JOHNS CREEK, GEORGIA | A lot of clubs have replica trophies from major championships, well-lit and prominently displayed in cases or on shelves throughout their clubhouses. There’s a replica of the U.S. Open trophy at a public course in San Jose, California, that has never held so much as a state championship. But that’s not unusual. Many of the courses displaying major hardware have never hosted a professional event and have as much chance of being a future U.S. Open site as the local club pro has of winning it. But if the architect won an Open or a PGA Championship, with a permission slip and for a price, a replica trophy can be displayed on club grounds.
The Robert Cox Trophy is not normally on the list. That one is given every year to the winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and it is widely recognized as the most beautiful trophy in golf and arguably the most stunning in all of sports. It’s also the most expensive to replicate. Winners of the U.S. Women’s Amateur are given the option of purchasing a replica, but the price tag is north of $20,000, not something the average college kid can afford. “I wish I had gotten it,” Lydia Ko, now the No.1-ranked player in the world, said when asked about the trophy. “It was really pricey at the time.”
For good reason. Presented to the USGA in 1896 by a Scottish parliamentarian and golf course architect for whom it is named, the Robert Cox Trophy, from a distance, glistens the color of fresh mint. The handles, tall and angular, look like something from Caesar’s chalice and run the length of both sides. Only when you inch closer do you notice the ornate and elaborate thistles and the plaid enamel and cairngorm stones surrounding the trophy. There are also two panels, one depicting St Andrews Castle and the other “The Pends,” the pre-Reformation arch guarding the South Street monastery in St Andrews. Cox went to school at St Andrews University and was a member of the R&A. His is the only USGA trophy gifted by a foreigner. It is also the oldest surviving trophy in women’s golf.
Now a replica of it is on display at the Atlanta Athletic Club, which hasn’t hosted a U.S. Women’s Amateur since 1950, when Bob Jones was still around and the club was located at what is now East Lake Golf Club. Jones and Alexa Stirling were the honorary hosts back during the Truman administration. In its current location in the northern suburbs of the Georgia city, AAC has hosted the U.S. Open in 1976, three PGA Championships in 1981, 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Amateur in 2014, and two women’s championships, the 1990 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Betsy King, and the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where Nelly Korda picked up her first major title.
The next women’s amateur won’t be held at the Athletic Club until 2035, 85 years after the first. And yet, the club chose to create a permanent display in its Hall of Champions that includes the Robert Cox Trophy.
Showing a profound advocacy of the advancement of women in the game, the Atlanta Athletic Club held an event on February 10 where former women’s amateur champions and LPGA Tour members Morgan Pressel and Jane Park, along with the 1970 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and Athletic Club member Martha Kirouac, were honored. Park won the U.S. Women’s Amateur as a 17-year-old in 2004 and Pressel won in 2005, also at the age of 17. After a reception, the past champions took the stage along with Ted Sullivan, a representative of the club’s Historical Preservation Committee, while the Robert Cox Trophy was unveiled.
“Our objective is not just to preserve the history of this club, but to showcase that rich history to members and guests through displays like our Hall of Champions and the Jones Room (a museum-like room at the club’s entrance featuring trophies, clippings and other Bob Jones memorabilia, including a personal letter to Jones from Augusta National member and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower),” Sullivan said on the night of the event. “This addition (the Robert Cox Trophy) is a part of that, and a testament to our commitment to women’s championship golf and women’s golf overall.”
Park, who lives about 30 minutes away from AAC and plays there often, recounted the memories of her victory to an invitation-only crowd. ““Winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur was validation for me,” Park said. “In 2003 when I was 16 – and I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before – I made it to the finals and lost to Virada Nirapathpongporn, who was the reigning NCAA champion, from Duke. I think she closed out the match on 16. As we were shaking hands afterward, Virada hugged me and said, ‘Next year is your year.’ At the time, I thought that was just a nice consolation thing to say.
“When I came back in 2004 – Virada had turned pro, thank goodness – and I won (the amateur at Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pennsylvania), I remembered that moment from the year before. That year, I’d finished runner-up in the U.S. Girls Junior, and I was having a stellar summer. Mentally, I think I was ready for it and I stayed really strong throughout.”
Park beat Amanda McCurdy 2-up in the finals. She also played on two victorious Curtis Cup teams, the first in 2004 in Formby, England, where Kirouac was the U.S. captain, and the second at Bandon Dunes, in Oregon, in 2006 on a team led by Carol Semple Thompson.
“I have both my red Curtis Cup jackets in the front closet of my house,” Park said. “I pull them out occasionally, maybe on Halloween, as kind of a flex.” When the laughter died down, she added, “Yeah, I did that.”
Pressel won the amateur in suburban Atlanta at nearby Ansley Golf Club. “The thing people don’t realize is how much golf it takes to win a U.S. Amateur,” she said. “You play 36 holes of stroke-play to qualify for match-play. Then you have six matches. That’s a lot of high-pressure, high-intensity golf. But it means so much. The U.S. Women’s Amateur is like the sixth major. It’s the biggest event an amateur can win.”
Then she looked the trophy up and down. “I’m just so honored and happy to have had this as a centerpiece on our dining-room table for a year.”
There were a couple of funny moments. Park said, “The trophy came to our house in this huge case and when I opened it – I swear, it was this way when I opened it – the top was bent. So I called the USGA and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, I broke the Robert Cox Trophy.’ After some choice words, they said to ship it back, which I did, and they fixed it.
“Fast forward, I was in Pinehurst and I met the man from the USGA who repaired the damage. I said, ‘Hi, I’m Jane Park,’ and he pointed and said, ‘You’re the one who broke the Robert Cox Trophy.’ So, yeah, I guess it’s good to be remembered for something.”
If the members at Atlanta Athletic Club have any say in the matter, she and all the other women champions will be remembered for quite a bit more.
As the question-and-answer session got underway and the sun fell below the Georgia pines outside the large windows, a foursome of teenaged girls putted out on the 18th green of the club’s recently renovated Riverside Course. As they walked toward the clubhouse, a member of the Historical Preservation Committee hustled out and brought them to the front row to listen to the generations of champions who had gone before them.
“When you look at the names on this trophy, it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that I’m on there with all of them,” Pressel said. “Who knows, one day these girls might be on there as well.”
That is supporting the women’s game. That is what advocacy is all about.