left England for New York in 1893 and spent two years there working as a lecturer at the New York Post Graduate College. They had planned to leave there for Chicago but changed their minds at the last moment and went to Atlanta (Barclay 2001). In 2016, Alexa’s daughter Sandra discovered the reason Atlanta won out. She found the answer in a history of their family written by Janet, her older sister: After deciding to leave New York, Daddy planned to go to Chicago and had all the household goods shipped there, but some information caused him to consider Atlanta. He made the trip and stayed in the Aragon Hotel. On New Year’s Day 1895, the sun was shining, the windows were open, and the Cotton States Exposition was in progress. He went back to New York, got Mother and me, and had all the stuff shipped to Atlanta from Chicago. Two years later, Alexa was born in a house on Piedmont Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Streets. James Barclay: Dr. Stirling established his medical and surgical practice in the city, where he was also the British correspondent — a post described as nearly identical with consul. The parents of Alexa and Bobby would have referred to themselves as middle class, but both were well educated, successful, and descended from stable families in Britain and Georgia. In the rough-and-tumble railroad town of Atlanta, they were definitely upper class. The Jones family (1907) and Alexa’s (1908) came to East Lake close to the same time for the same reasons. Both children were small and sickly so their parents had them homeschooled to avoid exposing them to the common infections in every school. The moves worked out well. East Lake was healthier than town, and with golf, tennis, and swimming, it was more fun. There is no evidence that Alexander and Nora intended to raise a golf champion when they moved to East Lake, but if they had, they picked the perfect place and exactly the right moment. In 1898, three years after they arrived in Atlanta, the Atlanta Athletic Club was founded. Six years later the new club bought land for a golf course at East Lake. The Stirlings bought a lot across from the main entrance in 1908, the year the course opened, and moved in two years later. Alexa wrote, I was introduced to golf by my father when I was eleven. She described Bobby in 1909:
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My earliest recollection of Bob Jones was when, as a child of seven, he was lying asleep in his bed, recovering from the effects of an upset tummy. He was a rather spindly child, with a head too large for his small body, but he was even then the handsome person he turned out to be (Matthew 1999). Back to her autobiography: Perry Adair, Bob Jones, and I were all too insignificant for the honor of caddies, and the three of us would trudge round the course many a time playing thirty-six holes in the day, lugging our own bags and under a broiling sun. Sometimes we would wait at No. 1 tee for a couple of hours before we could get away … then we were off, nearly hidden by our bags, but as happy as could be.
As I discarded a hat, my hair in places was bleached to a delicate straw, but the color of my nose made up for that. I grew in strength, if not in beauty, but Perry and Bob wore hats, and their good looks were not spoiled. At this period, it was the beginning of the fashion for boys to plaster their hair as close to their heads as possible. I thought it was very new, very stylish and consequently the proper thing to do … I nearly pulled out mine by the roots, applied water, and then held all that was left down tight by a ‘slide.’ High tight collars were all the vogue amongst the ambitious youths, so I nearly choked myself. When looking down low for a golf ball, my eyes must have appeared as though they would leave their sockets altogether. Most people would have had heat stroke, but as far as I know, I never did. As time progressed, we had many fun-filled days playing golf together. We had complete freedom to be on the course at any time with the exception of Sundays, at which time we would walk around and watch the better senior members. In this way, we hoped to improve our own games. All our attempts were under the watchful eye
of Stewart Maiden, who was our guide and mentor for years to come. It was with great gratification and admiration that I saw Bob grow to become the fine, broadminded, dignified gentleman he later proved to be. She used “Jimmie” for Jimmy Maiden, her first teacher after her father: Jimmie Maiden and I were good friends. I played my first match with Jimmie, who had also made my clubs. It was for a package of chewing gum, a secret treasure forbidden in the house, and it was one-hole long. He was to use one club with one hand, and I was to have all the clubs I wanted, and two hands. I think Jimmie won the match, but he was a thorough gentleman and the lady got the gum. And about his brother Stewart Maiden, who followed Jimmy as club pro in 1908: He and I soon became great friends, and he has never been above playing
with me at any time that I might request. Like most speechless people (so I am told) he can chatter when he likes. I wonder if there is another professional in America who is on such terms of affection with his club members as is
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Stewart. He knows the evil golf habits into which I am to fall, and with certainty can put his finger on them and fix them. She was more inclined to practice, and as they grew up she had a positive influence on Bobby. In her chapter about him, she described being embarrassed by his outbursts but did not mention his reaction when her father separated them. She also left out the credit he gave her for correcting his temper. When he heard that her father had decided to keep her away from him, Bobby blew up again: A lot of good it does me to play golf with you @#$%&!!!^# girls. If I’m ever going to be a golfer, I’ve got to go and play with men. I’m just glad your old man stopped you (Matthew 1999). He was aware of her disapproval of his behavior and eventually
