Alexa Stirling Fraser – The Empress of Golf “
Alexa Stirling Defeats Bobby Jones,” would have made a great headline. When Alexa Stirling was twelve years old (in 1908), she defeated six-year-old Bobby Jones in a neighborhood birthday party, six-hole golf competition. The prize was a small cup that was awarded to Mr. Jones.
It has come out that the scorer and fellow competitor, Frank Meador, figured; “We couldn’t have a girl beating us.”
That “girl” would go on to have a very successful golf career as evidenced by her inclusion in the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame (1967); the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (1978); the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame (1986); the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame (1989) and the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame (2013). Her resume includes three consecutive U.S. Amateur wins (1916, 1919, 1920) and two Canadian Ladies’ Amateur wins in 1920 and 1934.
Growing up, she lived in an English-style cottage across from the tenth tee on the East Lake Golf Club. She and Bobby Jones were junior members of the Atlanta Athletic Club and they were coached by Scottish professional Stewart Maiden who taught them the “Carnoustie” swing.
Alexa was also known as “The First Lady of East Lake” for her golf prowess. After her 1916 U.S. Amateur Championship win, The Atlanta Athletic Club, which owned East Lake held a celebratory dinner and awarded her a silver watch engraved with the words, “By the Atlanta Athletic Club, Upon Her Return As National Woman Golf Champion, This And A Life Membership Is Affectionately Presented To Alexandra Williamson Stirling, 1916.”
With the United States participating in World War I, the majority of golf tournaments were suspended in 1917-18. Golf exhibitions to raise funds for the Red Cross became very popular and a group of Atlanta teenage golfers including Alexa, Perry Adair, Watts Gunn and Bobby Jones who were dubbed the Dixie Kids toured the countryside with three-time Women’s Western Amateur champion Elaine Rosenthal and periodically Chick Evans and Walter Hagen. Their efforts alone raised $150,000 for the cause.
During this war period, Alexa also joined the Women’s Motor Reserve Corps where she drove trucks and earned the rank of second lieutenant.
After the war, Alexa moved to New York where she became one of the few female bond salesmen on Wall Street. She also continued her winning ways with wins in the 1919 and 1920 U.S. Women’s Amateur and second place finishes in 1921 to Marion Hollins, in 1923 to Edith Cummings and in 1925 to Glenna Collett Vare.
Throughout her career as a golfer, Alexa’s key to her success was her even temperament. As her daughter says, “She was never rattled by a poor shot.” This even temperament also had an influence on her child-mate Bobby Jones. In a March, 2002 edition of Links Magazine, Sidney L. Matthews wrote about the “Dixie Whiz Kids” – “Often in those days, Alexa and Bob played together at East Lake, where young Jones was becoming famous for his outstanding play and notorious for his fiery temper. He didn’t so much mind the older members witnessing the tantrums provoked by his errant shots, but Bob felt a sting of shame whenever he looked into Alexa’s soft brown eyes as she gently asked, ‘Come now, Bob. Can’t we just play golf?’ Alexa’s U.S. Amateur victory (1916) had convinced Bob that he, too, could win major championships, and the sportsmanship displayed on the course by his friend helped Bob curb his swashbuckling temper.”
Alexa also came to Canada in 1920 and was the winner of the Canadian Ladies’ Amateur Championship at the Hamilton Golf Club. She returned to defend her title in 1921 at the Rivermead Golf Club. She didn’t take home the trophy but she did meet her future husband, Dr. Wilbert Grieve Fraser.
After a four-year courtship, they were married in Atlanta in 1924, took up residence in Ottawa and played golf out of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club. While raising her daughter Sandra and her two sons Glen and Dick, she continued to participate in the Canadian Ladies’ Amateur Championship and she was successful in winning for the second time at the Toronto Ladies Golf Club in 1934.
In ten appearances between 1920 and 1938, Alexa reached the semi-finals eight times and was the winner twice. In her head-to-head competitions with her friend Ada Mackenzie, Alexa emerged as the winner three times.
But it was primarily social, club and local competitions that she concentrated on while raising her family. Alexa was the winner of eight City & District titles between 1927 and 1938 and she was also the winner of nine club championships at the Royal Ottawa between 1925 and 1957. What may have been her biggest honour at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club came after her 1934 Canadian Ladies’ Amateur Championship win.
Alexa Stirling Fraser was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Ottawa in recognition of the distinction she brought the Royal Ottawa with her second Canadian Championship title. The only other Honorary Member of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club is the Governor General of Canada.
Another highlight in her life, according to her daughter Sandra, was a return trip to East Lake for a celebration marking the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. Bobby Jones, the honorary chairman of the event, had extended the invitation to Alexa to not only attend and be recognized for her three championship wins but to also play in the event. Alexa went primarily to renew acquaintances with her child-hood friend. Alexa was now in her 50’s and had not competed in major competitions for a number of years, but she managed to qualify for match play. In her first match, she was tied with Betty MacKinnon from Dallas, Texas going to the final hole. True to her nature and perhaps realizing her limitations, Alexa picked up her ball allowing the younger golfer to advance in the competition. Betty MacKinnon would go on to have a successful professional career.
Mrs Fraser is no longer with us as she passed away all too soon after a lengthy illness in 1977, predeceased by her husband in 1967. Both are interred in the family plot in Pembroke, Ontario.
Alexa’s daughter Sandra, at Wooden Sticks in 2013 on the occasion of her mother’s induction into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame, spoke about and summarized her mother’s life in a succinct manner. “Outside of golf, mom was also very talented. She made furniture and played the violin. The praise she received for her golf accomplishments never affected her personally in her daily life. She was a quiet person who raised her family as her first priority.”
Alexa Stirling Fraser’s memory in North America lives on, especially at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, where a lounge is named in her honour.