In honor of International Women’s Month, we are exploring the rich history of women in golf. Although known as a “man’s sport”, women have been making waves in the golf industry since, well, conception thanks to Mary Queen of Scots.
Read on to find out more about Women in Golf’s History from Golf Channel:
History of Golf – Part 7: Women and Golf
By: George White
Women have played a very large part in the history of golf, even before the last half of the 20th century when they finally achieved equality with men. Records of ladies playing golf exist all the way back to the time of Mary Queen of Scots.
Mary, you may recollect, was one of the first known golfers of either sex back in the mid-1500s. Her husband was murdered in 1567 and there was rather strong suspicion that Mary was the culprit. Mary herself was ultimately beheaded because of the incident.
The next 200 years are clouded in anonymity. Women certainly played the sport, but because of a strong bias toward male players, woman golfers are not mentioned in any writings.
Golfing ladies do not rate another mention until 1792. It is known that the women of Musselburgh were avid golfers ‘ a letter of that date mentions women and the rules and duties of the club. And in 1810, a proposal was made to present gifts to the winning female golfer at the club.
St. Andrews appears to have had the first ladies club, formed in 1867. In 1868, Britains Westward Ho and North Devon followed suit. Women, however, were generally confined to courses of their own, many containing some short putting holes and a couple of longer ones requiring a drive of approximately 80 yards. The courses were so much shorter because of the outfits the women were obliged to wear ‘ the postures and gestures requisite for a full swing are not particularly graceful when the player is clad in female dress, said one contemporary writer.
In America around the turn of the century, male-only golf clubs were known as Eveless Edens, wrote Liz Kahn in her book, The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version. In spite of this, womens golf was becoming exceedingly popular. British amateur champion May Hezlet wrote in a book published in 1907, It is now generally acknowledged that golf is a game ‘ par excellence ‘ for women. It is essentially a game for women: the exercise is splendid without being unduly violent, as is sometimes the case in hockey or tennis.
The USGA held the first American Womens Amateur Championship in 1895 with 13 entries. Only one round was played and the winner was Mrs. Charles S. Brown of Shinnecock Hills, who went round in 132 strokes. This was a nine-hole course that the women played twice. Mrs. Brown took an 11 on the first hole, but recovered to shoot 69 the front nine and 63 the second.
The British Ladies Championship was played in 1893 following the formation of the Ladies Golf Union. Thirty-one women competed at the match-play event, won by the great British amateur Lady Margaret Scott.
Englishman Harold Hilton commented of Rhona Adair, an exceptional turn-of-the-century womens golfer, that, Miss Adair stands up to the ball in a manner quite worthy of any of the sterner sex. There is a determination and firmness in her address to the ball which is most fascinating to watch. Lady players, as a rule, appear to persuade the ball on its way; Miss Adair, on the contrary, avoids any such constrictions on her methods by hitting it very hard indeed.
Such was written by Lewine Mair in her book, 100 Years of Womens Golf.
Two English women, Cecil Leitch and Joyce Wethered, dominated the British golfing scene for the next two decades. And after World War I, Wethered voiced the opinion that the changing fashions for golfing women led to a huge improvement in their scores.
I just wish that trousers had been in vogue in my day, as skirts were such a problem, said Weathered. They would fall just above the ankle, and you had to be very careful that they were tight enough not to flap, yet loose enough to let you take up your stance. Trousers apart, the only practical garment has to be a short skirt such as the Americans now wear.
Weathered was such an accomplished golfer that only about half a dozen men were believed to be her equal.
The outstanding American woman of the era was Glenna Collett Vare. Most of her competition came from Alexa Stirling ‘ who played much of her childhood golf with Bobby Jones ‘ Edith Cummings, Marion Hollins, Maureen Orcutt, Miriam Burns, Virginia Van Wie, Mary K. Browne, Helen Hicks and Lillian Hyde.
The first women professionals began to appear in the 1920s and 30s. Helen MacDonald was the first woman to sign with an equipment company, Hillerich & Bradsby, in 1924. The first to promote a manufacturers products and give golf clinics was Helen Hicks, who joined Wilson Sporting Goods in 1934.
Only four tournaments were open to American women in the 1930s ‘ the Hardscrabble Open in Arkansas, the Texas Open, the Western Open in Chicago and the Titleholders in Augusta, Ga. Patty Berg was the first woman to win a check at a golf tournament, the Womans Western Golf Association in 1941 which carried a purse of $100,000.
The Womens Professional Golf Association was formed in America in 1944 and existed for six years. Spurred on by Hope Seignious, who paid the bills with her wealthy fathers money, the tour foundered because of a lack of sources for revenue.
The U.S. Womens Open began in 1946. And in 1947, Babe Zaharias became a professional. She had been an outstanding amateur, as well as a great Olympic track athlete. She was the impetus behind the inauguration of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, formed upon the demise of the WPGA in 1950.
Fred Corcoran ran the organization for the women with Berg the first president. The rest of the founders were Zaharias, Hicks, Betty Jameson, Helen Dettwiler, Betty Mims White, Alice Bauer, Bettye Danoff, Marlene Bauer Hagge, Opal Hill, Sally Sessions, Marilynn Smith and Peggy Kirk Bell.
The LPGA played 14 events its first season, and by 1952 had risen to 21 events. Mickey Wright, perhaps the greatest player, joined the tour in 1955 and helped gain much-needed publicity for the tour. Kathy Whitworth, another great, joined in 1958 and eventually rang up 88 tournament titles.
JoAnne Carner was a rookie in 1970, Nancy Lopez followed in 1978. Lopez won five consecutive tournaments and nine titles in all that year. The following season she won eight times.
The LPGA today is a prosperous organization of 34 tournaments with approximately $40 million is purses ‘ an average of $1.19 million per outing.
Source: The Golf Channel