By Mark Hayes, Golf Australia
Australian golf’s grand matriarch, Patricia Bridges OBE, has passed away. She was 95.
Mrs Bridges, Golf Australia’s only life member and whose name adorns the trophy of the Women’s Australian Open, died peacefully in Sydney on Saturday.
Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt said it was a “very sad day” for all in the golfing community.
“Some might not realise it, but Patricia Bridges was a fundamental part of golf in this country,” he said.
“She played a key role across so many regions and facets of the game for so many years that her efforts have touched us all.
“From her time as a player and committee woman in southern New South Wales from the early 1950s, through decades on national and international bodies, Mrs Bridges was the epitome of grace, organisation and a very rare `can-do’ attitude.
“Her loss is Australia’s. She was a great woman.”
Born on 30 December, 1921, Mrs Bridges began her lifelong love affair with golf playing at the Delegate Golf Club on the tablelands of far southern New South Wales, inland from Eden.
She was introduced to the game by her brother-in-law, but was said to have been a better tennis player as a young woman and played both until the war years.
She joined the air force as a clerk general and was sent on a special secondment to the office of the Governor-General in Canberra, during the appointment of the Duke of Gloucester.
In the Far South Coast and Tablelands Golf Association, Mrs Bridges became the District Closed Champion in 1951 and 1955, the Open Snowy Mountains Cup winner in 1955 and the District Champion of Champions in the same year.
She played golf socially on a weekly basis with her good friend, Lady Hudson, the wife of the Snowy Mountains Scheme commissioner, at Delegate, Cooma or sometimes other courses in the area. In 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957 they combined to win the District Open Foursomes Championship.
It was during this time that her abilities as an administrator began to shine, becoming secretary and treasurer of the FSCTGA in 1952-54. From there she was elected to the New South Wales Golf Union in 1956 – a position she cherished and that would help shape her life.
She was a member at the Bowral Golf Club from 1961-74, during which time she won the 1973 associates championship. As her administrative portfolio grew, she retired from the club to focus her golfing energies, but continued her work with a childcare centre association and her dedication, along with Martin Lehmann, to establish the Australian Quarter Horse Association Board from its Bowral office.
Mrs Bridges was first appointed to the Australian Ladies’ Golf Union in 1964 and became an Australian selector in 1969. Over 11 years, she captained six ALGU teams to destinations including South Africa, Spain and New Zealand and proudly represented Australia on numerous international golf committees. Her ability to co-ordinate those around her with ease and grace was widely recognised within sporting and business communities.
She was president of the NSWGU, where she was later made a life member in 1984. In 1969, she became vice-president of the ALGU and was soon president from 1970-1973. She later joined the Royal Sydney Golf Club where she remained a member even when her health no longer permitted her regular patronage.
By 1981, Mrs Bridges was awarded the OBE for “Services to golf and the community”, but her work had only just begun. In 1991, she was elected for a third term as ALGU president and, in 1992, she negotiated the purchase of the ALGU’s first permanent office in Melbourne.
In 1994, Mrs Bridges was appointed chairman of the women’s committee of the World Amateur Golf Council, a position she held until 2000, and became the first Australian to hold an executive position on an international golf committee.
In 2001, she was awarded life membership of Women’s Golf Australia and, in 2006, the first and to date only life membership of the newly established Golf Australia.
She worked passionately, including as a travelling delegate to the United States, to build momentum and sponsorship to revive the Women’s Australian Open championship and, in her honour, the trophy for its annual winner is named the Patricia Bridges Bowl.
“It was a great surprise,” she said of that decision at the time. “A great privilege and honour.”
Aged 84 during the promotion of the revived 2007 Women’s Australian Open at her own Royal Sydney, a calendar was launched simultaneously featuring many scantily clad young female golfers as they tried to make a splash in the media. She was asked by a journalist whether she was offended that this was the length to which the young athletes must reach for publicity. “I think they look good,” Mrs Bridges said, still and constantly doing her bit to aid the sport’s promotion.
At the same launch, video was shown of bare midriffs among some of those in the field and the back view of a young lady who had a tattoo on her lower back.
“Good grief,” someone muttered to Mrs Bridges, all but encouraging a prudish response.
“Why not?” Mrs Bridges replied, showing her much-loved ability to move with the times as she’d demonstrated for so many years previously.
In her later years, even when she could no longer attend the Women’s Australian Open, Mrs Bridges maintained constant contact with the tournament’s news and players when possible.
She said to those close to her that she been “honoured” to have been in the company of what she called “golf royalty”.
Those who were her graced by her presence had the exact same sentiment towards her.