controlled himself, although it took a long time. In 1917, when she finally did confront and berate him at Brae Burn in Boston, she was twenty. She was the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and known in golf circles throughout the country. She would turn twenty-one during the first week of September. Bobby had become sixteen in mid-March. In 1916, at age fourteen, he won the Georgia Amateur and made his first appearance in a national championship, the U.S. Amateur. He did better than expected, losing in the third round. In 1917, he won the Southern Amateur. When he was a teenager, he probably could have beaten his older friend every time in golf. But when it came to behavior on the course he was no match for Alexa. After he conquered his temper on the course, he remembered her:
I read the pity in Alexa’s soft brown eyes and finally settled down, but not before I had made a complete fool of myself. That experience had its proper effect. I resolved then that this sort of thing had to stop. It didn’t overnight, but I managed it in the end, at least in tournaments (Jones 1959). Alexa’s game developed quickly. She took up golf in 1908 and won her first U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1916, one month after her nineteenth birthday. She had gone from beginner to national champion in eight years. The high point of her career came in 1920. She won her third straight U.S. Woman’s Amateur only one week after the first of her two Canadian titles. Her reputation soared. Bobby would receive much more attention ten years later, but for now, the spotlight was all hers. The press was drawn to her because she was quiet and attractive with a natural, easy smile. When she spoke, she was eloquent. Her lofty status was illustrated by the tone taken in the New York Times in October 1920: At least once each autumn there is a wanton waste of United States Golf Association funds, a leakage that should be plugged up. It seems that despite all advice to the contrary from the experts, the USGA moguls insist upon paying transportation costs, insurance fees and other expenses for safeguarding the huge silver trophy emblematic of the women’s golf championship of the United States and moving it from Atlanta, Ga. to some temporary exhibition counter in a golf club. The point is that the valuable old cup always returns to Atlanta the following week. Why therefore disturb it? Miss Alexa Stirling, that happy, smiling, auburn-haired daughter of
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a Scotsman has once again proved that it is hopeless for her many rivals to try to pry loose the trophy … No male amateur and no professional ever won an American golf title thrice in succession and only one woman ever accomplished this before now. But Miss Stirling’s feat is considerably more than that of her illustrious predecessor, Miss Beatrix Hoyt, since she won her three championships over a period of five years, from 1916 to 1920 [There was no contest in 1917 and 1918 because of the war], whereas Miss Hoyt won them in the successive years of 1896, 1897 and 1898 (“Golf ” 1920). More from “Glorious Golfing Girl” in 1920:
Miss Alexa Stirling of Atlanta, Ga. has not lost a golf match since the national Championship of 1915 …There may be some question as to whether Francis Ouimet or Chick Evans is the best American amateur, and there is a considerable difference of opinion as to whether Jim Barnes, Walter Hagan or Jock Hutchinson is the best American professional player, but the women are all agreed there is no woman in this country who can beat the auburn-haired champion. The women players have called her the Glorious Golfing Girl, and her record bears this out. From the Atlanta Journal in 1919: I play all shots the same. I use the same stance for woods, irons, and even in putting. I understand Chick Evans does the same thing … I crouch over the ball more than I formerly did. My right knee is bent and my left leg is kept straight. When I hit the ball, the left knee is bent and the right leg is straight. I find that I can pivot better this way and get my shots away much more smoothly and truly … Jimmy Maiden … is largely responsible for the new stance. And from Grantland Rice of the New York Herald Tribune, the most widely read sportswriter in America: The race track has Man O’ War, baseball has its Babe Ruth, and billiards has its Willie Hoppe. In the same way women’s golf in America has its Alexa Stirling, who is just as predominant in her field as any male champion happens to be in his … also, Miss Stirling would rather talk opera than golf, Scotia’s ancient game running second to music in her scheme of things. Music first and golf second — but where is there finer music than the clear, clean ring of a truly hit iron? After her peak in 1920, her golfing career was far from over. James Barclay described the reaction she evoked in the press when she visited England in 1921: There was a heroic cast about Alexa. Her casual manner in championships showed no hint of nervousness, and that in itself unnerved those she played against. She was the absolute amateur. For her, life was more than striking a golf ball. That does not mean she had no will to win. She had an ability to probe deep down within herself and salvage victory from what often looked like certain defeat … She crossed the Atlantic in 1921 to take British golf by storm, stealing golfers’ hearts with her savoir vivre, and her grace and power on the course. She made the usually cautious British golf writer Bernard Darwin throw caution to the winds and write that she was the most stylish and dangerous woman golfer ever to breach British shores … ‘elegance, all elegance’ (Barclay 2001, Darwin 1944).
