Norman Mailer was wrong. Sometimes you can go home. Thirty-five years ago, the fifth annual Big Sky Women's Golf Open took place at the Green Meadow Country Club. The tournament attracted 106 top-notch golfers from Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Canada, and as far away as Hawaii.
But coming away victorious was a hometown product and an old friend of the local links — the great Edean (Anderson) Ihlanfeldt.
Don't get me wrong, it was not exactly an upset. Ihlanfeldt, then 39, had been a child prodigy at the age of 14 when she won the first of six consecutive state amateur championships, from 1944-49. During the 1950s and '60s, she captured numerous prestigious amateur golf tournaments outside of Montana, including five Pacific Northwest titles, the Washington state crown four times, the Trans-Mississippi championship and the 1952 Canadian Open crown.
Edean had played against — and became good friends with — female golfing pioneers Babe Didrickson Zaharias and Patty Berg. But in spite of her resume, it still had to feel good to come back to Helena and win the biggest tournament in the state on one of the courses she had cut her teeth on, especially considering the competition.
Since defending Big Sky Open champion Jane Hibbard did not compete because she was serving as tournament chairman, perhaps Edean's chief rival for the title was Helen Tremper of Missoula. Tremper was the reigning (and four-time) state am champ and had garnered the Big Sky crown in 1969. Other contenders included Mrs. Al Beaton of Canada, Seattle's Liz Culver and Dorothy Campbell of Portland — who each were 5-handicap golfers. Another threat was Rosalie Armatage of Hawaii, a former Maui Open champion.
The rest of the tournament's committee with Mrs. Hibbard were Mrs. Howard Doggett, registration; Mrs. William Anderson, entries; Don Williams, Green Meadow golf pro; Mrs. Tom Mooney, secretary; and Mrs. Quentin Johnson, Mrs. Fred Ranf and Mrs. Casey Buda, in charge if tickets and novelties.
Ihlanfeldt, who resided in Kirkland, Wash., had built a reputation as a gritty come-from-behind champion. But during the three days of the 1969 Big Sky Open she showcased her prodigious skills by leading from start-to-finish, posting rounds of 77, 81 and 79 for a 54-hole total of 237. Tremper took runner-up, 12 strokes back at 249. Placing third was Culver with a 253, while Campbell finished fourth at 259.
After the first two rounds, the Independent Record reported, "No Helena golfers made the championship flight, but four local ladies are in the running in the first three flights. Corrinne Mooney, with a score of 199, is in the first flight; Mickey Naegele, with a 200, is in the second; and both Bernice Mitchell, 210, and Barbara Duda, 217, are in the third flight."
Flight winners were comprised of: Armitage, Ferris Eames (Bil), Mary Youngdale (GF), Bonnie Urdahl (Boz), Helen Wolfe (Boz), Lil Howard (Lakeside), Esther Cooper (Bil), Irene Collins (Ham), Evelyn Aaker (Boz) and Sandy Berger (Lewistown).
"The course played a little tougher than the previous times I've played here," the athletic Edean commented afterward. She would later go on to garner several more major amateur tournament titles, highlighted by the USGA Seniors championship in 1982.
CURT SYNNESS, an IR sports writer and local sports historian, can be contacted at 449-2150 or email email@example.com.