“The most consistent woman golfer in the lower mainland from 1938 – 1958”
While researching the Babs Davies story, Rena’s name appeared on many occasions. The research indicated she had several spellings for her name. To complicate the research, it appeared she married twice times. Furthermore the sports reporters used several spellings for “Rena”. After compiling all the research, Rena definitely played the most consistent golf for any woman in her period. For example she won the Sweeny Trophy for twelve consecutive years (1941 – 1952).
In 1933 her immigration documents to cross the border at Blaine, WA show the following names:
Family Name: Blaauw Given Names: Nerena Catherine Ford Alias: Waude
Who was Rena O’Callaghan Edward? What is her story? From a personal perspective, I met her on one occasion, at the 1974 opening of the Murdo-Fraser par three golf course in the District of North Vancouver. The master of ceremonies introduced her as the “Queen of Lower Mainland Women’s Golf” for almost two decades from 1940 – 1960. I asked her to meet with me to document her story. Unfortunately, I did not have the a vast knowledge of the history of women’s golf in BC. My interview did not extend deeply into the tournaments or the personalities she encountered during her career. She conveyed her story enthusiastically, friendly, and informatively. The two hours I spent with her is something I will always remember.
Today, I have access to all pages of the Vancouver Sun published from 1912 – 2020. After an exhaustive word search for “Rena”, the museum now has over 100 pages of information for women ’s golf from the period 1935 – 1960. This research revealed the origins of the Sweeny Cup competition, the history of the Vancouver & District Ladies championship, the results for the Hunting Cup matches, and the prominent women golfers for this period.
Born in 1909 Battleford, Sask.,Rena was the second child to Mynhardt (Meinhardt) and Arendina Catharina Blaauw. Her father was Swiss; her mother Scottish. The family arrived in Canada from Europe in 1908 to become prairie farmers. Maynard, her older brother, accompanied his parents. The government provided a quarter section (150 free acres to new immigrants. If the new arrivals fulfilled the basic requirements of clearing the land for cultivation within two years further land could be purchased for a nominal fee. Very soon the family moved to Prince Rupert, BC. Her father wished to return to his roots as a fisherman. Around 1916 the family located to Esquimalt near Victoria. Rena related her first introduction to golf occurred at the United Services Golf Course at Macaulay Point, Esquimalt.
“I was only nine or ten at the time playing with a couple of kids on the golf course. I saw this ball come bouncing down the fairway, and thinking I was doing the player a favour, I picked it up and waved it in the air ‘Here it is!’ I shouted. When he saw what I had, he was livid. ‘Put that ball down he shouted at me and get off this course and don’t let me ever see you here again. ‘I was scared near half to death, but it was a good lesson.”
Around 1924 US immigration records show Meinhardt moved to Seattle WA permanently. Later he became a naturalized US citizen. For some reason his wife declared herself a widow in all future Victoria City Directories. Maynard married and worked as a baker for the Canadian Bakery Co in Victoria. The name “Ford” that appears in Maynard’s and Rena’s name probably refers to their mother’s maiden name.
Finding her marriage to Hugh O’Callaghan proved challenging because the marriage certificate showed her as “Catherine Wautie”. Fortunately the Vancouver City Directories listed her as “Nerena O’Callaghan secretary treasurer of the Big Chief Service Station at 15th and Granville St.” Hugh held a single digit handicap at Fraser View Golf Club. He introduced Rena to golf. News clippings indicate he became her number fan and supporter. But his nervous energy generated from his wife’s tense matches convinced him very early that he should watch her compete from a long distance – usually the quiet confines of his office at the station.
Rena’s Introduction to golf
“It was funny, I never intended to play, the game. Who, after all, would want to hit that dumb ball along the ground? My love was tennis, but due to an eye injury I couldn’t keep my eye on the ball in motion. My husband who was a golfer said to me one day, ‘Why don’t you give golf a try?’ With my consent, he brought me to Freddy Wood, the professional at Fraserview, for lessons.”
Freddy believed he had a budding star at his club. “It soon appeared Rena was no ordinary lass. She was a strong player physically and mentally with a smooth natural swing.”
