Opal Hill

Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Opal Hill did not take up golf until she was in her early 30s, but she went on to become a golfing legend nationally and one of the greatest names associated with the sport in Kansas City. Her tough, competitive nature during tournament play and her gracious, even-tempered manner off the course combined to make Hill one of the most popular figures in women’s golf in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Opal Beatrice Trout was born on June 2, 1892, in Nebraska. Her father died when she was two years old and her mother subsequently moved the family to Minneapolis, Kansas. Young Opal spent much of her high school years caring for her ailing mother and found she had an aptitude for nursing. After high school she attended the nursing school of Swedish Lutheran Hospital (later Trinity Lutheran Hospital) in Kansas City and graduated in 1914. She met her future husband, Oscar Stuart Hill, a prominent Kansas City lawyer, while she was a nurse at the hospital and he a patient.

Hill developed severe health problems after the birth of their son and only child, Stuart. In 1923, when Stuart was nine years old and Opal 31, she mysteriously lost 50 pounds in just a few weeks. Five different doctors diagnosed a massive kidney infection, compounded by anemia, and gave her three years to live. One physician prescribed sunshine, fresh air and light exercise, so Hill took up golf.

Hill played at Meadow Lake Country Club, at 75th Street and State Line Road, where she and her husband were members. Initially, her scores were very high, but she was determined to improve and took lessons from the club professional, Al Lesperance. She worked at golf with great dedication, practicing six to ten hours a day, sometimes spending as much as three hours working on one specific shot. Her game improved and so did her health.

By 1928, Hill had won three major amateur titles. By 1938 she had won more than 200 amateur women’s tournaments nationally and was consistently ranked among the best golfers in the country, male or female. Her tournament victories included fourteen consecutive Kansas City Women’s championships. She never won the U.S. Women’s Open, but was a medalist three times and a finalist once.

In 1930, Hill and a group of women participated in a series of matches in England, which led to the launching of the biennial Curtis Cup Match, the best-known team trophy for women amateur golfers, which pits an American team against a team of top players from Great Britain and Ireland. Hill was a member of the first three Curtis Cup teams.

While she played in and won tournaments all over the country, Hill shot her single-best round of golf in Kansas City in the 1937 Missouri Amateur at Indian Hills Country Club: a 12-under-par 66, including a hole-in-one. It was the lowest competitive round shot by a woman, a record she held until 1952.

Hill turned professional in 1938, at the age of 40, just the third woman golfer in the United States to do so. There were few tournaments then for professionals, but Hill secured sponsorship from the Wilson Sporting Goods Company and gave many clinics and exhibitions. She helped organize the Women’s Professional Golfer’s Association, a forerunner of today’s Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

Hill’s career faded in the 1940s. After her husband died in 1942, she played in only a few more tournaments as a professional and returned to her nursing career. She became a golf instructor at Hillcrest Country Club and Kansas City Country Club and gave instruction at driving ranges around town until she was in her 80s.

Opal Hill died on June 23, 1981, at a nursing home in Kansas City, aged 89.

Primary Sources: 
Acknowledgement: 
KANSAS CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY | DIGITAL HISTORY
Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
KC History, Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library.