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Alexa kept her eyes open for new opportunities. In 1921 she diverted from golf into an entirely different world, the bond business. She worked in the New York office of S.W. Straus. She was only the twenty-eighth woman to sell bonds on Wall Street. The job may have come from contacts of friends in New York she had met in her travels. Because of her celebrity, her new position made the papers. An interview appeared in the New York City Mail: Miss Stirling, of the red hair and brown eyes, looked up from her list of six percent mortgages:
“[Alexa is] the twenty-eighth woman to take up this line of work in this city. Women in the business have formed a club which is to hold regular sessions, just as the masculine bank folk do. ... She has auburn hair, snappy brown eyes, and is full to the limit of pep. She can qualify readily as one of the liveliest recent ad- ditions to New York’s colony of bachelor girls.” NEW YORK ILLUSTRATED NEWS December 1, 1921
The successful businesswoman is today a person to be reckoned with. She manages her financial affairs like any man, often has a person or two to support, and must look to her future whether she marries or not, just as her brother does. The reason the place is so pretty (she waved her celebrated hand in the direction of a handsomely appointed reception room, reading room and dressing room with a neat little maid in it) is because women still love dainty things and tea and chintz and wicker, and always will, no matter how many bonds they sell or votes they cast or families they support with the work of their hands and brains (Beckley 1921). She had not won the American Amateur a fourth time the previous summer, or the Canadian when it was played at Rivermead Golf Club in Ottawa, but 1921 was an important year for another reason. She met her future husband at a dinner during the competition. Her daughter Sandra remembered her father saying, I first became smitten while watching this attractive, red- haired woman play from a bunker.
Dr. Fraser was a Canadian doctor with the same specialty as Dr. Stirling, Alexa’s father, so they had more than golf in common. They were married in 1925 in her house at East Lake. The reception was across the street at the club. They settled in Ottawa, and she devoted herself to her husband and to raising their three children, Sandra, Glen, and Richard.
When she realized her life had become too busy to practice the violin, she stopped playing. But she didn’t quit golf. She and her husband enjoyed playing at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club. She won the women’s tournament there nine times. She won her second Canadian Amateur, her fifth national championship, in 1934 at age thirty- seven. She also never gave up her carpentry. James Barclay: Her children and grandchildren had watched her in her workshop in the basement of her home in Canada making furniture for their summer cottage. No nails — all tongue and groove. James would be pleased to know that in 2021, Alexa’s grandson, Ian Carwardine, said her twelve-seat dining room table was still in use at their cottage at Old Fort William, Quebec. The almost 100-year-old masterpiece has held up well. He also described her last visit to Atlanta in 1976, a year before her death at age seventy-nine:
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British golf writer Pat Ward-Thomas met Alexa Stirling Fraser in 1976 when he was reporting from the U.S. Open at the course of the Atlanta Athletic Club. She cut the ribbon at the opening of the Bob Jones room in the clubhouse: ‘Meeting her was an unexpected delight. That morning in Atlanta it was easy to understand what an uncommonly appealing golfer Alexa must have been. A spry, charming little person, her lively talk belied her years. Her husband is dead, but she has seven grandchildren, all boys, and her spirit is ageless.’ Despite her national championships, few American golfers have heard of her.5 She was a child of the nineteenth century, and her last major win in 1934 is ancient history to most young golfers. There was an Alexa Stirling clothing line for a time, but it has not continued. No sets of golf clubs or golf courses are named for her. When the Georgetown University Women’s golf team visited East Lake in 2016, one of the players introduced herself as Alexa but had never heard of the champion. She was impressed that the other Alexa had learned to play at East Lake with Bobby Jones and won national championships here and in Canada. She was told how to spell her last name and said she would look her up. After the short visit at the water cooler by the fifth tee, she left to hit her drive; but after a few steps, she turned her head and smiled over her shoulder, still walking: I’ve got it — last name not spelled like the silver.
Source: East Lake: Where Bobby Learned to Play, Chapter 2 By Linton C. Hopkins
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