Marlene Hagge-Vossler, last of the LPGA founders, dies at 89

Marlene Hagge-Vossler, a teen golf sensation in the 1940s and 1950s who was the last survivor of the 13 women who founded the LPGA in 1950, died Tuesday morning in Rancho Mirage, California, family members confirmed. Hagge-Vossler was 89.

A 26-time winner on the LPGA including the 1952 LPGA Championship, Hagge-Vossler was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002 through the Hall’s veteran committee. Hagge-Vossler’s family said she died in a memory care facility in Rancho Mirage and had battled physical problems in the last year as the result of a fall.

Marlene Bauer was just 15 years old when the incorporation papers for the LPGA were signed to begin the women’s professional golf tour in 1950. Along with her older sister Alice and famed golfers such as Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Louise Suggs and Patty Berg, the 13 founders traveled the country in cars, running their own tournaments, setting up their own golf courses and doing their own promotional appearances without much financial support from sponsors or equipment companies.

The youngest of the 13 and considered the first blonde sex symbol on the tour, Hagge-Vossler proved to be more than just a pretty face. She won her first LPGA title in 1952 at the Sarasota Open and the last of her 26 titles at the 1972 Burdine’s Invitational in Miami. While Hagge-Vossler won just one major title, the 1952 LPGA Championship, she placed second in the U.S. Women’s Open that year, third in the Titleholders Championship in 1957 and second in the Western Open in 1965.

“Marlene had a very special place in the tour. She was not only a fine player, but she was beautiful, charismatic and popular,” said Charlie Mechem, another long-time desert resident and commissioner of the LPGA from 1990 to 1995. “The tour and golf as a whole will miss her.”

Hagge-Vossler was featured in the 2016 documentary film “The Founders” on the 13 founders of the tour. At that time, only four founders were still alive — Marilynn Smith, Louise Suggs, Shirley Spork and Hagge-Vossler. Spork, a long-time desert resident, died in April of 2022 at the age of 94, leaving Hagge-Vossler as the last living founder.

“I don’t know of any organization that recognizes and remembers it founders and, happily, in recent years has really embraced them totally,” Mechem said of the LPGA founders. “I like to think that I played a part in that.”

Sandra Palmer, another desert resident who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2024, recalled the respect players had for the founders in the 1960s and 1970s. But she added that Hagge-Vossler earned respect for her game as well.

“Marlene was a heck of a player. She could flat play,” Palmer said. “She could hit a driver off the deck. And she was a fierce competitor.”

Palmer recalled seeing Hagge-Vossler and other early LPGA players at a tournament in the Dallas area when Palmer was still in high school. She then played with Hagge-Vossler after Palmer joined the LPGA in 1964.

“She had her opinions about things, but she was a smart lady,” Palmer said.

Susie Berning, a three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner and also a World Golf Hall of Famer who teaches in the desert, recalled her early days on tour with Hagge-Vossler.

“When I first joined the tour (in 1964), we called Marlene my mother, because she mothered me and looked after me,” said Berning, who has been a regular visitor to Hagge-Vossler in the last year. “But she did that with all the new players. Judy Rankin and Marlene and I and Kathy Whitworth, we would rent houses together and stay in houses together. In Rochester, we probably stayed in the same house for 10 years.”

Berning said Hagge-Vossler was popular as a housemate because she liked to cook. But Berning also talked about Hagge-Vossler’s competitive nature.

“She would almost give you the stink-eye on the golf course,” Berning said.

A junior golf sensation

Even before the LPGA was formed, Hagge-Vossler was a national sensation. Her family moved from Eureka, S.D. to Southern California, and at age 10 she won the Long Beach City Boys Championship. She continued winning both regular and junior golf events throughout the 1940s, including the inaugural U.S. Junior Girls title in 1949. That same year Hagge-Vossler won women’s tournaments in Palm Springs and Indio in what would become her adoptive home of the Coachella Valley. The Associated Press named Hagge-Vossler its female athlete of the year for 1949.

In a 2013 interview, Hagge-Vossler said it was almost impossible for a junior female golfer to play in tournaments or get onto high-profile golf courses. But Marlene and her sister Alice found a patron saint in a more famous female golfer, Dolores Hope, wife of comedian Bob Hope.

“In those days, it was tough to be a golfer if you were a girl,” Hagge-Vossler said. “They didn’t allow women onto some of the snitzy golf courses in L.A. They wouldn’t let children under 16 to play in the California State Amateur, L.A. City and so forth. So (Hope) would take us to play, and she would take Alice and me to play these courses and of course no one could say no to her. L.A. Country Club and Bel Air, she was very instrumental.”

Hagge-Vossler was married twice, once in 1955 to Dick Hagge, her sister’s former husband. They divorced in 1964. In 1995 she married Ernie Vossler, a golf pro known for developing golf courses including PGA West and La Quinta Resort in the Coachella Valley. They remained married until Vossler’s death in 2013.

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