Host City: Paris, France
Date Started: October 2, 1900
Date Finished: October 2, 1900
Participants: 33 (23 men and 10 women) from 5 countries
Youngest Participant: Polly Whittier (23 years, 298 days)
Oldest Participant: Frederick Taylor (44 years, 197 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): 6 athletes with 1 medal
Most Medals (Country): United States (4 medals)
Even many of the best golf historians will tell you that golf has never been held in the Olympics but, in fact, twice the sport has been on the modern Olympic program. On 2 October 1900, twelve gentlemen gathered to play 36 holes of golf at the Compiègne Club, about 30 miles north of Paris. Though only a few of them may have realized it at the time, they were the participants in the first Olympic golf tournament.
There were two golf events in 1900 – one for gentlemen and one for ladies, using the vernacular of the time. Charles Sands, of the St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York, played the Compiègne course in rounds of 82-85 to win the gentlemen’s event by one shot over Walter Rutherford of Jedburgh, Scotland. The next day, the ladies’ event took place and was won by Margaret Abbott of the Chicago Golf Club, who played her requisite nine holes in 47 strokes. A third competition was held on the final day. However, this was a handicap event for men, and cannot be considered of Olympic caliber.
The events were a success well attended by the society elite as evidenced by a description of the time from Golf Illustrated, “The entries were numerous, the play good, the weather admirable and the company (by which I mean spectators, officials, and others connected with or responsible for the meeting) distinguished and enthusiastic. Amongst others were present – Prince and Princess R. du Lucinge, Mme. Vagliano, Comte and Comtesse Robert de Breda, Vicomte and Vicomtesse d’Hautpoul, Comte and Comtesse de Moussac, Lord Sudeley, . . .”
Charles Sands took up golf in 1895 and only three months later went to the final of the first Amateur Championship of the USGA. There he met the redoubtable Charles Blair MacDonald, and Sands’ lack of experience showed as MacDonald won easily, 12 and 11. Sands never again played in the U. S. Amateur, and that and his Olympic triumph constitute his entire golfing laurels.
Sands was a well-known athlete, though. Primarily a tennis player, he was the United States’ champion in 1905 in court tennis, the original form of the game. He is one of only two American athletes to have competed in the Olympics in three sports – 1900 in golf, 1900 in lawn tennis, and 1908 in jeu de paume (the original name of court tennis).
Behind Margaret Abbott in the women’s tournament came Polly Whittier and a lady listed in the past as Mrs. J. Huger Pratt of Dinard, France. The three women were mysteries until research by Dr. Paula Welch, a sports historian at the University of Florida, unearthed their identities.
Margaret Abbott was born in Calcutta (Kolkata), India in 1878 to wealthy parents. She learned her golf at the Chicago Golf Club but in 1900 was studying art in Paris, accompanied by her mother, who also played in the Olympic golf tournament (she finished seventh). By winning the Olympic golf tournament she became the first American woman to win an Olympic event (and only the second overall).
Polly Whittier, often listed as being from Switzerland, was actually Pauline Whittier of Boston. Also from a wealthy family, Whittier was a descendent of the famous poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, and in 1900 was studying in St. Moritz, hence the mistaken affiliation.
Mrs. J. Huger Pratt of Dinard was the former Daria Pankhurst. Vacationing in France in 1900, she played her golf at the Dinard Club. A short time after the Olympics, Daria Pratt’s second husband, Mr. Thomas Huger Pratt, died an early death. She later married Prince Alexis Karageorgevitch of Serbia, thus becoming the Princess Karageorgevitch of Serbia.
Albert Lambert, the winner of the handicap event, also competed in the Olympic competition, finishing eighth with rounds of 94-95. Lambert was from St. Louis and when Olympic golf returned to St. Louis in 1904, Lambert would again compete, making him the only person to play in both Olympic golf tournaments. In fact, Lambert was the man responsible for the 1904 Olympic golf event.
Lambert was a wealthy man. He founded Lambert Pharmacal Co., later Warner-Lambert, best-known as the makers of Listerine. His avocation in later years became flying and he was the primary benefactor for Charles Lindbergh’s trans-atlantic flight. For his contributions to aviation, the St. Louis airport was named Lambert International Field.
In 1900 Lambert played the Olympic golf event while on a business trip to his Paris office. On his return he mentioned the Olympic golf event to his father-in-law, Colonel George McGrew. McGrew was the founder of Glen Echo Golf Club in St. Louis and with the Olympics coming to St. Louis in 1904, Lambert and McGrew put forth plans to conduct an Olympic golf tournament at Glen Echo.