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PLYMOUTH, Massachusetts – Three months ago, 85-year-old Joanne Goodwin stepped into a golf cart and got a view of Plymouth Country Club for the first time in over half a decade.
Much like the recent tree work that has opened up the course more than ever, Goodwin marvels at how the landscape in golf, especially for women, has vastly improved and expanded since her heyday in the 1950s. Back then, only about a dozen junior golfers competed regularly. Flash forward to this year’s Women’s Amateur and roughly one-third of the nearly-100-player field is 18 years and under.
But this week is also special for Goodwin for another reason. The 2014 inductee into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame won the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur four times during her illustrious amateur golf career, but she never got to experience playing in a state amateur championship at Plymouth Country Club. And while she moved to Haverhill after high school and now lives in Duxbury, Plymouth and Plymouth Country Club will always be home.
“It’s wonderful,” said Goodwin, who followed several morning matches Wednesday morning. “People always love to play a Donald Ross course. Now they play the longer and wide-open courses, something that’s always challenging. I think the women will like it.”
Over a half-century has passed since Goodwin rose to national prominence, but she fondly recalls those memories.
Goodwin’s family grew up across the street from the club and after school would walk to the course where Goodwin’s father, Hal, was a teaching professional.
“I’d sit down and listen and see if I could detect what he’d say about their swing,” Goodwin recalls. “I would shag golf balls. On the weekends, we’d stand out there, dad would get ice, put it in the cooler, and we’d have drinks, candies, and crackers for the members.”
Never a long-hitter, Goodwin excelled by hitting accurate drives and becoming a master in her short game. A reporter once called her “wee ice-woman” due to her ability to making pressure putts frequently in competitive matches.
Her father never forced Goodwin into golf. Instead, she began playing competitively when she entered Plymouth High School in 1950, and started winning. A lot.
Goodwin won the Mass Girls’ Junior Amateur every year between 1951-1954, the only person to win four titles in as many years. In 1954, at age 18, she won the Mass Women’s Amateur title for the first time at Essex County Club to become the youngest champion in history. In the Women’s Amateur final, she defeated Nancy Black, 3&2, and while Black was graceful in defeat, Goodwin recalls having to catch a ride to Essex and back from Black and her husband Paul.
Goodwin also competed in the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open contested at Salem Country Club. She played in the group behind golf legend and eventual 12-stroke winner Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
“I was so nervous, I was standing on the first tee, which was elevated, and my knees were shaking,” Goodwin told The Boston Globe in 2004. “I nearly topped the ball.”
By the time she was in her 20s, Goodwin carried a Handicap between 1 and 2 and began to showcase her talents beyond the Bay State. She won the first two New England Women’s Amateur Championships in 1957 and 1958 and by 1959 was rated as the No. 3 amateur in the world by Golf Digest.
In 1959, she traveled to a scorching Washington, DC, where she stayed with friends and recalled staying in a room with air conditioning for the first time. Her play that week was also pretty cool as she became the first Massachusetts player in 45 years to make the final match. She fell to familiar foe Barbara McIntire, 4&3, but both players received the honor of a lifetime when they were selected for the 1960 Curtis Cup team. Together they helped the United States travel overseas and defeat Great Britain & Ireland, 6.5 to 2.5, at Lindrick Golf Club.
Goodwin had so much success, that many have wondered why she never turned pro. During winters in Florida, Goodwin would play alongside professionals but saw how difficult professional life was in those days. Many traveled in trailers and profiting was extremely difficult, especially when by equipment costs, transport, and paying caddies.
“You needed a lot of money to travel, and many people came from affluent families,” Goodwin said. “If you look at earnings, you’d only make a couple hundred [dollars], so unless you were outstanding it was very difficult to make it work.”
Instead, she followed another passion – education. In 1965, she attended Salem State Teachers College and was naturally the valedictorian. She taught at Haverhill High School until 2000, and during her early days got to see Title IX enacted which provided equal opportunities for women and girls to compete in sports, including golf.
The passion for golf still burns for the Hall of Famer. She last played a round of golf seven years ago, and up until injuring her shoulder a few months prior, would hit golf balls at a driving range a few times per week.
For the time being, she can still reflect on the good times, and she takes comfort in the fact that women’s golf is stronger than ever, and that at the end of the week, a women’s amateur champion will be crowned at the same place where Goodwin learned to be great.