Maureen Orcutt, 99; Golf Champion and Journalism Pioneer

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007

Maureen Orcutt, 99, one of the world's best amateur golfers in the 1920s and '30s who became one of the first female sportswriters for a major newspaper, died Jan. 9 at Carolina House, an assisted living center in Durham, N.C., where she lived. She had congestive heart failure.

Twice a U.S. Golf Association champion, she won the Eastern Women's Amateur in 1925 and the Senior Women's Amateur in 1966. Ms. Orcutt, who won more than 65 major championships in her lifetime, was the runner-up for the U.S. amateur title in 1927 and 1936. She played on four Curtis Cup teams -- amateurs from the United States played against British amateurs -- and her team won each time.

Ms. Orcutt was also a pioneering journalist, joining the New York Times in 1937 as the second female sportswriter in the history of that paper. She wrote a column called "Women in Sports."

She was already an established athlete when she joined the newsroom, and she wrested a concession from sports editor Ray Kelly that allowed her to play some matches while employed by the paper, according to an internal Times newsletter from 2002.

"Maureen, who succeeded Maribel Vinson as our single female sports reporter (only one at a time in those days), has always said: 'If there had been a women's pro tour back in the early '30s, I might have turned pro. But there was no money in golf then,' " wrote Gordon S. White Jr., another retired sportswriter.

Time magazine in 1930 described her as "broad-shouldered, jut-jawed," and The Washington Post in 1927 said she was "tall, blonde, determined -- the sort of woman the Vikings would have admired." She was widely respected as an athlete, with headline writers asserting that she was "almost as good as the men."

Rhonda Glenn, a writer for the USGA's Web site, described her as one of the world's premier amateurs in the 1920s and '30s, noting that she was even a medalist in the British Ladies Open Amateur.

"She was one of the game's finest long iron players throughout her career, but her putting was sometimes suspect and the championship she most wanted -- the U.S. Women's Amateur -- always eluded her grasp," Glenn wrote Thursday.

News of her athletic exploits, common in the sports pages, disappeared for almost 20 years until she began winning senior golf titles in the early 1960s. She retired from the newspaper in 1972 and moved to Durham, where she won her last tournament at age 80, said her attorney, Richard Hatch, and was still beating partners when she stopped playing about 10 years ago because of knee problems.

Born in New York and raised in Englewood, N.J., she attended New York University for a year but left school to play golf. She told reporters at different times that she aspired to work in real estate or to become a dress model. She agreed to run for the New Jersey legislature in 1934, telling The Post that year, "I firmly explained that I was going to play in golf tournaments during the electioneering season."

She married John D. Crews in 1935 and divorced him two years later. She has no immediate survivors.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company