From glamour girl to golden girl, Marlene Bauer Hagge’s career on the LPGA Tour spanned a remarkable five decades. A child prodigy and charter member of the LPGA along with her older sister, Alice, Hagge is the third LPGA player voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame through the LPGA Tour’s veteran’s category.
In her era, golf for girls was still a novelty beyond the club level. Encouraged by her father, Hagge fully embraced the game and became a junior champion, setting new standards for women’s golf. “My father wanted two strapping boys that he could make into golf champions and he got two runt girls instead,” Hagge explained. “He tried to start Alice playing golf at an early age and, finding her interested in other things, thought that he would get hold of me before I had time to become interested in anything else.”
Hagge first gripped a club at age three. Her father taught her the long, limber swing that became her trademark. Six years later, Dave Bauer loaded the family belongings into a Model-A Ford pickup and moved from South Dakota to California where his daughters could play year around.
"I never thought of myself as a pioneer. We were just a bunch of stubborn women who loved golf and figured we could make it happen."
With no junior programs in place at the time, Hagge was raised on the fairways, playing golf with older men and boys on junior teams. She won the Los Angeles Women’s Golf Championship in 1947 at age 13 on a course where the scorecard stated “Children Under 14 Are Not Allowed.” That same year, Hagge became the youngest player to make the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open and finished eighth.
Two years later, Hagge won the Western Girls’ Junior Championship and capped her storied junior career by winning the first U.S. Girls’ Junior title. In recognition of those achievements, she was honored as the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. Life Magazine named her one of the year’s top teenagers, putting her on a list that included Elizabeth Taylor.
Hagge turned professional two weeks before her 16th birthday in 1950. Together with Alice and her parents, she traveled around the LPGA Tour in a 22-foot Airstream trailer. The sisters were graceful and petite, the tour’s first glamour girls, and their fresh beauty attracted new fans to women’s golf.
But it was her grit that made Hagge a champion. Hagge became the youngest player to win an LPGA event in 1952 when she won the Sarasota Open at age 18. She reached the height of her profession at 22. In 1956, she set a then-LPGA Tour money record of $20,235, won eight tournaments, including beating Patty Berg in a sudden-death playoff to win the LPGA Championship, the lone major of her career, and won the tour’s most improved player award. The last of her 26 LPGA Tour victories was the Burdine’s Invitational in 1972.
Marlene Bauer Hagge, at age 15, was named the Associated Press’ Woman Athlete of the Year in 1949.
Forty years after she debuted as its youngest player, Hagge was the tour’s oldest active member. She and fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth are the only players to compete in each of the LPGA’s first five decades. At the end of the 1996 season, Hagge finally retired from active competition. Among all her individual accolades, her fondest memories are of her role as a charter member of the LPGA Tour, the only women’s sports organization in the world that has been in existence for 50 years as a stand-alone entity.
“Being a professional golfer was no different from going to New York or Hollywood to become an actress. A group of people lived together to see if they could get their break in life. We began with 12, and then each year more joined us,” said Hagge. “I never thought of myself as a pioneer. We were just a bunch of stubborn women who loved golf and figured we could make it happen.”
In 2000, Hagge was recognized during the LPGA’s 50th anniversary as one of the organization’s top 50 players and teachers.