RIP: Shirley Spork, LPGA Founder and Michigan Native

Shirley Spork in 1949, pictured in the Detroit Free Pres.

Shirley Spork, one of the thirteen legendary founders of the LPGA passed away April 12, 2022 at age 94.

Marlene Hagge now is the only remaining Founder.

Spork was born in Detroit in 1927, growing up next to the Bonnie Brook Golf Course in Redford (the course closed in 2001). She bought a set of clubs at age 13 from money she earned collecting and reselling golf balls. A job as a caddie gave her practice time. Later, Spork had a membership at the Rogell Golf Course (now also closed).

While attending Michigan State Normal (Eastern Michigan), Spork won the National Intercollegiate Championship in 1947.

Spork studied physical education, and taught in Detroit Public Schools.

Spork turned pro in 1950 at the Weathervane Western Open in Chicago. When the LPGA was chartered four months later in Wichita, Spork was one of the thirteen designated as founders.

Her heart, however seemed to remain in teaching (as a schoolteacher, I can appreciate that). She taught at Bowling Green State while earning her Masters Degree, playing LPGA events on the weekends.

courtesy, LPGA

Spork taught golf in the winter months, first at Ukiah Municipal, and then at Tamarisk Country Club near Palm Springs.

In 1959, she was one of four founders of the LPGA’s teaching division.

Spork never won on the LPGA Tour, but was very successful as a teaching pro. She is a two-time LPGA National Teacher of the Year, and is in the PGA of America Hall of Fame.

Because Spork played only occasionally on the LPGA tour — and never won — she was long excluded from the LPGA Hall of Fame. The HoF’s rules were amended this past March, and Spork rightfully joined her fellow founders.

While at Eastern Michigan, Spork often practiced at Washtenaw Golf Club. In 1949, she played in an exhibition match at Washtenaw. The match included Spork, Peggy Kirk, Sam Byrd and Al Watrous. A Detroit Free press article read:

Pit Champions In Exhibition

Shirley Spork, newly crowned Michigan Women’s Golf champion and Peggy Kirk, the Ohio links queen, will be paired with Sam Byrd and Al Watrous in an exhibition match at the Washtenaw Country Club, Ypsilanti.

The exhibition will be a part of the club’s Golden Jubilee celebration.

Detroit Free Press, July 17, 1949

Read more about Shirley Spork’s exhibition match at Washtenaw Golf Club.

I had a brief exchange of notes with Spork asking if she remembered Washtenaw.

Of course! The club allowed me to practice. I used to drive out between classes to play a few holes

Shirley Spork on Washtenaw Country Club and her days at EMU.

Spork also noted that although she won the National Intercollegiate Championship (now the NCAAs) for Michigan State Normal/EMU, she did not receive a letterman’s jacket for the feat. Some 60 years later, Spork said, “the Men’s Dept gave me a jacket. I received my E, I guess for effort.”

I have to admit that I was surprised at how quickly she responded to my inquiry. She was a very gracious person.

Ever the teacher, Spork was at EMU in September 2021, working with the women’s golf team.

In a press release, LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said:

“I have had many wonderful experiences and special moments since accepting the role of Commissioner, but none more impactful than getting to know Shirley and becoming her friend. Not only did she attempt to improve my swing, but from the moment I met her she made it clear that she was there to help and to provide guidance, wisdom and support. She embraced me into the LPGA family with enormous kindness and spirit, like she has done to so many others throughout her life. For this, I will be forever grateful. I will miss her stories, her humor and mostly, her unwavering commitment to making the LPGA (and life) better for everyone around her.”

– LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan
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