Betty Rowland Probasco has had quite a golfing past, and she is still playing pretty well in the present as well.
Within the last year, she tied for second at the U.S. Senior Ladies, shooting two 76s and a 74 at the famed Greenbrier resort course in West Virginia to outdistance women 20 or more years her junior. She also won the Honors Course’s club championship for women members last year.
“I don’t play in too many tournaments, but I’m pleased that I am still playing fairly good golf,” she said, adding that she plays a couple of times a week at either Lookout Mountain or the Honors Course. “I’m still playing and I’m still enjoying it a lot.”
As Mrs. Probasco reminisced about her golfing career recently from her Stonedge home on Lookout Mountain, she displayed a modest and easily approachable manner more typical of a weekend golfer of limited skills than one of the South’s most distinguished woman amateurs of the last half century.
She congenially and openly gave details of some of the highlights of her career, including when she won what became the NCAA tournament in 1950 while a student at Rollins College in Florida. She also discussed with a good memory when she captained future tour legend Juli Inkster and several others on the Curtis Cup team of 1982, calling the experience of leading the amateurs to a victory over the British and Irish team the highlight of her career.
Her other accolades have included being the Women’s Southern champion in 1955 and a finalist in 1967 and 1971, and the winner of numerous Kentucky and Tennessee women’s amateur championships. She was also selected to compete on the 1956 Curtis Cup team, and won three U.S. Senior Women’s Championships and numerous Chattanooga Women’s City titles.
During her career, she also competed in four U.S. Women’s Opens against such female golfing legends and acquaintances as Patty Berg, Mickey Wright and Babe Didrickson Zaharias. “I liked Babe a lot,” she said. “She hit the ball a long way.”
Mrs. Probasco has also become acquainted with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The Nicklaus family had a Florida home near the Probascos, and the Nicklaus children would regularly come into the Probasco home to visit, she recalled. She also visited with Dwight Eisenhower once while playing at Augusta National Golf Club with Jack and Alice Lupton.
Mrs. Probasco, who has also been featured in Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Faces in the Crowd” section for winning state golf titles in five different decades by age 51, began playing golf as a child with her parents at a small course behind their house in Irvin, Ky. She immediately took a liking to the game and continued playing a lot after her family moved to Lexington, Ky.
She believes her skill came about more from practice than from any natural talent. “I never felt like I was a natural athlete,” she said. “I never had a big body. I have some coordination but I feel like I have had to work more.”
After attending the University of Kentucky for one year, she began attending and playing golf at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. The Washington Senators held their spring training at Winter Park at the time, and she became acquainted with a number of players and others, including team owner Clark Griffith.
In 1953, after graduating from college, she was playing golf in the Women’s Southern Amateur at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club and was staying at the home of the noted Chattanooga women’s golfer Marnie Polk. While there, she met Chattanoogan Scottie Probasco, who immediately took a liking to her.
“He went home and told everybody he had met the woman he was going to marry,” Mrs. Probasco recalled with a laugh.
They were indeed married six months later. During Mrs. Probasco’s first couple of decades in Chattanooga, the family lived in a home at Edgewood Circle in Riverview, just up the hill from where Mr. Probasco was reared.
Mrs. Probasco played most of her golf during this period at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. She said she loved the old course when it had its Donald Ross-designed look, including the unique hole in the ground on No. 17 fairway.
Mrs. Probasco would have loved devoting all her time to raising their four children, but both her husband and children encouraged her to continue competing, she said. As a result, she has continued winning amateur golf tournaments virtually all her adult life.
But she does find time for other activities. Although she rarely digs up earth on the golf course like the less-skilled golfers, she does dig a lot around her house planting flowers.
She has also served on a number of golf committees and is quite active in church work, including being a longtime member at First Presbyterian Church. “That is what it is all about, when you think about it,” she said of her Christian faith. “I am grateful to have the church I have and the faith I have and the husband I have.”
All in all, she has had a great life so far, she said. “I have been so fortunate over the years,” she said. “I have had so many people who helped me.”