Rhona Adair (1881 - 1961):
Rhona Adair was one of a coterie of highly talented Irish lady golfers of the early twentieth century with strong connections to one of the leading golf clubs in Ulster, at Portrush in north County Antrim and was probably the principal rival to May Hezlet, her contemporary at Portrush, albeit this rivalry was a mutually respectful one.
Rhona Kathleen Adair was born was born 2 September 1881 at Glenavon, Cookstown, County Tyrone, one of six children of Hugh Adair, linen manufacturer, and (Mary) Augusta Lee Adair (née Graves). This was a golfing family: her father was a founding member of the Golfing Union of Ireland, while he and his wife served as captains of Royal Portrush men’s and ladies’ golf clubs respectively. Having begun playing at the age of eight, Rhona spent her early golfing years primarily at her home club of Killymoon, County Tyrone, though she also became an active player at the Royal Portrush Golf Club during the family's summer holidays. Elected as a member of Royal Portrush in 1892, as a teenager she made a major impression in Irish golfing circles. One notable event occurred in June 1894 when a competition was organised, for the first time, for children over the ladies’ course. There were seven female and six male competitors, the former being dominant, no boy even reaching the final, and the playing commended in the local press. According to the historian of the club, Rhona was among the seven girls, as was May Hezlet.
She was runner-up in the Irish Ladies Championship in 1899, and in July of that year she became a cause célèbre among British golfers when she visited St Andrews in Scotland and played a 36-hole challenge with the legendary “Old” Tom Morris, who beat her by just one hole.
In April 1900 she was invited to the prestigious Royal Lytham and St Anne’s Ladies Open Meeting, where she won the long-driving contest with a drive of 173 yards. Given the clubs of the time, this was a considerable strike. Her titles won included the British Ladies’ Championships in 1900 and 1903 (runner-up in 1901) and successive Irish Ladies’ Championships 1900-1903.
In the autumn of 1903, her last major competitive year, she traveled to the United States and Canada, where she experienced great success in exhibition matches. Among her notable victories over leading American players was her defeat of Margaret Curtis in the final of an invitation tournament at Merion, Philadelphia. Her power and skill so impressed her hosts that the Illustrated Sporting News described her as the foremost lady golfer in the world. Such was May Hezelt’s respect for Rhona that she published a photograph of her grip on the golf club in her book, Ladies’ Golf.
|Born:||2 September 1881|
|Died:||27 March 1961|
JL Bamford: Royal Portrush Golf Club: A History; Dictionary of Irish Biography
© 2023 Ulster History Circle