Gwen Brandom appeared out of nowhere on the golf scene in the mid-1960s. Then in her mid-twenties, Mrs. Brandom was living in England, where she was a member of Dunstable Downs Golf Club. She had been born in Dublin in 1937, as Gwen Farrell, and had been a badminton junior international. In 1959 she had married Ivan Brandom in England. In 1965 she won the Bedfordshire Ladies’ championship and travelled to Mullingar to compete in the Irish Ladies’ Close. There she won the preliminary stroke competition for the Leitrim Cup and reached the semi-finals of the championship. This performance brought her on to the Irish team for the Home Internationals.
By early 1966 she was one of those in line for the GB&I Curtis Cup team. It appears she was disappointed not to have been selected even as a reserve, but that season she won the Roehampton Gold Cup, then an important event in English ladies’ golf. In the autumn she reached the semi-finals of the Ladies’ British Open Amateur at Ganton, being beaten on the 17th by Vivien Saunders.
In 1967, having been a semi-finalist in the two previous years, Gwen became Irish champion at Castlerock. She led Ireland’s first team to compete in the European Championship and gained GB&I recognition with a place on the Vagliano Trophy team. However, 1968 was not a remarkable year for Gwen Brandom and she never got on a Curtis Cup team. In March 1969 she turned professional, being the second Irish woman to do so. Philomena Garvey had been the pioneer back in 1964 but she was already reinstated as an amateur by the time Brandom took the plunge.
During the summer of 1969 Gwen Brandom played on the LPGA tour, in company with two English players, Vivien Saunders and Liz Collis. This was Gwen’s only time to compete on the North American circuit but it gave her a unique place in Irish golfing history. She was the first Irish player to compete on the LPGA tour and the first to complete all rounds of an LPGA ‘major’. She achieved that in July 1969 at Concord, when she finished tied for 38th place in the LPGA Championship, won by Betsy Rawls. It would be 43 years before Alison Walshe became the second Irish golfer to compete on the last day of that particular ‘major’.
Gwen’s performance in the LPGA Championship earned her $200. Back in Europe there were no professional tournaments for women but she turned to teaching at the Spawell Golf Centre and later opened her own indoor golf school. In 1974 the Colgate European Women’s Open was inaugurated as an LPGA event in Sunningdale. For two years this was the lone professional event of any importance for women this side of the Atlantic. Then, in 1976, the first Women’s British Open was held at Fulford in conjunction with the British Amateur Stroke Play.
The Ladies’ Golf Union had been approached about how much prize money would be needed to make the British Stroke Play an open event. There are different versions of the story, but it has been said that Gwen Brandom and Vivien Saunders offered the stated amount. It would be nice if this were true but, sadly, it is not. When contacted about this article, Vivien Saunders confirmed that Gwen Brandom had no part in that particular piece of golf history. However, Gwen was one of the five professionals who played in that inaugural Women’s British Open in 1976. She missed the cut but her amateur fellow Irish player Mary McKenna was runner-up.
The founding of the Women’s British Open was a stepping stone to the founding of the WPGA Tour (now the LET) in 1979. The Women’s British Open became co-sanctioned with the LPGA in 1994, and in 2001 it was officially designated as a ‘major’ by the LPGA. In 1986 Maureen Madill became the third Irish woman to turn professional and later that year she was joined by Lillian Behan. But by then Gwen Brandom had said goodbye to professional golf. A few years before she had been reinstated as an amateur. She joined Grange Golf Club and played Senior Cup, claiming a few notable scalps in one of her first outings.
Gwen Brandom died aged 68 at Tallaght Hospital on 19 April 2006. As well as being Ireland’s second female professional golfer, Gwen was the first to play in women’s professional tournaments. She built on Philomena Garvey’s example and was among the money winners in the 1969 LPGA Championship.
[First published in the Irish Clubhouse, August-September, 2015]