In the final year of this century, it seems fitting to recognize a local woman whose accomplishments over a large part of the 1900’s have made her a prominent figure in Bay Area golf. She has graced our newspapers for the past 60 years and will remain a storied part of the city of Oakland and her special golf course, Sequoyah Country Club. Frances Cary Whyte is one of only a handful of players in this country, male or female, to have won their club championship in each of six decades. She first attained this award in 1933 and most recently in 1985.
It’s spring time in Oakland, a softening of the harsh winter weather and a lessening of the rain and cold. It is a precursor to the warm summer months and a call to arms, or at least irons, for all Bay Area golfers. At Sequoyah CC, the members prepare for the annual Easter Cup, an event washed out last year due to the wrath of El Nino. I found a notice mentioning the 1997 Easter Cup Trophy Day Winner, Frances Cary Whyte, nothing particularly startling, except for the mention that Mrs. Whyte was quite pleased to have finally captured another competitive event, even at the tender young age of eighty-three! Curiosity now peaked, I was led into a voyage of time, a look at a woman of the century.
I met with Mrs. Whyte at her apartment, a gorgeous flat featuring a panoramic view of Lake Merritt. A rare double rainbow graced our view of Oakland and seemed an appropriate opening touch of magic to the story which unfolded of this unique woman’s life.
In 1932, Earl Fry, the professional golf teacher and pro from Alameda, stood sentry over a young group of aspirants on his driving range. Earl had invited the teens for a lesson and a chance to swing some clubs, and now his attention was focused on a young woman, Frances Glover from Alameda High School, who was displaying her athletic but raw golf skills. Mr. Fry— a pro who is usually omitted from the short list of golfers who have shot a fifty nine in professional competition—had found a protégé.
During our interview, Mrs. Whyte asked me about my golf game. I sheepishly stated that I carried an eleven index and she wondered if I knew the average handicap for all golfers in the United States. When I guessed at twenty one, she smiled and said more like twenty nine. I asked her what handicap she carried through most of her playing days, and she matter-of-factly responded, “Oh, I guess about a one.” Quite an achievement, I thought, but then she continued. “Of course, Earl Fry wouldn’t let me play for the first few months, I could only hit from the mats and practice my short game. But when I finally was allowed to play, I believe my first official handicap was an eight. He made sure I was ready.”
Mrs. Whyte seemed to see herself at that moment sixty-six years ago, a young woman with designs on a professional career in golf, full of hope and talent and promise. Mr. Fry, the ‘Bald Count of Bay Farm Island’, stated his four requisites for greatness in a golfer: 1) natural ability; 2) the time and interest to learn the game; 3) correct form; and 4) proper equipment. He continued to say when interviewed, “Now take Miss Frances Glover, she has everything to be just as good as Helen Hicks or any other star you can name. She can play tennis and swim, play basketball and hockey with the best of them. At the present time, she is 18 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 127 pounds and has the kind of temperament that responds to competition. She is her best under fire.”
Her funds were limited, though, and at her mom’s insistence, she pursued her education through the University of California at Berkeley. While competing successfully in multiple statewide amateur events, she worked her way through college and earned her degree which she parlayed into a fine teaching career. But golf was always there, the competition of the matches her thrill and pleasure. In June, 1933, she took medallist honors in the San Francisco Golf Championships at Harding Park before losing the 36 hole championship to Mrs. L. J. Tescher of the Berkeley Country Club, 2 and 1. In August she sailed to the championship round in the prestigious Ingleside Golf Tournament with scores of 79 and 81. She began her fall studies at Cal with two titles as Alameda City Champion and Sequoyah Country Club Champion. In those days you needed to belong to a private club in order to compete in the more popular tourneys, and Mr. Fry paved the way for Miss Glover to join at Sequoyah.
Quickly recognized as the ‘leading divot digger in the Bay Area’ she shot two over the course record at San Francisco Golf Club, to this day her favorite course. She has also been seen vying for top trophies at Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, and Riviera to name a few. In 1936 Frances made it a ‘three-peat’ of the East Bay Women’s Championship. She set a course record at La Rinconada Golf and Country Club in Los Gatos and led the Sequoyah women to two team titles. In ’37 it was a course record at Alameda Municipal Golf Course and through the end of the thirties there were the great matches with Miss Marion Leachman to fuel her competitive spirit.
Frances met and married Mr. Charles Cary through her club, and in the forties continued her winning ways stockpiling 10 club championships through 1950. She taught at Roosevelt High and Technical School as a gym and swimming teacher. She also taught golf and tennis to the youngsters over the years and became special director of the Alameda Recreation Department tennis program. Frances added to her litany of sports talent as an expert equestrian and rodeo participant. Golf, though, still was her passion and in each of the next four decades she captured the Sequoyah Women’s Club Championship, with her last victory coming in 1985. It was her twentieth title, spanning fifty-two years, and she modestly mentioned that for a number of years she had not pursued the ring in favor of others at the club.
Through the years, she served on the course rating committee of the Women’s Golf Association of Northern California. She recalled a special round of golf at Sequoyah with the great Babe Didrikson Zaharias. In the 1960’s Frances competed in the amateur championships and seemed to always come up against the past champion or the winner of that year’s tourney such as when she lost in the quarter round against Joanne Gunderson (Carner) in Sacramento. Of course Ms. Carner has gone on to some degree of notoriety in the LPGA! Frances also shot her course record low for a woman at SCC, a 74, during those years.
Over dinner at Jack’s of Jack London square, we talked about family and Frances proudly told me about her grandmother, Mrs. Sophie Davis, who had been one of the first pioneer settlers of Sutter Country, and who at the age of ninety-eight had proclaimed to have voted in every year since women suffrage was created with the nineteenth amendment. When we returned to her apartment, the shining Helen Jewett necklace of lights were draped on the rim of Lake Merritt. We chatted about her current ability to play, and she apologetically said that she needed the dry weather so she could drive her cart onto the fairways.
In April, I found Frances wandering through the course, still playing with her graceful swing and steady accuracy, her love of the game continuing into the new millennium. “I’d rather not walk the whole course,” she smiled as we approached her ball. She lined up square and promptly drilled her shot one hundred and thirty yards over the ravine that splits the eleventh fairway. She smiled at me and her blue eyes sparkled with her competitive spirit from within, then she headed back to her partner, Mrs. Kientz, to finish her round.
In Memory Of Frances Cary-Whyte
Born, December 11, 1914
Died, October 26, 2009