If the question was which one of the  Purdon family  has made the biggest impact on the sporting world what would be your answer?

Roy, the  founder of an unparalleled success story?:Barry record setting trainer and the other anchor of the family triumphs for so long ?; Mark, the definitive leader of his profession for more than a decade,whose domination of Group racing is unequalled in harness racing here?

Quite possibly  none of the above 

There is a strong case that  Roy’s wife,  Margaret,  an  international golfing star retired by age 26 to devote herself to family- at an age then many others  were well short of  their golfing peak, was the major star in the family sporting firmanent.

She might also be the source of one of the family’s special talents-the ability to stay cool under pressure. That was a hallmark,perhaps the hallmark, of Margaret’s outstanding playing career.

Margaret had a family connection to the golf scene and certainly started early for female players in that era.A member of Waiuku,by age 19 in 1948 she was on a 4 handicap and at 20 a rising national star. 

In the traditional world of  those days this was unusual.Some top women players were well into their 30’s,even 40’s, and still in their prime using guile and a skilful short game to repel any big hitting youngsters. Margaret Hughes was among the leaders of the  new generation that gradually  overpowered the sport.

Her first major impact was in the 1949 New Zealand Championships when she all but beat the defending champion in the first round, her formidable opponent avoiding embarrassment with two long putts and quite a few prayers to get home.

The following year Margaret  reached the final going down to the highly experienced Zoe Hudson who posted an unbeatable  72 in the first 18 of  36 holes.Selected for New Zealand against Australia for the prestigious Tasman Cup as Auckland champion, Margaret  won both her foursomes and singles and the Cup was tied. 

1951 was another stellar year except for the elusive New Zealand Championship. In that tournament Margaret was drawn against the current Australian champion Maxine Bishop in the quarter finals.She put up a tremendous fight, going down 2 and 1 and being praised for her composure under pressure. Sound familiar ? 

Miss Bishop went on to win the final-the first foreign title ever for an Australian lady golfer- against Rosemary Hodges, another young Aucklander at the top of her game who would share triumphs with Margaret in the future.

In the Tasman Cup singles, Margaret won four of the first five holes against her Australian opponent, went out in 36 and then played scratch golf for the next 5 holes to win by the then  huge margin  of 5 up and 4 to play! She had the advantage in  playing on her home course of Titirangi.

In her early career Margaret struggled with pressure bunker shots. There was a very good reason. Waiuku was a course that had no  bunkers ! So the inevitable change to the prestigious Titirangi club added the final component to her game. 

She was again Champion of Champions for the Auckland province in that year.

The struggle to win a New Zealand title was the big challenge now  though. And  in 1952 at Balmacewan near Dunedin, the dream came true.

The  weather was poor in the leadup meaning  sodden fairways and soggy greens but that meant little to a very determined Margaret Hughes

In her qualifying round she led with a 76 and was even more focussed in the match play rounds She went out in 36 in Round 1 winning 9 up with 8 to play. In the 2nd round she came home in 36 for an easy win and she took her revenge over Zoe Hudson in the semi finals.

She beat fellow Aucklander and former Southlander Miss Claire Smith in the final  being 7 shots ahead “off the stick” and winning the title at the 14th hole of the second round. She was praised for remaining “perfectly calm” After she topped  a fairway shot just a few metres midround her opponent looked like getting right back into the match, Margaret calmly  put her next shot close to the pin. 

Unusually for that time in women’s golf she was confident playing driving woods (no fancy 5, 6 and 7 woods then) off the fairway giving her a big advantage in length. 

Remember she was still only 23, and  Champion of Champions again in Auckland that year. 

She topped the year  off by  winning the Australian Foursomes Championship in Melbourne with Rosemary Hodges (now McCoy), an outstanding feat.

In 1953 Margaret, now that  rarity in the women’s game a scratch golfer, was selected in the New Zealand team for a series of matches in Britain a first for the sport. .She had not won the national title after a disastrous 3 from the edge of the green at a crucial hole but in the 2nd round had won all 11 holes she played in the match. Maxine Bishop won the final again.

As in Australia  the British courses were longer than ours but no match for Margaret Hughes in full cry.When New Zealand beat Wales in its first match she beat the Welsh No 1 Elsie Lever with 5 holes still to play. On the 450m 13th, lengthy then, Margaret hit a huge drive and then was a metre from the pin in 2, closing the match off in emphatic fashion.

Her individual triumph was winning the St George’s Hill Trophy,a stroke play tournament  in her British debut with a 74 and “a most impressive short game”

New Zealand were beaten by the UK in the series final but Margaret was “outstanding” going down to British star Miss Donald only 2 and 1. She had also fully tested the Scottish champion in their singles clash against that country. It took a leading Irish international to knock her out in the third round of the British Open.She never lost a hole in the first round and won five in succession in the second. The team returned to New Zealand from its first such tour with heads held high.

Margaret had now won elite matches or tournaments in four countries.

Roy and Margaret had been married at St George’s in Epsom in July 1954 and she did not play in the New Zealand Open that year,a sign of things to come. Margaret was given away by her brother, Jack Hughes, a highly successful harness trainer who once had one of the biggest teams in the country for colourful owner,Bill Hosking, preparing horses like Vodka, Fitment,Bounden Duty, Scottish Star and other topliners.

Now playing as Mrs R Purdon Margaret was the No 1 in a New Zealand team playing in Brisbane that year when New Zealand beat Australia 4 matches to 1, Margaret beating the accomplished Jean Abbot. She was one of only 2 Kiwis (of 16 trying) to qualify for the Australian Open.

Interspersed with all these achievements were victories with Auckland in the prized Russell Grace trophy for inter provincial dominance and a host of lesser titles.

In her last North Island Provincial championship in 1954 she went out in a fabulous 32 for her first 9 holes winning with 6 holes to spare.

Surprisingly these astonishing feats have had little influence on the  sporting Purdons.

Roy was of the “good walk spoiled” camp on golf though he caddied for Margaret when time  permitted during their courtship,possibly to deter any rivals !.

“Only Owen has played regularly. He’s good “ Mark says “Barry plays occasionally but finds it all a bit frustrating”

More of Margaret’s aim in life was emphasis on family, and her success in that role was just as pronounced.She was also an immense help to Roy especially in his early years.

Roy,who always described Margaret as “my wife but also my best friend”, once recalled how in past eras the stable had to fill out a sheet of past performances and particulars not only for every horse nominated but for every horse each time it was nominated. It was an onerous task, just one of many Margaret carried out.The skills she had acquired in her golfing years made her a wise counsel and astute judge of people and events, to Roy’s advantage. 

So just maybe  all those sensational statistics achieved by the men of the Purdon house can’t quite obscure Margaret Purdon’s remarkable achievements.

Though you get  the feeling that she herself she would not have thought so.

PIC: Margaret Purdon uses a hefty wood off the fairway on her way to winning the New Zealand Ladies Golf Championship at Balmacewan, Otago,in 1952.




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