Pioneer of Women’s Golf in the 1920s Elected to Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame Class of 2020
As a pioneer of women’s golf in the Carolinas in the early 20th century, Dorothy Dotger Thigpen’s long list of golfing buddies included the likes of Richard Tufts, Dugan Aycock and Davis Love Jr., and her affection of this great game saw her playing into her 70s.
And it has taken more than three decades after her passing in 1989 to be inducted into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame, but like many of Mrs. Thigpen’s thousands of rounds played in her illustrious career, the journey was as important as the final scorecard.
“I learned a lot on those long walks with my grandmother, and as with any fine golfer, the lessons were not limited to the game,” said Susan Thigpen Carlson, Thigpen’s eldest granddaughter. “The golf course was her playing field for lessons of life.”
Mrs. Thigpen, winner of the first two Women’s CGA Championships in Charlotte in 1922 and then again in Pinehurst in 1923, will join the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame 2020 class posthumously this spring with Duke women’s golf coach Dan Brooks. The timing is fitting since Mrs. Thigpen was the first woman on the Duke men’s golf team (at the time Trinity College) during her time as a college student.
“If Richard Tufts were alive right now he would be the guy who would ask to introduce her,” said Thigpen’s 89-year-old son Richard Thigpen Jr., who plans to give a speech at the Hall of Fame banquet this spring in honor of his mother’s golfing feats. “She had a real solid game, but her length off the tee was what impressed so many people back then.”
Mrs. Thigpen grew up playing golf at Charlotte Country Club and won the women’s club championship there in 1917 – at the age of 15. Thigpen dominated women’s golf across the region in the 1920s, regularly scoring in the mid 80s during a period in which the top women players were shooting in the 90s.
“I remember her as a wonderful competitor,” son Richard said. “One story she told me was when she was a teenager playing in a club tournament an older woman she was playing with hit a ball into a wagon rut -- which was not uncommon on the course at that time -- and momma said something along the lines of ‘Well, I’m sorry.’ And the woman told her, ‘Young lady, don’t be sorry for me, feel sorry for yourself.’ I guess she realized then she needed to stay competitive if she was going to play competitive golf.”
In 1923, she married Richard E. Thigpen who was alumni secretary at Duke University, and played the first round at the Donald Ross-designed Hope Valley Country Club, where she later set one of her numerous course records for female golfers.
Mrs. Thigpen gave up competitive golf in 1924 to raise her family after having played in the North-South Championship in Pinehurst a year earlier. She also won six team events in Pinehurst.
Returning to tournament play after having two children, she finished second in the 1929 Women’s CGA Championship. Mrs. Thigpen also captured the women’s championship at Hope Valley in 1928 and 1929. During this era, she played in the North-South Women’s Tournament in Pinehurst, and gave golfing exhibitions across the state of North Carolina.
Mrs. Thigpen enjoyed golf at the club level for over 50 years, and held the low score for women at four different venues in four different cities -- Charlotte Country Club, Hope Valley in Durham, Forsyth in Winston-Salem and Asheville Country Club.
“Her knowledge of the game was broader than mere technique – she had a love of course design and its grooming, tremendous respect for the rules and a keen sense of fair play,” said granddaughter Susan Thigpen Carlson.
“She was a stickler for the rules,” added Richard. “She absolutely played by the rules all the way. I remember one time she was teaching me at 10 years old that you don’t walk ahead of or in front of people that are hitting the ball. One, you don’t do it because it’s not good etiquette and two, it can be dangerous. Well, the old 18th hole at Charlotte CC was a sharp dogleg right and I had hit the ball off the tee down to the left and she was walking way over on the right side with her caddie and I pulled out a club and hit the ball that was about two feet off the ground and it hit her in the back of the left leg. She said ‘that just proves what I kept telling you not to walk in front of people.’ We both had a good laugh at that one.”
Mrs. Thigpen died in 1989 at the age of 88.
“There is no question that momma could have been a professional golfer,” Richard said. “She was such a good all-around athlete and just a suburb golfer. We’re really thrilled the things that she had accomplished and contributed to the game, and the type of competitor and person that she was, is being recognized. It’s all so exciting for the family.”