Estabrooks, Robinson remembered for pivotal moment in Iowa golf history
The following feature on Edith Estabrooks and Lucile Robinson was written by 11-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year Rick Brown and shared recently with Iowa Golf Association. The legacy of both Iowa Golf Hall of Fame members celebrates Women’s History Month in March and reminds ourselves of the accomplishments of women throughout the years to our culture and society.
It was a pivotal moment in the history of the Iowa Women’s Amateur golf championship, bringing together a 14-year-old girl and a five-time champion. Both would end up in the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame.
Lucile Robinson (left) of Des Moines came to the 1935 championship at the Davenport Country Club as an overwhelming favorite. She’d won her first title in 1929, was a runner-up in 1930 and then won the next four championships. That gave her a 20-match winning streak. Fourteen of them didn’t get past the 14th hole.
Her only loss in 30 matches going back to 1929 was a 1 up decision to Dorothy Klotz Pardue in the 1930 final.
Robinson looked to be in top form, too, shooting a 77 in qualifying that was 11 shots better than anyone else in the field, established a new course record for women and was the lowest qualifying round in the history of the championship.
“With a defiant challenge to rivals who question her position as Iowa’s No. 1 woman golfer, Lucile Robinson of Des Moines stormed into her campaign for another state championship by smashing two records in the state tournament qualifying round here Monday,” wrote Des Moines Register reporter Bert McGrane.
Robinson’s first match the next day was against Mrs. Neil Kennard of Des Moines. Said McGrane, it was the “first of the matches which tournament followers believe will bring her the crown for the sixth time in seven years.”
Kennard had required 26 more shots than Robinson to get around the Davenport Country Club in the qualifier. Eighteen players posted a score better than her 103. It looked to be a walk in the park for Robinson.
Lucile had a 2-up lead with four holes to play, but bogeyed the 14th and 17th holes. The match was all square headed to the 18th, where Kennard made a four-foot birdie putt to win. And readers of the Des Moines Register woke up to this headline the next day: “Mrs. Kennard tosses bomb at Davenport.”
McGrane sat down and hammered this out on his typewriter: “The all-time upset in Iowa golf, engineered Tuesday when Mrs. Neil Kennard of Des Moines split the women’s state tournament wide open with a first-round victory over Lucile Robinson, left spectators stunned when they attempted to choose a successor to the heavily favored Des Moines girl. In a gigantic reversal of the dope that fairly rocked the hills of the Davenport Country Club, Mrs. Kennard’s deadly short game shoved Miss Robinson into the discard with a 1 up victory and opened a free-for-all struggle for the championship held for four straight years by the dethroned titleholder.”
A posed photo of a smiling Mrs. Kennard, holding a golf club, accompanied the story. She had cut 22 strokes off her qualifying score to send Robinson home.
Mrs. Kennard lost the following day, 4 and 2, to 18-year-old Eleanor Stevens of Salem, Iowa. Stevens was a sophomore at Iowa Wesleyan who played most of her golf on a nine-hole course with sand greens.
Stevens met a 14-year-old ninth-grader from Dubuque, named Edith Estabrooks, in the quarterfinals.
Estabrooks had started playing golf at six years of age at the Bunker Hill course in Dubuque operated by her father, Louis. McGrane called her “a plucky little Dubuque miss who discarded dolls and turned to woods and irons at the age of 6.”
Estabrooks (right) ended her first-round match on the 12th hole. Her second ended on the 16th. And she dispatched of Stevens, 6 and 5. Her semifinal foe was Charlotte Ames of Clear Lake, who attended the University of Minnesota. Estabrooks won, 7 and 6.
Her foe in the 36-hole title match was Jennet Jones of Des Moines, who had lost to Robinson in the 1931 final. A student at Monmouth College, Jones got off to a fast start that had Estabrooks on the ropes.
After they halved the opening hole, Jones won the next five. But Estabrooks battled back, got the lead and won the match, 5 and 4. It ended on the 32nd hole when Estabrooks made a 50-foot eagle putt.
And Iowa celebrated a 14-year-old champion. The banner headline on the Des Moines Register Iowa News Section read, “GIRL OF 14 WINS IOWA GOLF TITLE.”
“Feminine golfers of Iowa pay tribute today to a 14-year-old girl of Dubuque who is 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighs 123 pounds,” wrote John O’Donnell of the Davenport Democrat. “The “baby’ of Iowa golf succeeds Lucile Robinson of Des Moines, who had held the title for five years.”
Robinson would never play in another Iowa Women’s Amateur championship. Shortly after she married Russell Mann, he was transferred to Milwaukee, Wis. Three months after her stunning defeat in Davenport, Robinson was representing her country as a member of the Curtis Cup team.
Estabrooks was just getting started. She won the Iowa championship again in 1936 at the West Okoboji Golf Club, then added the Women’s Western Junior title at Oakland Hills to her resume.
Her third straight Iowa title, in 1937, came at Sunnyside Country Club in Waterloo.
Estabrooks passed on a chance at four straight Iowa crowns to play in the 1938 Women’s Western Amateur.
She returned to win her final Women’s State Amateur in Cedar Rapids in 1939. That was the same year she won the Women’s Western Amateur, back at Oakland Hills.
She didn’t defend her Women’s State Amateur crown in 1940 because she was taking summer classes at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. She would never play for the Iowa title again, getting her college degree in 1943 and joining the Navy as a member of the WAVES.
Robinson was elected to the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame in 1995. Estabrooks joined her in 2013.
Robinson’s distinguished career included success on a national stage. In addition to that Curtis Cup appearance in 1934, she won a pair of Women’s Western Amateur titles, in 1933 and 1941, and the Trans-Mississippi in 1941.
She faced the greatest players of her era. She lost to Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the finals of the 1940 Women’s Western Amateur, 4 and 3, but defeated Patty Berg, 2 and 1, in the finals of the 1936 South Atlantic Championship.
She also won five Des Moines city titles, three Wisconsin state amateur titles and five Nebraska state amateur titles.
Robinson became the 78th member of the Des Moines Sunday Register Sports Hall of Fame in 1975. She was the first woman to be enshrined.