In anticipation of the History Center’s Annual Celebrity Golf Tournament on Monday, Sept. 26, we spoke with tournament co-chair and multiple Curtis Cup winner Carol Semple Thompson about Western Pennsylvania, women in golf, and more.
As a native Pittsburgher, what do you find to be the most memorable moment in Western Pennsylvania sports history?
Though it is a difficult choice, my one most memorable moment was Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception.
What is your favorite thing about Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania?
It would have to be the people of this area. They are down-to-earth and enthusiastic, and almost all of my family lives in the area so I am blessed. I also love the hills, even in winter.
Tell us about your involvement with the History Center and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.
About 14 years ago, Audrey Brourman, the former fundraiser extraordinaire for the History Center, decided there should be a golf event to raise money. My mother, Phyllis Semple, who loved history and golf, enthusiastically signed on to help and recruited me. I have been involved with the Golf Tournament ever since. It has been an amazing success over the years.
The U.S. Open was at Oakmont Country Club for the ninth time this year. There’s also the public perception that many professional and renowned golfers have Western Pennsylvania connections. Can you tell us about Western Pennsylvania’s history with the sport of golf and its participants?
No discussion of golf in Western Pennsylvania can ever start without Arnold Palmer, the man who single-handedly brought golf to the forefront of big time sports. Though there have been many excellent players, both male and female, from this area through the years, no one can compare with the great Arnie. We are also blessed with so many wonderful golf courses, Oakmont being the most recognized. I believe the topography of the area has contributed tremendously to the quality of the golf courses here around Pittsburgh.
What do you consider to be the defining moment in your golf career? Why?
My defining moment in golf was winning the 1973 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in Montclair, N.J. It was my first time to win on a national level and had the added bonus that my father, who at the time was vice president of the United States Golf Association, presented the trophy to me. That victory started me on a path of representing the U.S. on national teams. I played on my 12th Curtis Cup team in 2002 in a match played here in Pittsburgh at Fox Chapel Golf Club.
Can you discuss golf as it pertains to women? What challenges have you seen since you first began golfing up until present day?
When I was a young girl starting to play golf I found that few of my girlfriends wanted to play. It was a bit lonely on the golf course, so I ended up playing with the boys. I think a number of young girls starting to play today face the same concerns. It is a difficult game and the companionship of other girls is lacking, so they quit the game. As women grow up and move into the working world they find that many men are very comfortable developing business relationships through playing golf. Women are playing catch-up in the world of business golf, but that is starting to change as access to clubs increases and women take up the game to benefit their business.
What’s it like to be part of that trajectory (women’s progression in golf) and what do you see happening in its future?
Women’s golf has nowhere to go but up. Women in business are realizing the great benefits of entertaining their clients on the golf course. Women attending college have a huge number of golf scholarships available. Golf is exploding worldwide and the LPGA is gaining ground in prize money and events around the world. A number of high-profile private clubs like Augusta National and the Royal & Ancient in St. Andrews, Scotland, have recognized the value of inviting women to join. If we can keep young girls interested in learning the game, there could be a real explosion of women’s golf in the future.
What do you most look forward to about the History Center’s annual Celebrity Golf Tournament? Why?
The History Center’s Celebrity Golf Tournament is one of the most fun days I spend on the golf course. The outing itself is very relaxed and played at a lovely course, Allegheny Country Club. The format is a wide open scramble to fit all players’ abilities. And each group has the pleasure of playing with a celebrity, someone who has made a name for himself or herself in the Pittsburgh area. All of that and the day supports the Heinz History Center. What could be better?
Angela Gaitaniella is the development events manager at the Heinz History Center.