In 1945 following the war, two women rose to prominence on the regional golf scene. Besides garnering their share of titles, Grace (pronounced "Gracie") DeMoss and Edean Anderson helped set in motion a tide of Northwest women golfers whose excellence would be felt across North America. Ruth Jessen, Pat Lesser, JoAnne Gunderson, Anne Quast, Carol Jo Kabler and Peggy Conley dominated American golf in the1950's, and helped make this period the "Golden Age for Women's Golf in the Pacific Northwest."
Grace's Rise to Prominence
Grace DeMoss did not play golf until she was a teenager. She was lured to the game by a friend, Mickey Ball, who talked her into climbing the fence surrounding Corvallis Country Club to give golf a shot. Though she preferred equestrian events – horse shows and riding competitions, Grace was a "natural" as a golfer. (Curiously, Marian McDougall Herron was also an equestrian before becoming a golfer.) The most athletic of Ray DeMoss's five daughters was quickly bitten by the golf bug, and father and daughter soon began a cooperative effort to allow Grace to excel in the sport.
Under the tutelage of golf professional, Al Zimmerman, Grace developed a smooth swing that could be tweaked, as necessary, in the heat of competition. Her long-term goals stretched beyond the regional horizon to national recognition, which she deemed the only true measure of success. "Of course," Grace once commented, "the Curtis Cup Team is the pinnacle, because few amateurs make the grade."
Grace's first tournament was the Portland Open in 1945, the same year she started golf. She finished last, one stroke behind Edean Anderson. "I felt like heading for the mountains instead of home," she said after that drubbing.
In 1946 she played in her first PNGA Women's Amateur Championship. DeMoss lost in the semifinals at Tacoma Country & Golf Club to Barbara Smith of California. The following year, she reached the PNGA final, losing to Carol Babe Bowman. In 1947 she broke through with her first championship win in the Portland City Amateur.
Meeting Up with the "Big" Players
It was in 1947 at the Women's Trans-Mississippi Amateur in San Mateo, California, that Grace first encountered the "big names" in women's golf – Patty Berg, Betty Jameson, Babe Dedricksen Zaharias and Louise Suggs. She later recalled the feeling. "On the first tee my hands were all thumbs. Then I stepped up and hit my first drive right down the middle. Then I felt good. It was just another tournament."
In the 1948 Los Angeles Open, Grace lost to Alice Bauer in the semifinal after the famed Texan dropped a 20-foot putt on the 18th green. That same afternoon, 16-year-old Marlene Bauer, Alice's sister, beat Edean Anderson in a playoff to make the finals an all-Bauer affair.
A Banner Year
In 1949 Grace won the Canadian Ladies Amateur Open at Vancouver, B.C.'s Capilano Golf & Country Club. But her breakthrough year came in 1950 after she had spent the previous winter in California honing her game. While playing the California circuit, she won the Pebble Beach, Monterey and Fresno Valley events. The experience helped her win the 1950 PNGA Women's Amateur Championship at Capilano, where she overwhelmed B.C.'s hopeful, Babes Davies, 11 & 10. (A native of Vancouver, B.C., Davies was the B.C. Ladies Closed champion in 1950, 1951 and 1952, and won the Canadian Ladies Closed in 1949.) During qualifying at Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club, Grace's long driving propelled her to a course record 71, which at that time was seven under the women's par and one below the men's par. This score was the lowest medalist score to date in a PNGA Women's Amateur Championship.
The unheralded star of the 1950 PNGA Women's Amateur Championship was 16-year-old Pat Lesser of Seattle, who shot 78 to take medalist honors. Marian McDougall Herron probably contributed some to Grace's success by defeating two-time champion Grace Lenczyk in the semifinals. Herron expended much effort in that match and lost to DeMoss in the finals. DeMoss said of her north-of-the-border conquests, "I love to play in Canada. The courses are so beautiful and the people so gracious."
Stepping Out Nationally
The Canadian title led Grace's father to enroll her on the Florida circuit in hopes of elevating her game. After winning the 1950 PNGA Women's Amateur crown, DeMoss was a semifinalist in the U.S. Women's Amateur, and a finalist in the Canadian Ladies Open, the Women's Trans-Mississippi, the Weathervane and Oregon Women's Amateur. The summer's highlight came when she took medalist honors in the Western Women's Open at Cherry Hills, whose field included both amateurs and professionals.
In the Women's Trans-Mississippi tournament, Grace and Edean teamed up to win the Howell Trophy. The event required that teammates be members of the same club. The two Northwesterners met the criteria as, during Edean's years at Oregon State University, Corvallis Country Club gave her an honorary membership. This partnership enabled Grace and Edean to repeat the Howell Trophy win on two more occasions.
The Northwest's First Curtis Cupper
Because of her good showing in major regional and national events, Grace was named to the 1952 Curtis Cup Team, making her the first Northwest woman so honored. America's 1952 Curtis Cup Team had the dubious distinction of being the first American team to lose to the British side in 20 years. The event that year was held in Scotland at the Muirfield Golf Links. Grace later reflected on her Curtis Cup experience.
"It was like being chosen for the Olympics. But playing in Scotland was not such a thrill. The courses were terrible. The heather in some of the roughs was very tough. It was not like grass but like weeds. You could snap off a clubhead. The weather was cold and unruly over the Muirfield links. It was windy, very windy, and that made it difficult for the Americans. We liked to come in high to the green and that was difficult in the wind. They used low, running shots to the green because of the wind, but we did not know how to do such a shot."
As a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team in 1954, Grace and her teammates, playing the event at the storied Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania, were much more successful and regained the cup.
In 1952 Grace made a permanent move to Florida. There, her trophy collection continued to grow as she won Florida State Women's Amateur titles in 1955, 1957 and 1958. She was also the Florida Coast Champion in 1954 and the Miami Women's Amateur titleist in 1955. Her most gratifying success came when she defeated Marlene Stewart Streit, one of world's great women amateurs, in the finals of the 1954 Doherty Cup Championship at Miami Shores Golf Club in Florida.
In 1956, when Grace returned to the familiar fairways of the Northwest, she went on to win the Oregon Women's Amateur for the first time. Though this championship had eluded her for years, she retained it for three successive years.
The Ending of a Great Career
The many years of playing championship-level golf took its toll on Grace's body. The sharp turn of her head at the end of her long, smooth swing sparked recurring neck pains, so she ceased competition. In the late 1970's, however, she returned to golf, coaching girls golf teams at the high school level in Corvallis. Of these neophytes, Grace remarked:
"One of my biggest surprises was the lack of familiarity [the girls had] with the game. All but a few had played little or no golf. If the parents did not belong to a club there was not the opportunity to play. Golf is a game to be played for a lifetime. I believe it should be introduced in middle school."
In 1993 Grace DeMoss Zwahlen was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame, a fitting honor for one to the region's best-ever women golfers.