At a Glance:
Born: May 12, 1880, Southampton, England
Died: December 5, 1948, New York City
Maiden Name: Isabella May Gourlay Dunn
Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: Caspar Van De Watering, 1898; William Webb, 1910; Adolph Hupfel, 1923
Children: daughter Elizabeth May “Maisie,” born Oct. 26, 1899, New York
Primary Places of Residence: Reno, Washoe County; Tahoe City, Calif.; Pasadena, Calif.; New York City, New York
Major Fields of Work: Golf professional and course designer; Artist
World renowned golfer designed Reno and Tahoe’s first golf courses
Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century was reportedly the first avid female golfer. But women in golf were not prominent, even in the golfing nations of Scotland and England, until the 18th century, and certainly not in America until the 20th century. So it is surprising that a professional female golfer was the driving force behind Reno and Lake Tahoe’s first successful golf courses and clubs back in the early 1900s.
Her name was originally Isabella May Gourlay Dunn, born in Southampton, England on May 12, 1880, a descendant of a long line of golfers in Scotland and England. Dunns and Gourlays were well known for their contributions to the growth of the sport, mainly through their renown for teaching how to play golf, ball and club design, and design and construction of courses. Her father Thomas, and his father, William, were professional golfers and architects of courses. William, known as “Willie,” was the “Keeper of the Green” at the Royal Blackheath course in London. Thomas became known as one of the greatest golf teachers of his time.
Her mother Isabella’s father, John Gourlay, was part of the family known for making golf balls called “featheries,” later called Gourlays. These were made of leather, stuffed with bird feathers. (Golf balls have long since graduated to synthetic composites.)
May’s mother Isabella was the first female to give pro lessons in England and May was the second. May came to New York for the first time in 1898, where she met and quickly married Casper Van De Watering. They had one daughter, Maisie, a year later, but the marriage was not to last, and she returned to the U.K. By 1904, she was heralded as one of the best golf coaches in England. During this time, she met one of her father’s employees, William Webb. Their courtship included his dubbing her “Queenie,” a nickname that stuck. They married in 1910 but were divorced by 1914. In 1915, both decided to move to the U.S. She began her life as this country’s first female golf professional. (She became a naturalized U.S. citizen ten years later.)
She taught golf in New York and New England, including a brief stint at Wellesley College. She wrote articles on the nuances of golf for the New York Herald. Then, a year later, she headed west with her sister Norah, landing in Reno, where she saw an opportunity. Even as enthusiasm for the sport of golf was increasing in this country, there were no courses in Reno, despite some unsuccessful attempts to start them. But that did not deter Dunn-Webb.
She told the Reno Evening Gazette in January of 1917, “Reno should support a golf club, and a good one, too. I feel sure that my plans will be successful. I have taken up the proposition of organizing a club with several of the prominent residents of the city, and they are all enthusiastic.” In February, she wrote several columns for the Gazette giving golf tips.
As the only female professional golfer in the country at the time, she convinced the mostly-male golf enthusiasts in the area to come together to support her efforts, and she quickly found a suitable location in the area near what was then called Moana Springs. The 80 acres of land were purchased from Louis Berrum. Within 2 months, despite never having designed a course before, she corralled $10,000 in subscriptions and signed 60 members to the Reno Golf Club.
The course she designed and was overseeing construction for had nine holes, and a five-room cottage that was the temporary club house. The club officers were President H.M. Hoyt, Secretary George Springmeyer, treasurer G.C. Steinmiller, and Mrs. Dunn-Webb, expert.
The second Saturday in June 1917 saw the opening of the new golf links, described by many as one of the best courses in the West, with a 24-person mixed-foursome tournament. It followed ceremonies that included the raising of the American flag to the phonograph music of the national anthem. A large crowd followed the players around the course. Dunn-Webb, who’d made all the arrangements, including handicapping the games, was so encouraged, she scheduled another tournament for the Fourth of July.
With her sister Norah’s help, Dunn-Webb ran the Reno course as manager and head instructor, thus becoming not only the first female professional golf teacher in the country, but the first female course architect in the world. People took notice, including Charles Bliss, owner of the Tahoe Tavern hotel near Tahoe City. Bliss was reacting to guests’ requests for golf facilities, since the sport was starting to take off across the country, when he saw what Dunn-Webb had done in Reno. He invited her to take a train up the hill to look at the landscape near the lake, and she was enthralled. She accepted the job of designing a six-hole course called the Tahoe Tavern Links and had 25 players from the West Coast on the course for a tournament by the summer of 1918. Three years later, it would be expanded by nine holes. It was not uncommon in that time for courses to have sand for tees and greens, and fairways of natural turf. It wasn’t until 1931 that irrigation was installed and more grass was used on the Tahoe course.
“Queenie” Dunn-Webb worked for several years as the manager and course pro of the Tahoe Tavern Links, traveling to Southern California in the winters to teach in Pasadena. She worked there not only for several Linnard Hotels, but also for Ville de Paris-B.H. Dyas Co., where an indoor golf net was set up for her in the “English Sports Apparel Shop on the Fifth Floor” to give lessons. She also taught at the Claremont country club.
A local newspaper article points out the serendipity of Dunn-Webb’s life, when in 1919 she was making a trip from California to Reno and was caught in a snowstorm. She and her traveling companions did not have anything to dig their cars out, but a French World War I veteran happened along who had a spade with him, and said he’d gotten pretty good at digging ditches in the war, and digging cars out of the snow was a piece of cake in comparison.
