Jeanne Bisgood, golfer who cut a swathe through the amateur ranks in the 1950s – obituary (2024)

Jeanne Bisgood, who has died aged 100, was a leading amateur golfer of the 1950s, a decade in which she won the English Women’s Amateur Championship three times and played for Great Britain & Ireland in the Curtis Cup; in addition to her English titles, which she claimed in 1951, 1953 and 1957, she also won the national amateur championships of Sweden in 1952, Germany, Italy and Portugal in 1954 and Norway in 1955.

Her debut Curtis Cup appearance against the USA came in a losing cause at the Buffalo Country Club in New York in 1950, but she was back again for its next iteration in 1952 at Muirfield to help engineer the first win for Great Britain & Ireland since the competition had begun in 1932, making a fine contribution with a 6 & 5 defeat of Mae Murray Jones in the singles over 36 holes.

Her final Curtis Cup as a player came in 1954 at Merion in Pennsylvania, where the USA restored order with another triumph. Later she was non-playing captain in 1970 at the Brae Burn Country Club in Massachusetts, but was unable to break GB & Ireland’s losing run, which continued until 1986.

Her wins in the English Women’s Amateur Championship came at three venerable courses: St Anne’s Old Links in Lancashire, Prince’s in Kent, and finally at Queens Park in Dorset, the county in which she lived for much of her life. She is one of only three women to have taken the English Amateur title more than twice, and the last to have done so.

Jeanne Bisgood, golfer who cut a swathe through the amateur ranks in the 1950s – obituary (1)

Jeanne Mary Bisgood was born on August 11 1923 in Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey, to Bertram Bisgood, a stockbroker, and his wife, Dorothy (née Cundall). Both parents were badminton internationals – he for Ireland and she for England – and her father also played first-class cricket as an amateur for Somerset. Though she was her parents’ only child, Jeanne had a half-brother, Ian Harvey, from her mother’s previous marriage to Douglas Harvey, a major who died in the First World War. Ian went on to be a Conservative MP and junior minister in the 1950s.

After attending Mayfield School in East Sussex, where she was head girl, as well as captain of the hockey and tennis teams, during the Second World War Jeanne began studying history at Oxford University, but left after a year to join the Women’s Royal Naval Service in 1942, operating code-deciphering machines in Stanmore, Middlesex, as a petty officer. When the war ended she decided against a return to her studies on the basis that “I wanted to get on with the rest of my life”. Instead she trained as a barrister, passed her exams in 1947 and was called to the Bar in 1948.

By that time a parallel golfing career was in full swing: she had been keen on the game since her teenage years, when she had first joined Royal-Mid Surrey golf club and then, after a family move to Dorset when she was 16, the Parkstone club near Bournemouth, where she came under the tutelage of the former Open champion Reg Whitcombe, the professional there.

A surprise winner of the Women’s National tournament at Royal Mid-Surrey in 1945, three years later she made her first real mark on the English Women’s Amateur Championship by reaching the quarter-finals.

Jeanne Bisgood, golfer who cut a swathe through the amateur ranks in the 1950s – obituary (2)

Her England debut came the following year in the 1949 home internationals, in which she was part of the team that beat Scotland, Wales and Ireland to win the title. She appeared on seven more occasions in that tournament between 1950 and 1958 – three more times on the winning side – and also played for the victorious Great Britain & Ireland teams in the Vagliano Trophy against France and Belgium in 1949 and 1951.

Golfing abroad had a particular appeal for Jeanne Bisgood during the 1950s as it provided a way of sidestepping the tough currency controls that were in place during Britain’s austerity years. “You were only allowed to take a pitiful sum of money out of the country at the time,” she said. “But if, on the other hand, you were playing in an international event, you were allowed to take an extra £10 a day, which made it all possible.”

Aside from her big national wins, she also claimed the Women’s National Tournament for a second time, at Wentworth in 1951, won the 18-hole Roehampton Golf Cup three times in succession from 1951 to 1953 and was victorious in the 36-hole Astor Salver at the Berkshire club across the same three years. In addition she was Surrey champion three times, in 1951, 1953 and 1969.

Her last win in the English Amateur event, using a newly adopted croquet-style putting technique, came after a period of semi-abstinence from the game that had been spurred by a realisation that she had become “more concerned with not losing than with winning” and was therefore not enjoying her golf as much.

Jeanne Bisgood, golfer who cut a swathe through the amateur ranks in the 1950s – obituary (3)

By the early 1960s her main triumphs were behind her, and having given up her work as a barrister in 1953, she began to concentrate on a political career in local government as a long-standing Conservative councillor for Poole, from 1955 onwards, and then, from 1974, Dorset County Council, chairing its education committee for a decade.

She was also a magistrate from the late 1950s, went on to chair the Poole magistrates bench between 1986 and 1993, and was a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Dorset. She was appointed CBE for her work in education in 1982, receiving an honorary doctorate in education from Bournemouth University in 2018.

For many years she also ran her family’s charitable foundation, which had been set up by her father to provide financial support for a range of charities, including the L’Arche organisation and the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development.

The first female president of Parkstone golf club, from 2000 to 2003, she remained a member of the club until her death. She was an active fan of women’s golf well into her 90s, even appearing, under her own steam, as a spectator at the 2016 Curtis Cup in Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin, where she stayed in bed and breakfast accommodation and made her own way to the course by public transport. Once her presence had been noticed by officials, lifts were organised and she was subsequently invited as a special guest to later Curtis Cups, meaning she had no need to worry about travel arrangements.

When asked about the key to her longevity, she cited the strength of her Catholic faith, adding that “the closer I get to the day of judgment the more closely I stick to the rules.”

Jeanne Bisgood did not marry and had no children.

Jeanne Bisgood, born August 11 1923, died May 15 2024

Jeanne Bisgood, golfer who cut a swathe through the amateur ranks in the 1950s – obituary (2024)
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