Three players dominated the first 50 years of the PNGA's Women's Championship. Violet Pooley Sweeny, Vera Hutchings Ford and Marian MacDougall Herron won 18 championships between them. From the newspaper accounts of these events, it's abundantly clear these Northwest women golfers were shining examples of how to play the game. Over the years, golfers from throughout the continent invaded the Northwest to upset this troika of champions. But, in most instances, their efforts were futile.
So how could an outstanding player like Violet Pooley Sweeny come from an area with only recent ties to golf? Violet's story begins with her father. Attracted by the lure of gold, Charles Pooley came to British Columbia from England in 1862. After a brief fling with prospecting and mining, he settled in Victoria and began studying law. Pooley was called to the bar in 1877 and, two years later, became a partner in A.E. Davie's law firm.
Pooley adopted golf as a means of recreation, and he became a charter member of Victoria Golf Club when it formed in 1893. Violet was the youngest of Pooley's six children. She once recalled, "I was about eight when I started caddying for my father at Oak Bay and Macauly Point." She earned 25 cents a round, and eventually bought golf clubs with her savings.
After practicing a couple of years without adult supervision, the 10-year-old challenged her father and his golf buddies to a match. She beat them. Recognizing Violet's budding skills, Victoria's members let the 15-year-old join her father in the club's mixed foursome tournaments.
The Blossoming of a Champion
It was just five years into the 20th Century when Violet Pooley became a golf champion. The senior Pooley caddied for Violet throughout 1905, which allowed him to coach her on the course. Violet's breakthrough came that year at the B.C. Ladies Championship, when she won the Flumerfelt Cup.
The premiere tournament in 1905 was the Pacific Northwest Women's Amateur, played at Waverley Country Club during the Lewis & Clark Exposition festivities. Because of the exposition's many attractions, all the best players on the West Coast ventured to Portland for the event. Violet's long driving and remarkably steady play led to her winning the title.
Curiously, over the next 30 years, Violet never discarded her six hickory clubs. Asked about her allegiance to the old-fashioned golf "sticks," Violet commented, "The new matched clubs, I never could get used to them. I always felt the good golfer should learn to play full shots, half shots and quarter shots with the same club. That's the game."
Under Jack Moffatt's guidance, Violet Pooley's career blossomed in 1906. She lowered her handicap to scratch, becoming one of the few women in Canada able to make such a claim. At the 1913 British Women's Amateur in Scarborough, Yorkshire, Violet defeated the reigning British champion, Gladys Ravencroft, but later lost to the eventual champion, Mariam Dodd, in the fourth round.
After marrying in 1915 and serving overseas as a Red Cross ambulance driver in World War I, Violet Pooley Sweeny returned home and joined Jericho Golf Club, which, at that time, was the center of sporting life in Vancouver. Violet and her husband, 'Bimbo' Sweeny, did not golf together. Of this arrangement, she once said, "My husband Bimbo played tennis and rowed for the Vancouver Yacht Club, but would not play golf with me." Bimbo said he knew better than to play golf with his champion wife.
On July 5, 1920, Mrs. Sweeny's career reached another pinnacle. The PNGA Women's Amateur Championship at Vancouver Golf Club attracted the reigning Canadian, Oregon and California champions, making it the strongest field to date for a PNGA event, men or women. In all, 82 of North America's best women golfers vied for the coveted crown. Mrs. Sweeny did not disappoint the locals, emerging victorious at the conclusion of the three-day event. Violet considered this her most gratifying win.
Mrs. Sweeny's record has stood the test of time. Indeed, no other women during the first half-century of the PNGA attained such a high level of play and received so many honors. Perhaps most importantly, Violet Pooley Sweeny played golf with a verve that endeared her to countless competitors.