Maureen Orcutt: A Portrait of the Player of the Century
By Kevin Casey
In celebration of Women's History Month, a look at the distinguished career of NJSGA Hall of Famer, Maureen Orcutt.
What kind of golfer would it take to be talented enough, durable enough, and respected enough to deserve the title, “Player of the Century?”
From great players starting with the nineteenth century’s Old Tom Morris through Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, not the USGA, not the R&A, not the PGA Tour—not any major golf association—has credibly placed such a title on the shoulders of one of their competitors.
It’s understandable why—few, if any, players would begin to qualify. For a golfer to be plausibly named “Player of the Century,” a few conditions should be satisfied. One, the organization issuing the moniker should have a history that spans that century. Two, the golfer should have exhibited exceptional feats of golfing prowess, feats that eclipse those of anyone else involved. Three, the player’s championship record should traverse several decades— no shooting stars need apply. And, four, the golfer should embody the ideals that the organization values.
For your consideration, meet New Jersey’s Maureen Orcutt, named in 1998 by the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association as its “Player of the Century.” The WMGA, formed in 1899, was impressed by Orcutt’s ten WMGA Championships (over a forty-two-year span); twenty-eight total WMGA titles; her sixty-five notable, national, and regional-level tournament championships; and her international tournament presence over nearly seven decades of a ninety-nine-year life. As important, Orcutt was a stellar WMGA ambassador—a quality individual, fierce competitor, and champion who inspired admiration and respect from generations of golfers around the world.
More than simply a fabulous golfer, Orcutt was, starting in 1937, just the second-ever female sports journalist at the New York Times, and over her career, covered women’s golf for the New York World and wrote a sports column for the New York Journal.
In the USGA’s Golf Journal (January 2007), historian Rhonda Glenn observed that, “Orcutt was a working girl and her reporting career helped finance her amateur golf. Over the years she was part of a group of elite players, Glenna Collett Vare, Virginia Van Wie, Alexa Stirling, Pam Barton, and she beat most of them at one time or another.
“Several times Orcutt’s excellent tournament play conflicted with her reporting duties. In 1968, she made the final of the WMGA championship. ‘When I got into the finals, I called the office and said, ‘I’m not covering the final, send somebody.’ ” They did, and her replacement was able to report on Orcutt’s latest championship.
Orcutt’s writing offered her readers uncommon insight into the sport she knew so thoroughly. In 1969, she received the first Tanqueray Award for contributions to amateur sports and was elected to the New York Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. A publication Orcutt worked for, the New York Evening Journal, wrote that “Miss Orcutt has the unique distinction of being able to write as well as she plays championship golf.”
As if golf and a pioneering journalism career were not enough, Orcutt—a resident of Englewood—won the 1934 Democratic Party nomination for the New Jersey General Assembly to represent Bergen County. According to the New York Times, despite running unopposed, her name still appeared on almost all the written ballots.
A lifelong member of White Beeches Golf & Country Club in Haworth, Orcutt’s mother introduced her ten-year-old daughter to golf to avoid the conditions she felt exposed her children to the era’s polio and Spanish influenza epidemics. By the time she was seventeen, Orcutt had improved to the point that she finished second in White Beeches’ men’s club championship. Soon, Maureen won her first WMGA title, the Junior Girls Championship, the first of twenty-eight WMGA winner’s trophies she would amass.
Orcutt won her first important championship, the 1925 Eastern Women’s Amateur, at Connecticut’s Greenwich Country Club. The last of her two USGA championships came at the 1966 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in New Orleans. In between those bookends was the stuff of history.
Orcutt’s amateur playing career included matches against the greatest amateurs of the 1920s and 1930s, including Bob Jones, Joyce Wethered, and Glenna Collett Vare. Later on, she played and became friends with Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Marion Hollins, Babe Zaharias, and Sam Snead.
At the 1990 Curtis Cup, held at Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville, Orcutt (who was on the original Curtis Cup team in 1932) was an honored guest. She loved being around the competitors. According to the USGA’s Rhonda Glenn, “the then 83-year-old Orcutt sat in the grass on a hillside near the 18th green, cheerfully chatting with the young American players Vicki Goetze and Brandie Burton as the network television cameras rolled.” Her impact bridged the generations.
When she was inducted into the New York State Hall of Fame in 1991, the program noted that, “Perhaps no competitor in any major sport has been a significant factor for so long in top level play.”
The WMGA got it right. “Player of the Century” describes Maureen Orcutt perfectly.
Orcutt was inducted into the inaugural NJSGA Hall of Fame in 2018.
U.S. Women's Amateur Runner-up
U.S. Women's Amateur Medalist
1928, 1931 (T), 1932 (T)
U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Champion
WMGA Amateur Champion
1926-1929; 1934, 1938, 1940, 1946, 1959, 1968
Women's Eastern Amateur Champion
1925, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1938, 1947, 1949
Canadian Women's Amateur Champion
North & South Women's Amateur Champion
1931, 1932, 1933
North & South Senior Women's Am Champion
1960, 1961, 1962
Curtis Cup Teams
1932, 1934, 1936, 1938
This article is an excerpt of Remarkable Stories of New Jersey Golf, a 250-page book reviewing the influence New Jersey has had on American golf, written by Kevin Casey and due to be released in 2022.