Each year, in February, fans and supporters of Stetson University’s women’s golf program gather at Victoria Hills Golf Club to kick off the Hatters’ spring push toward a conference title while, at the same time, raising money to help fund the program.
This year the Hatter Cup will be played on Monday, February 24, but the event will have a new name. For at least the next three years, the event will be known as the Babs Steffens Hatter Cup, named in honor of one of the pioneers in women’s collegiate golf at Stetson University.
Steffens, who also has an endowed scholarship in her name awarded annually to a member of the Stetson women’s golf team, wanted to continue her support of the program by sponsoring the Hatter Cup. The scholarship she endowed is currently awarded to freshman Alessandra Kutz.
“I have a passion for golf and a passion for Stetson,” Steffens said from her home in Palm Desert, Calif. “I could not have attended college had it not been for my golf scholarship. Stetson got me started on what has been a most fulfilling life.”
Babs Steffens came to Stetson in 1952 from Mattoon, Ill., to play collegiate golf and study accounting. As the daughter of a golf pro, she spent her early years on courses across her home state as her dad served as the head pro and general manager at various clubs. When it came time to choose a college, she found her options were limited.
“In those days it was tough,” Steffens said. “I was a straight A student and could have qualified for academic scholarships, but I was also playing on the tour as an amateur before the LPGA. I was born and raised on a golf course. I went to Stetson because it was a good school and they gave me a full scholarship.”
It was during her time as an amateur on the women’s professional tour that she crossed paths with one of the all-time greats in women’s sports. At the 1947 Women’s Western Open, Steffens met the legendary Babe Didrickson Zaharias. The two became fast friends.
Stetson offered Steffens a chance to play both collegiate golf and continue on the pro tour. But there was a catch.
“I loved Stetson but, because my scholarship came from athletics, I had to be a physical education major. I wanted to be a business major, so my only choice was to have a double major. That took a toll on me because of the academics, and I was playing on the women’s golf team and on the winter pro circuit.”
After two tough years at Stetson, Steffens made the difficult decision to transfer to the University of Colorado, where she put golf on hold while she completed her undergraduate degree.
Still, it was a class she took at Stetson that set her on a course to prosperity and leads her today in a rich life of philanthropy.
“Dr. Ed Furlong taught me investment,” Steffens said. “I have to thank him for teaching me how to invest. I put aside a little bit of money each month during my career and I was able to make some good investments.
“I have some very fond memories of Stetson, and I always will. I have Stetson in my will and I have the scholarship, but now I want to sponsor the Hatter Cup. I give to a lot of different organizations and schools. Recently I have found the desire to give to people my own age. It is very rewarding being involved with the Joslyn Senior Center here in Palm Desert. It thrills me and I love being able to give back.”
Steffens taught school in California for seven years after graduating from Colorado. She then spent two years teaching in Wiesbaden, Germany, time which gave her with the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and the Middle East. She returned to California where she spent her career as a teacher, counselor, and school psychologist. Always with an eye toward education, she earned a master’s degree in behavioral science and completed doctoral work in psychology.
“I spent a lot of time teaching individual sports – golf, tennis and gymnastics – and that gave me a chance to relate to the girls on a very personal basis,” Steffens said. “I decided to pursue a pupil personnel credential and to serve as a counselor for the last 16 years of my teaching career. I continued to play golf until 1980 when I developed degenerative disc disease.”
After her playing days ended, Steffens has remained an advocate for the women’s pro tour. Even though she is no longer able to travel like she would like, she is a fixture each year at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which is one of five LPGA Major Championships and is played annually at the Mission Hills Golf Club in nearby Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“When Dinah Shore started the tournament I lived in San Diego, but I would come every year for the tournament,” Steffens said. “I still follow it. When I retired, I moved here and I have a suite on the 18th green for the tournament every year. All my life I wanted to live and play at a private club. Now I live here, but I can’t play any more.”
But Steffens said she still gets enjoyment from the accomplishments of the Stetson women’s golf team.
“I do follow the Stetson girls, especially my scholarship recipient every year,” Steffens said. “It really gives me a spark to be involved with the team.”
The Stetson women’s golf team will begin its spring season Feb. 16-18 at the JU Invitational, which will be played at Amelia Island Golf Club. Registration for the Babs Steffens Hatter Cup continues through Tuesday, Feb. 20. The cost to play in the event is $100 per person, or $400 per team. Hole sponsorships are also available for as little as $100.