Jill of All Golf Trades, Master of ALL

How to have Fun in the Sun Without Getting Burned
May 13, 2019
Dealing with Anger as a Golfer
May 16, 2019

Jill of All Golf Trades, Master of ALL

In honor of Shirley Spork's 92nd Birthday, we look back at what makes her a one in a million!
Array

Written By:

Patty Ellis

Patty's been a golfer for over 40 years and has played over 2,000 rounds of golf. You can find more of her writing on publicgolfhack.com and Long Island Golfer Magazine.

Imagine this: You’re one of the best female golfers not only in your college but in your entire state. The biggest national collegiate golf tournament is coming up and you want to play in it. But your college doesn’t let you because it forbids women from playing individual sports. Women shouldn’t rise above others, your Women’s Athletic Department contends. They won’t even sign your application for the tournament.

That’s what LPGA Founder Shirley Spork faced in 1947 when she wanted to enter the Women’s National Collegiate Golf Championship (think NCAA Individual Championship) representing Michigan State Normal College.

Fortunately, Shirley had spunk. She didn’t demurely take “no” for an answer. She waited until she had a substitute teacher–one who might not know her college’s policy–to sign her application. Paying her own way, she made the 182-mile trip to Ohio State University where the tournament was being held.

And not only did she get the chance to compete—she won the tournament!

If you’re thinking she came back to a hero’s welcome at Michigan State Normal, you’d be wrong. The Men’s Athletic Department acknowledged her win, but the Women’s? A big fat nothing, despite Shirley’s win being the only collegiate win Michigan State Normal had in 1947–by men or women.

Shirley Spork is the LPGA’s Jill of All Golf Trades, and Master of All. If there’s a role in golf, Shirley has done it, done it well, and, in many cases, done it first!

As a player, she was the 1948 Amateur Champion, 1949 Michigan State Amateur Champion, Detroit District Champion many times, 1959 California Women’s Medal Golf Champion, the runner-up in a 1962 LPGA Major . . . the list goes on.

As an LPGA Founder, Shirley served as Rules Official and Press Agent, set up courses, and promoted the Tour by doing clinics and attending local events.

But Shirley’s range of leadership in golf is special even among her LPGA Founder peers. She was a head pro, a Director of Golf, and owner of a pro-shop. At one course, she maintained the golf carts, ran the attached inn, and was even the cook!

And while she’s not known for being a golf course architect, at age 12 she “designed” her own golf hole in a vacant field across the street from her house. She took a small scythe and cut the field’s grass down to fairway length. Then she dug a pit to simulate a bunker. She finished the project off by mowing a circle for the green, digging a hole and putting a stick in it. Viola! She built her own golf hole!

But Shirley is best-known for being a teacher. In fact, in 1959, because of her tenacity and belief in LPGA teachers, she was able to get the then LPGA leadership to approve the LPGA Teaching Division, which became the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals with over 1700 members around the world today. She, herself, was National Teacher of the Year twice.

At 92, Shirley is going strong and still passing on her knowledge and expertise. I’m not convinced one could find a more masterly Master Teacher than Shirley Spork.

Today, women and girls are encouraged to pursue any sport and any career. You may be tempted to say, “How times have changed,” but they didn’t change on their own. They changed because of women like Shirley and the other LPGA Founders, who knew there was something inherently wrong with how women and girls were treated in sports.

When Title IX was passed in 1972, it was arguably the biggest win for girls and women in sports ever. But long before the Billie Jean Kings of the world could make that win happen, the Shirley Sporks of the world paved the way.

By the way, in 2014 Michigan State Normal College—now known as Eastern Michigan University—honored Shirley Spork for her 1947 Women’s National Collegiate Golf Championship. So, there’s a happy ending after all—it just took 67 years.

6
Leave a Reply

5 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
5 Comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Bob Archibald

Suburb and well written article. I worked under Shirley at the Ukiah Golf course in 1953, her first head pro position. I have followed her accomplishment through the years. She is indeed amazing.

Maureen

Love this! I’m working on a Ladies Member Guest event in August and will be paying tribute to female golfers past and present. Shirley will definitely be one of my highlights. Thanks Patty !

Margo

Thanks for the history, Patty!

Margo

Thanks for the history!!

Theresa Moschetta

Patty, great job at capturing the long and storied career of the incomparable, Shirley Spork. The Founders, a film about the intrepid 13 women who started the LPGA in 1950, is nothing short of mind blowing. Their personal stories, their love for the game of golf, and, above all, their desire to compete is awe inspiring. These women had guts and courage–against all odds in 1950s America they made people take notice of their incredible golfing abilities. Yes, Shirley is 92, but when you talk to her she might as well be 32, she has that much zest for life.… Read more »

Ronnie Rubin

Thank you. It was wonderful to learn about Shirley Spork.