In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, LPGA professional Joanne Winter dreamed of providing an event in Arizona where junior girls and college girls could play together. At that time there were few golf tournaments for girls, especially in this region of the country. As current Silver Belle President Barb Byrnes relates, “There was no Junior Golf Association of Arizona, no American Junior Golf Association, and no Title IX and usually the other major championships were either for junior girls under 18 or national amateur events which consisted mainly of college girls. The two did not cross paths.” But Joanne possessed the drive and determination to turn her dream tournament into a reality. A successful multi-sport athlete who has since been inducted into both the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame and National Women’s Baseball Hall of Fame, she started gathering resources. She received seed money from one of her students. The Arizona Women’s Golf Association provided tournament guidance. Her old friends the Wrigleys, who had created the All American Girls Professional Baseball League for which she had once played, also owned the Biltmore, and waived green fees there. Gradually Joanne’s vision came to fruition, and in 1971 the Arizona Silver Belle Championship was born. Speaking about those early years, Joanne’s friend Judy Loftfield Whitehouse, who was also an LPGA Teaching Pro, sums it up best: “The Silver Belle offered Arizona and Southwestern young players a chance to compete and watch the best of women's collegiate golf during the Title IX first wave; it spurred our state's high school players to learn about college team opportunities; and on top of all that, all the volunteers and Joanne herself made the tournament fun, exciting and memorable for the competitors from little girls to seasoned players. Like so many of Joanne's brilliant and creative ideas it was a huge success because of her drive to contribute to junior's and women's golf, her vision of what it would accomplish, and her knack for inspiring others to help and bring it about. I'm so proud that Arizona was where Joanne made it happen and so proud and admiring of her for getting it rolling and of all the volunteers who keep it a reality in her memory. It is a huge deal in our Arizona history!”
It’s true that the Silver Belle could not exist without the many volunteers who support it. The Silver Belle Board of Directors works hard behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly. They handle entries, volunteer recruitment, sponsorships, awards and the myriad of logistics needed to conduct a top-notch event. During the course of the event itself there are more than 100 individuals on the course or behind the scenes to provide support to the competitors, including shuttle drivers, forecaddies, Rules officials, live scoring and pace of play volunteers, as well as the golf course staff.
In the past, volunteers were often friends or students of Joanne Winter herself. It wasn’t easy to say “no” to Joanne, so she was able to gather great people to help her. When you talk to these volunteers, many will tell you that they were involved for 8 years, or 15 years, or over 20 years. Phyllis Graebner, who passed away in 2014, served for over 35 years, and Mary Ann Thomas stepped down in 2009 after over 30 years of service, having been Treasurer for many of those years and the person who helped the Silver Belle incorporate and become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity in 1988. Sallie McCutcheon was also a long-time volunteer. She took lessons from Joanne at Coronado in Scottsdale and would help on the tournament now and then, but when she retired in 1995 she became the Entry Chairman, Volunteer Chairman, and more. Sallie taught in the Phoenix Union High School District, and says that back in the 1970s the girls couldn’t do team sports because the boys had exclusive use of the gym. Girls played individual sports like badminton, tennis, archery and golf, but since there were no teaching facilities for golf they had to already know how to play. Joanne’s tournament was a “shot in the arm” for girls’ sports. She remembers in particular that the “Teeny Belles” were hysterical. They only played a few holes and would take lots of shots, but Joanne insisted that every group have a chance to play.
In 1995, when the tournament was starting to struggle financially, Ellen O’Hara helped bring sponsors to the event to reenergize it. She later served as Sponsorship Chair and Board President. Kay Cornelius, the 1981 US Girls' Junior Champion and a LPGA teaching professional who played in the tournament six times even came back as Tournament Chair in 2011 and 2012. The roster of past volunteers is endless, and filled with names of people with a special knack for pitching in when needed and finding joy in young girls’ smiles.
Memories of 1971
The very first Silver Belle Champion, ASU Hall of Famer and USGA Ike Grainger award winner Cathy Gaughan Mant, is not only the coach of the Georgia State women’s team, she is also the winningest coach in Georgia history. Cathy remembers Joanne Winter as a wonderful role model with a vision to offer a top notch tournament for girls, and believes Joanne would be both thrilled to see how successful the tournament has become and amazed at the level of talent in the field. Fellow player Leslie Jones adds “I had no idea this tournament would become so big and important to girls golf and I’m proud to be one of the first to play in it.” Both women, like many others who have received them since that time, treasure the hand-crafted trophy they received. In those days the awards were a silver bell in an adobe frame that were made to look like an old mission bell, and each one was unique.
Cathy’s runner-up in 1971, Wendy Hodgson, says of those years: “We knew each other pretty well, a few of us more close than others, and played together often, so there was much socializing. But there was plenty of competition, too. We took it very seriously.... As for the youngest, I just remember them being so darn cute, wide-eyed and usually with big smiles, toting bags that were bigger than them.” She remembers Joanne Winter to be “exceedingly kind and good-hearted, with not a mean bone in her body, and possessed great humility, grace and kindness…. She was a champion and supporter of many things, including girls’ golf – providing young girls the opportunity to play, as well as providing a means for them to socially mature and develop lasting friendships, gifts that golf provides.”
Known for her short game, former Joanne Winter student, LPGA player, and current golf instructor Julie Stanger Pyne was just 14 years old when she played in the inaugural Silver Belle. Julie says the college players could “beat her like a drum”, but that even the losses helped her learn to compete and work hard. Julie hopes that the women and young girls playing in this event will take a little time to learn about the founder, who died in 1996 in her 72nd year. “Even par” as Julie says. “I still miss her today. She was not only my teacher and mentor but became a dear friend.”
Making New Memories
There are so many great memories, past and present, which can be shared about this wonderful event. If you are a JWSB alumnus, past or current volunteer, or if you have a story about the tournament to contribute we've made a special Facebook group for you. Just go to Facebook and search for “Silver Belle Alumni" to post stories and photos of Silver Belles gone by – or email Barb Byrnes, current President. Good luck to all the young women in this year's tournament!
SUPPORTING CHAMPIONS AND OUR PLAYER'S EXCITING FUTURE