Marlene Bauer Hagge, the last surviving founder of the Ladies Professional Golf Association and a member of its Hall of Fame, died on Tuesday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 89.
Her death was announced by the L.P.G.A.
Hagge and her sister, Alice Bauer, who was six years older, were among the 13 golfers who created the L.P.G.A. in 1950, at a time when women’s golf received little attention in the sports pages.
The L.P.G.A. Tour would eventually yield significant prize money. But in its early years, the Bauer sisters and renowned players like Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg, Louise Suggs, Betty Jameson and Marilynn Smith competed for slim purses and were forced to crowd together in cars on their travels to tournaments.
Hagge became the last living L.P.G.A. founder when Shirley Spork, who was known especially for teaching women golfers, died in April 2022.
Hagge, who was a slender 5 feet 2 inches but possessed a powerful swing, won 26 pro tournaments, including the 1956 L.P.G.A. Championship, one of the tour’s majors, and her career extended through its first five decades.
She was inducted into the L.P.G.A. Hall of Fame in the veterans category and the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002. Her sister, Alice, finished in the top 10 of L.P.G.A. tournaments several times, most notably at No. 4 in the 1958 Women’s Open.
Eschewing the staid long skirts that were then a staple of women golfers’ uniforms, Hagge opted for shorts. She was viewed as a glamorous figure of the women’s game, often appearing on the covers of magazines, with many admirers more fixated on her looks than her skills. (In a reflection of the time, a 1973 issue of Golf Digest included a picture of her chipping onto a green with the caption “Marlene Hagge — good and sexy.”)
Recalling the golf clinics hosted by the L.P.G.A. before its tournaments, Hagge told Sports Illustrated in 2002 that Berg, as the M.C., would say to the participants, “Look at these girls.”
“She would point at Alice and me,” Hagge recalled, “and say, ‘Isn’t it grand to be pretty and be able to hit it, too?’”
Marlene Bauer was born in Eureka, S.D., on Feb. 16, 1934, to Dave and Madeline Bauer. Her father, an avid golfer, leased the town’s golf course, about an hour southeast in Aberdeen. When Marlene was 3 years old, he cut down the shaft of a golf club and began giving her lessons. He tutored Alice as well.
The family moved to La Quinta, Calif., when Marlene was 10, seeking a warm climate where golf could be played year-round. She won the Long Beach City boys’ junior championship just after the family arrived in California, there being no comparable event for girls. By age 13, she had won several tournaments in California.
She emerged on the national scene in 1947 — still at only 13 — when she finished eighth in the United States Women’s Open Championship. She won the United States girls’ junior championship in 1949 and received the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy, named in honor of one of the most prominent figures in women’s golf. Lincoln Werden, a longtime golf writer for The New York Times, described her at the time as “a cool little player who can make every kind of shot.”
A few weeks later, she achieved a stunning second-round match-play victory in the national amateur women’s championship, besting Vare, the tournament’s six-time titleholder, and making it to the semifinals.
The Associated Press named her Athlete of the Year and Golfer of the Year for 1949.
Hagge captured her first professional title at the 1952 Sarasota Open at age 18. She was at her best in 1956, when she defeated Berg on the first extra hole of the L.P.G.A. Championship at Forest Lake Country Club in Detroit. Her victory was worth all of $1,350 (about $15,000 in today’s money). She won eight tournaments that year, finished second nine times and led the women’s tour in earnings, garnering more than $20,000.
In 1971, she set a nine-hole L.P.G.A. scoring record of 29 at the Buick Open in Columbus, Ohio, a mark unequaled for 13 years.
She played on the tour through 1996, when she competed in four events. She had career earnings of $481,023.
Hagge’s second husband, Ernie Vossler, a PGA Tour player and course designer, died in 2013. Her first marriage, to Bob Hagge, also a PGA Tour player, who had previously been married to her sister, ended in divorce. Alice Bauer died of complications of colon cancer in 2002 at 74. Information on survivors was not immediately available.
For all her accomplishments, Hagge wasn’t exactly a familiar face to the public. In 1958, she appeared on the CBS TV program “To Tell the Truth,” in which four celebrity panelists quizzed three people claiming to be the person whose biography had just been described. The actor Don Ameche disqualified himself because he had met her. Only the actress Polly Bergen correctly identified her.
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