In 1919, a wealthy New York capitalist named Adolph Hupfel came to Reno to speed up a contentious divorce and spent his time on the new Reno and Tahoe golf courses. He met and courted the golf pro there, and on January 10, 1923, he and May Queenie Dunn-Webb were married in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel by California State Supreme Court Associate Justice Curtis D. Wilbur.
In November of 1923, the completed Reno Golf Club was officially opened near the course with a ball in the lounge, which was decorated with silk flags from all
the U.S.’s allies, donated by various patriotic societies in Reno, and above them the Stars and Stripes and the flag of Scotland, home of golf. The building was the design of long-time Reno architect Frederick DeLongchamps.
After their marriage, May and Adolph Hupfel moved to New York, where May continued to play golf for fun and exercise, but not professionally. She became a landscape painter and exhibited many times for the Saranac Lake Art League and Craft Guild, in the town of Saranac, where they summered.
Adolph passed away on October 10, 1945. Three years later, at the age of 68, on December 5, 1948, Mrs. May “Queenie” Gourlay Dunn Webb Hupfel died unexpectedly at the Lenox Hill Hospital. She was survived by her daughter, Mrs. May Elizabeth Wood, her grandson Gordon, and her two brothers Seymour and John. She is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.
Biography researched by Patti Bernard and written by Kitty Falcone
Sources of Information:
- “$1300 Subscribed to Drill Golf Club Well,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), March 8, 1919, p. 6:1.
- Ancestry.com. England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. [Isabella May Gourlay Dunn]
- Ancestry.com. Year: 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Page:14: Enumeration District:0105. [May Vander Watering]
- Ancestry.com. 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. [Isabella May Gourlay Webb]
- “At Claremont,” Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California), November 24, 1918, p. 32:2.v
- Bob’s. “If Your Name’s in the Mail, You’re in,” San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California), October 21, 1921, p. 15:1.
- Bobs. “San Francisco Golfers Salute Mrs. T.S. Baker,” San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California, December 3, 1921, p. 15.6.
- Chapman, Hay. “B. Black Holes Out In One At Potato Patch,” San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), December 30, 1919, p. 7 C:7.
- Chapman, Hay. “Copious Rain Helps Fairways on Golf Links,” San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), September 15, 1918, p. 7:5.
- “Dug Out of Snow By Veteran-Stalled In Snow At Summit Noted Golfist’s Luck Holds,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), June 5, 1919, p. 8:2.
- “Enthusiasts At Golf Links,” Reno Evening Gazette, (Reno, Nevada), January 3, 1919, p. 3:2.
- “Golf Club for Reno is Plan.” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), January 5, 1917, p. 2:2.
- “Golf Now Listed As Mountain Pass Time,” San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California), June 23, 1918.
- Gourlay Dunn Webb. “Putters Are of Many Sorts But It Is Not So Much the Club As It is the Player; Many Points to Be Taken into Consideration in Making This Shot; Some Golfing Terms,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), March 24, 1917, p. 6:1.
- “Isabella May Gourlay Dunn personal scrapbook,” http://www.nevtond.com/?page_id=1112. [Accessed December 18, 2018].
- “Lake Tahoe Links Will Be Opened,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), June 13, 1919, p. 6:3.
- “Mrs. A. Hupfel, Noted Golfer, Dies Suddenly,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, (Sarnac Lake New York), December 8, 1948, Historic Saranac Lake Wiki, https://localwiki.org/hsl/May_Gourlay_Hupfel, (accessed 12/13/2018).
- “Mrs. Gourlay Dunn-Webb Begins Interesting Series That Will Give Knowledge of Rudiments of Great Game: First Talk Is About Teeing and Driving; What Some Terms Mean,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), February 17, 1917, p. 6:2.
- “Mrs. Gourlay Dunn-Webb in Visit to Resort – Plans Six-Hole Course,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), August 28, 1917, p. 3:1. “Mrs. Dunn-Webb Weds Capitalist,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), January 11, 1923, p. 8:6.
- “Mrs. Dunn-Webb To Accept Post At Pasadena,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), September 11, 1918, p. 8:4.
- “Mrs. Dunn-Webb Weds Capitalist,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), January 11, 1923, p. 8:6.
- “Out of the Past-She Introduced Reno To Golf And made It a Favorite Game,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), March 12, 1929, p.8:2.
- “Play Will Start next Saturday For Baker Cup,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), October 7, 1918, p: 8:2.
- “Reno Golf Club Purchases Land Near Moana Springs For Links,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), March 16, 1917, p. 3:1.
- “Reno’s Golf Course Opened On Saturday With Tournament.” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), June 11, 1917, p. 8:1.
- “Says Reno’s Golf Course In A Fine One,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), March 21, 1918, p. 8:5.
- Seaton, Douglas. “The Dunn’s were more than a family business.” North Berwick Factfile, http://www.northberwick.org.uk/dunn.html. Accessed January 17, 2019.
- “Tahoe Golf Links To Be Opened Saturday,” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), July 2, 1918, p. 8:2.
- The National Archives and records Administration;Washington, D.C.;Petitions for Naturalization from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1897-1944; Series:M1972;Roll:335. [May Isabella Hupfel]
- “USGA Celebrates Pioneers In The Women’s Gave Through New Golf Exhibit,” United States Golf Association Golf Release, http://www.nevtond.com/?page_id=801. [Accessed 12/19/2018].