“I thought I was awfully dumb. Why couldn’t I just take the club back and hit the ball. But it wasn’t that easy, yet I had no intention of letting it get the best of me. I became determined to learn to play properly and turn in a decent score.”
In 1937, she changed to Quilchena because the ladies club had better players. Under the direction of Bill Barr, the club’s professional, she began to consistently break 100. Like Babe Davies. Rena believed the game could be conquered if she practiced five to six hours a day. She also had a plum she wanted to obtain. This plum, encouraged all 10 and under handicap women golfer’s in Vancouver and Victoria to hone their skills. The Canadian Ladies Golf Union (CLGU) wanted to encourage competition among all women golfers in the Dominion. To do so, the CLGU offered an all expenses paid trip for a regional team to play in the national championship. The regions included British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. In the lower mainland, Mrs. Sweeny, President of the BC Branch proposed the Sweeny Trophy competition for 10-unter handicap players. (See description of the competition in the section “Did You Know”.
Rena’s first BC Ladies Championship (1938)
In her first BC Ladies Championship, she reached the final against Kay Farrell, the 1934 and 1936 BC Ladies Champion. “One of my most thrilling moments in golf was when I broke ninety. It was during the qualifying round of Ladies Championship at Marine Drive. I had been practicing ten hours a day, fifty hours a week. It paid off, when I went into that tournament everything seemed to click.”
However, Rena was at a distinct disadvantage in the final. She had never played 36 holes in one day. The Vancouver Daily Sun reported: “It really clicked. Qulichena’s sensational Mrs. O’Callaghan to meet Jericho’s Kay Farrell in the golf final. Mrs. O’Callaghan whose only claim to golfing fame is the third flight title she won last summer in the women’s city championship, yesterday defeated Shaughnessy’s favourite Lillian Boyd 3and 2 and qualified to meet Miss Farrell in a 36 hole match play final. For Rena it will be her first 36-holes in one day in her life. “
The result was a win for the favourite Miss Farrell. But it should be noted Rena began a string of four consecutive finals (1938, 1939, 1940, and 1945.) She is the only woman to accomplish this quadruple.
The Vancouver Province reporter described Rena’s first major championship: ”Mrs. O’Callaghan was quite a sensation at the women’s provincial championships with a swing that had several of the cities leading professionals in ecstasy.”
Since Rena had made her mark, she continued her golf career during the war years. To allow the best women in the city to maintain their golf skills during the War, the Sweeny Trophy competition provided ten competitive rounds each summer from 1941 – 1952. Rena’s name appears on the Sweeny Trophy for twelve consecutive years. She is the only woman to accomplish such a feat. This streak showed her consistentcey in the lower mainland over an extended period of time among the 10 and under competitors.
“I still played and practiced. The next tournament I was in was a War Bond Drive at Marine Drive. There was a tournament of champions over at Shaughnessy in conjunction with the same Bond Drive. Sam Snead and other leading professionals were playing over there. The one I was playing in at Marine Drive was a mixed amateur tournament. We drew for partners; mine was Gerry Burt from the US. As it turned out we won. The prizes were a silver bob-bon dish for the ladies and a beer stein for the men. Eddy Cantor made the presentations.”
In 1943, as an undergraduate student at UBC, Ruth Wilson contributed a weekly column to the Vancouver Sun titled “Femmes in Sport”. Ruth had a remarkable sports career in Vancouver. The BC Sports Hall of Fame inducted her in 1966 for her outstanding career in four sports: basketball, golf, softball and tennis. On August 31, 1943 Ruth devoted her entire column to pay tribute to Rena for accomplishments in golf. The title was: “Rena O’Callaghan, Golf Champ and All-Round Athlete, Runs Gas Station Also”.
