In 1923, Louis Armstrong made his first recording in Indiana, Babe Ruth played his first game in Yankee Stadium and the Bayou St. John Ladies Golf Club took root in New Orleans.
The club recently celebrated its centennial with a luncheon at the Joe Bartholomew Municipal Golf Course Clubhouse following its final championship round of the season. Leslie Henry won the two-day tournament, taking home the championship for the third time, but the true celebration was for the legacy of all who played a part in the club’s 100-year history.
Board member Kathy Finn reflected on the club’s challenges over the years — from the Great Depression in the 1920s to the challenges wrought by COVID in the 2020s — the club has endured.
“It was not long after the club’s founding that the country sank into the Great Depression, and millions of families, including many in New Orleans, faced serious economic pressures,” she said. “But these women continued to meet up on the golf course.
"Not long after the Depression ended, the country entered World War II, and again, amid an atmosphere of anguish and personal loss, the women kept their golf club alive.”
Finn said the organization was founded as the Ladies Auxiliary of the St. John Golf Club. In summer 2005, it merged with a second women's club at Bayou Shores to form The Bayou St. John Ladies Golf Club. The group played at City Park but plans for an inaugural tournament were upended by Hurricane Katrina.
In December 2005, the indefatigable club regrouped to launch a new season thanks to the Belle Terre Country Club in LaPlace. Three years later, the group returned to a newly designed course at City Park.
Today, the club plays a September-June season, holding monthly tournaments and its yearly championship. Flynn described the group as "a motley mix of low- and high-handicappers, meaning our golf skills vary widely.”
Just as diverse as those skills is the array of backgrounds represented on and off the course. Flynn said the club fosters relationship building.
That is the case with Mary Dares, who has been golfing for three decades. Over the years she has improved a lot, she said, but now that she is 80, “the scale has tipped to the downside, my golf game and handicap have tipped to the upside.”
The experience isn’t about her score card anymore. “It's about being outdoors, active and with my friends,” she said.
An Old Metairie resident, Dares began playing golf while employed at AT&T and was hooked quickly. “I started working the evening shift, so I could play golf in the morning and then go to work. It was very addictive, and I started playing with the ladies' clubs twice a week and on weekends with the guys. Of course, this was the reason I retired at the age of 56.”
Leila Carino is another 30-year veteran of the sport, having joined the club in the late 1980s. “I love golf because I find the sport to be a great game for reducing stress, it’s good exercise and a chance to be in the great outdoors.”
She said when the weather is good, she often walks the 18 holes. “It is so relaxing! My husband and my son play golf as well, and we always enjoy the bonding time when we play together.”
A Gretna resident, Carino is also a member of its women's club at Stonebridge and works as an accounting manager for a law firm.
She said the club is a welcoming one. “We are in this organization to have fun and enjoy the company of ladies who have the same love for golf.
When she is not working or playing golf, she enjoys being home with her family and dogs and “watching the professionals chase the little white ball.”
Pat Higginbotham, 82, retired from Delta Air Lines, started playing golf in 1991 after taking some lessons at Delgado. She joked that she was a much better player when she was younger, but she loves the sport.
“I really like the idea of going out there, seeing friends and scoring better than you did last time,” she said.
Andrea Blanco, a New Orleans resident and a retired social service counselor, has been with the group for nearly 20 years. “My favorite thing about the club is the friendly atmosphere, being outdoors in nature and meeting new friends to play golf with. I think the organization allows you to improve your game by playing competitively and meeting the other members in the group."
And while this year’s season has ended, many of the women continue to play year-round,
Dares is grateful for all of the work that has gone into keeping the organization active for so many years and through so many challenges.
“The club has and still is an important part of my life,” she said. “Belonging has given me appreciation for the sport and friendships. It's more than just golf.”
Finn concurs. “This club is not just about playing a game that we all love,” she said. “One hundred years after its founding, it is still about women sharing experiences and drawing upon one another’s strengths, and it is up to us to preserve that legacy.”
Dares said she appreciates that legacy and has a clear vision of her future — playing golf every week that she is able. “I plan to go down swinging.”