If there existed a Hall of Fame for preparation, Marge Mason of The Ridgewood Country Club would surely be a member.
Mason, whose practice regimen was legendary, had her efforts rewarded when she reached the pinnacle of her career in winning the 1967 U.S. Senior Women’s Championship at Atlantic City Country Club. That triumph made her the second of five New Jerseyans to eventually win the U.S. Women’s Senior title. Maureen Orcutt was the first, followed by Mason, and later Carolyn Cudone, Dorothy Germain Porter, and Sherry Herman. Now, following in the footsteps of those four, Mason has joined this quartet in the NJSGA Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021.
Born in Paterson on Jan. 17, 1918, Mason became one of the most dominant players in New Jersey history. Over a two-decade period beginning in 1946, she won six NJSGA Women’s Amateur Championships (1946, '49, ’51, ’53, ’58, 62), two Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur Championships (1952, ’60), and a U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship in 1967 at age 50.
Mason, also known in newspaper reports of the era as Mrs. Albert Becker or Mrs. Marge Becker, came to the sport in her late teens. In a Sept. 4, 1937, article in the Paterson Morning Call that previewed the upcoming Passaic County championship, it read: “Mrs. Becker now looms as a 3-1 favorite to win the crown in her second year of competition. She has been playing the game for less than three years.” Mason went on to win that 36-hole, stroke play tournament at Passaic County (now Preakness Valley) Golf Course in Wayne.
About two years later, a turning point in her young career came on Aug. 13, 1939, when she won the Briar Hills Invitational at Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. At the time, it was considered one of the East’s “better-known tournaments for women.” Two weeks later, she won her second straight Passaic County Women’s Invitational. The following year, the Bergen Record noted that she shot a 76 at Arcola Country Club in Paramus to win her third one-day tournament in a row.
She kept playing better and better competition as she grew into her twenties. She competed in the 1941 U.S. Women’s Amateur as “Mrs. Albert Becker of Englewood, N.J.” That year, she also won the Bergen County Golf Association Tournament. Shortly thereafter, on Oct. 15, 1942, the Paterson Morning Call reported that “Mrs. Becker of North Jersey Country Club” won the one-day Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association event at Essex County Country Club.
In Feb. 1945, she reached the Helen Lee Docherty Tournament semifinals in Florida, where she lost to the immortal Louise Suggs. Only a few months later, she played in the Western Open, where she advanced to the quarterfinals. There, she lost to Babe Didrikson Zaharias for the first time that season. Later that summer, she again faced Zaharias, this time in the 36-hole final match of the Women’s Texas Open, losing 7 and 6.
Playing Zaharias, named by the Associated Press as one of the top 10 athletes of the 20th century, left an indelible mark on Mason.
“I can remember asking her to mark her ball on the green. I turned around and discovered that she had replaced it with a silver dollar instead of a traditional marker. She has to have been the greatest woman golfer of all time,” Mason said in the A.P.’s 1969 newspaper account.
“If women’s golf lacks anything today, it is the personality of this fantastic sportswoman. There are great players on the tour today, but none with the spark of The Babe.”
Mason’s success was undoubtedly the product of an incredible work ethic. While her talent off the tee was remarkable (she was known to often hit driver over 200 yards), her short game – particularly her wedge shots into the green – was her clear strength. Mason earned those skills away from the heat of competition, practicing diligently, which she readily admitted was a crucial part of her game. She was quoted in The Ridgewood Herald News on Mar. 13, 1969:
“You have to enjoy practice to be good because it gives you a chance to try out shots. I have made it a practice to never let any club beat me.”
Said Ann Beard, former president of the Garden State Women’s Golf Association, which Mason dominated for nearly two decades: “Marge put a lot of time into practicing. She had an outstanding short game. She was a great chipper and putter, and she loved to compete.”
In Mason’s lone USGA triumph, she sparkled. When she won the sixth annual U.S. Senior Women’s Championship at the Atlantic City Country Club on Oct. 6, 1967, she finished with a three-round score of 236. That score broke the former record of 239 set in 1963 by Maureen Orcutt and Allison Choate of Rye, N.Y. (Choate won that year in a playoff.)
In the 54-hole event, Mrs. Mason had rounds of 77, 80, and 79 for her record 236, each day establishing or tying for the lowest round. Mrs. Hulet Smith of Pebble Beach, who won the event in 1964 and 1965, was runner-up at 240.
Mason played six times in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, including a victory in her first try. She was third in 1968, tied for third in 1969, tied for 11th in 1970, tied for 17th in 1972, and tied for 21st in 1973.
She was the outstanding player in the Garden State Women’s Golf Association for a sustained period. Beginning in 1954, Mason, a resident of Englewood, won that organization’s match play title eight times and its Elizabeth Goss Round Robin ten times. Mason also claimed the GSWGA’s stroke play championship six times, and its Better-Ball-of-Partners event three times, partnering with LaJunta White.
Also, she won the both the Women’s New Jersey Golf Association Match Play and Stroke Play Championships six times each.
Mason, who worked as a realtor in the Bergen County area, passed away from cancer in 1974 at the age 56. She played at a highly competitive level until just before her death. Said the great Orcutt after Mason’s untimely passing from cancer at age 56 in 1974: “A lot of people couldn’t get close to her, but if she was your friend, you better believe she was your friend.”
The great Marge Mason was part of the Class of 2021, along with other New Jersey legends, “Long” Jim Barnes and Max Marston.