“I don’t want to talk about Rena’s golf. I want you to know the champ as a human being, a person just like you. Did you know that her childhood dream was to be a tennis champ not a golfer? Did you know she works an average of six hours a day running a gas station? Did you know she used to be a basketball star? Did you know she got that bull-dog jaw and fighting spirit from her Dutch-Scotch parents? This golf game has now made her superstitious too; you know a certain piece of tape on her finger, a necklace etc, she has to have them to win. Rena is not the type to say ‘nice game’ at the eighteen and let it go at that. After defeating me she gave me a lot of tips, good advice, and what is more important encouragement and friendship.
She loves the game, has studied it and has worked under the best city professionals. She has worked hard on a natural aptitude, developed it, and put it into a championship performance. Rena’s a lot of fun to be with. Always the life of the party, she likes good times. She gets a lot out of living by taking her golf seriously enough to a champ and yet never loses sight at the sports angle.”
Ruth and Rena became life long friends. Ruth became Rena’s star pupil. In 1953 Rena,the teacher, defeated her pupil, Ruth, in the semi-finals of the BC Ladies Championship.
In 1944, the CLGU BC Branch sent her to the Portland Open to gain valuable experience. There she competed against the best women amateurs and professionals on the coast. In 1945, Rena won the City Championship for the third year in a row and was finalist against Betty Jean Rucker in the PNGA women’s championship.Her record placed her a position to be named the 1945 Vancouver sportswoman of the year.
1945 Vancouver Sportswoman of Year (Voted on by the public)
“The final decision wasn’t easy. The top five men and women nominated by the thousands of ballots received in the contest all performed brilliantly in their respective sports last year. Mrs. O’Callaghan however once more proved herself as Canada’s number one golfer, despite the fact the Canadian Championships were not held. She won the city women’s title last year to make it three consecutive victories for that event. In the Pacific Northwest championship last summer the Quilchena player missed medalist honours by one stroke finishing second to the US ranking star Betty Jean Rucker. The Vancouver fairway star swept all opposition aside in reaching the final round of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Ladies Championship where she lost in a fine match with Miss Rucker.’
1947 Canadian Ladies Open
Semifinal lose to Grace LencZyr
In April 1950 Hugh O’Callaghan decided to retire from the gas station business to his Big Chief ranch near Ashcroft. Rena and Hugh divorced. Shortly, she married G. Edwards, a member of Fraserview GC and a building contractor.
1953 BC Ladies Champion
1953 BC Ladies Champion
After playing in the all the BC Ladies Championship s since 1938, she accomplished her goal. She won over Marine Drive’s Irene McCracken 7 and 6 at the Vancouver GC. Rena confided to Ruth Wilson, I would like to open a golf school.
“When I see a player really trying or with potential, I try and help this player to gain confidence in his or her game. Golf as you probably know is mostly mental – it’s a battle of the wits – your own. If you are able to concentrate, with determination and confidence, you can play a fine game even though you’re not oozing with natural ability.”
1953 BC Ladies Provincial Team
Dorothy Herbertson, Ruth Wilson, Helen Cleat, Rena Edward
In 1963 Rena won the Lower Mainland Senior Women’s Championship.
In 1969, “It took twenty-five years to complete the circle. This year Mrs. Rena Edwards and Mrs. Jean Powell won the lower mainland two-ball foursome. For Mrs. Edwards it was a repeat of twenty-five years ago when, as a two handicap player at the old Quilchena GC, she won the first tournament for the Kay Farrell Cup, then a match play event.”
Her last significant win came in the Seymour Ladies Club Championship in 1970. Even though poor health prevented her from competing, Rena maintained contact with the game. In 1974 she officially opened the Murdo Fraser Pitch & Putt Golf Course in the District of North Vancouver. She served as he course manger for many years. There she created a women’s league for beginning golfers. She had now reached a state of contentment working and instructing on her little course.
On April 24, 1985 she died in Lion’s Gate hospital after suffering a heart attack in the golf course residence cabin at Murdo Fraser.
In summary, Rena O’Callaghan Edwards played consistent championship golf from 1937 – 1957. During her career she competed against BC champions such as Kay Farrell. Wiinifred Evans, Daphne Evans, Margaret Todd and Babs Davies. In most cases their competitive career slasted only a few years, but Rena was a worthy foe for all aspiring champions for two decades.