The History of Women in Golf
It's March! and National Women's History Month, honorary observance of the month of March in the United States, as designated in 1987 by the U.S. Congress, in recognition of women's many accomplishments throughout history. Batcaddy would like to thank all the Ladies in our community for helping us spread the word that walking the course is the way to play! To honor all the Ladies in the game we thought we would take a look at the history of women in golf!
There were approximately 6.4 Million Female On-Course Golfers (AGE 6+) IN 2022
The number of female golfers (adult and junior) has surpassed 6 million the past three years for the first time since prior to the financial crisis in 2007. Since 2019, the net gain in female golfers is 800,000, a 14% increase.
25% of on-course golfers are women. Females represent a disproportionately higher percentage of beginners (41%), juniors (37%) and off-course participants (41%) than they do in the overall golf population.
Women and golf have a long history together dating back to the 1500s. Let's explore the history of women in golf and the advancement of professional women's golf.
Mary, Queen of Scots, ruled Scotland from 1542 to 1567 and is noted by some as the first female to play golf. During her reign the famous St Andrews Links golf course was built. Mary is credited for creating the term "caddie" which was derived from the word "cadets" used by her when referring to her assistants.
The first recorded golf tournament for women only occurred on January 9th, 1811. The tournament was held in the town at Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland for local fisherman's wives of Musselburgh and Fisherrow, a neighboring town. The event was organized by the Musselburgh Golf Club and took place on their eighteen hole pitch and putt course. The prize for the winner was a creel and a shawl, with the runner up receiving two handkerchiefs from Barcelona.
In 1843 the St Andrews Golf Club was formed in Scotland. Later in 1867 the very first women's golf club was formed, which was initially formed as The Ladies Club of St Andrews. The club later became known as the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club and is currently known as The Ladies Putting Club of St Andrews. After initial struggles to gain members the club grew to 500 members after its first 19 years. Madeleine Boothby, a wife to a member of the R&A, was the first president of the club. In 1868 at the golf course Westward Ho!, in south-east England, there was a specially built 18-hole ladies course. Local English women played a tournament after three months of the course opening.
One of the earliest golf clubs to form within the United States was the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club located in Southampton, New York in 1891. The club allowed women to play and after growing popularity built a 9-hole course for women. The Shinnecock Hills Golf Club would be host to the 6th U.S. Women's Amateur in 1900, won by Frances Griscom. The first U.S. Women's Amateur was held at the Meadow Brook Club in Hempstead, New York in 1895, won by Lucy Barnes Brown. Prior to the U.S. Women's Amateur the very first women's golf tournament held in the United States took place in 1894 on the 7-hole course in Morristown, New Jersey.
Although golf began as an elitist and male dominated sport there was a growing acceptance of women in golf at the turn of the century. In 1893, Issette Miller was a leading female golfer of the time who helped influence the game for all. Miller invented the very first golf handicapping system, which helped even the playing field and let less experienced players have a competitive chance. In 1917, the Women's Tournament Committee of the United States Golf Association (U.S.G.A.) was formed, which became the Women's Committee of the U.S.G.A. in 1934.
In 1932 the inaugural Curtis Cup match was played in England at the Wentworth Club. The competition is between amateur women golfers and puts a team representing the United States against a team representing both England and Ireland, similar to the Walker Cup for amateur men golfers. The Americans took home the first Curtis Cup and the event has been played biennially since. The Cup was presented by Harriot and Margaret Curtis, who had won the U.S. Women's Amateur four times collectively.
Helen Hicks was among the first women to become a professional golfer in the year 1934. She signed with Wilson-Western Sporting Goods Company becoming one of the first women to sign with a sporting good company. Hicks won two tournaments which are now major tournaments on the LPGA tour, the 1937 Women's Western Open and the 1940 Titleholders Championship.
After being denied amateur status in golf, former Olympian, Babe Zaharias competed in the 1938 Los Angeles Open, which was a PGA event. Zaharias was the first to attempt to play in a professional men's tournament, which wouldn't be tried again for almost another six decades. Unfortunately, after the initial two rounds Zaharias failed to make the cut. Along with making golf history at the tournament Babe made her own personal history as she was paired with George Zaharias, whom she would marry eleven months later. Babe Zaharias would go on to become one of America's first female golf sensation and major player in the 40s and 50s.
In 1945, Babe Zaharias competed in three more PGA Tour events and made the initial cut in all three, becoming the first and only female to do so. At the Los Angeles Open, Babe first had to qualify to play then made the two-day cut but didn't make the three-day cut. She not only made the cut but finished in 33rd place at the Phoenix Open. At the Tucson Open she finished tied for 42nd. Zaharias was the first American to win the British Ladies Amateur in 1947. She won a total of 82 amateur and professional golf tournaments, including all golf titles available at the time and an unmatched feat of 14 straight amateur wins.
Patty Berg was another sensational female golfer of the time. Berg won several major tournaments and became the first female golfer to have her own golf clubs. Wilson Sporting Goods produced a line of Patty Berg Cup Defender golf clubs in 1941. In 1946 Berg became the first champion of the U.S. Women's Open, which took place at Spokane Country Club in Seattle, Washington. The first U.S. Girls' Junior Championship was held in 1949 with Marlene Bauer emerging victorious at 15 years old, she would turn pro later that year.
While the Ladies Professional Golf Association, LPGA, wasn't established until 1950 the true groundwork for the LPGA was laid 6 years prior with the formation of the Women's Professional Golf Association, or WPGA. The WPGA was founded by Hope Seignious, Betty Hicks, and Ellen Griffin. However due to financial struggle, although Wilson Sporting Goods assisted in 1948, the WPGA stopped after its 1948 season and officially ended in 1949. In 1950 the Ladies Professional Golf Association, LPGA, was formed by a group of 13 prominent female golfers; Alice Bauer, Patty Berg, Bettye Danoff, Helen Dettweiler, Marlene Bauer Hagge, Helen Hicks, Opal Hill, Betty Jameson, Sally Sessions, Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork, Louise Suggs, and Babe Zaharias. The inaugural president of the LPGA was Patty Berg. The LPGA was established with the help of financial aid from Wilson Sporting Goods. In its first season the LPGA held 14 tournaments with $50,000 in total for prize funds.
By 1952 the LPGA increased its number of events to 21 and established the Vare Trophy to be awarded to the player with the lowest scoring average at the end of the season. The Vare Trophy derives its name to honor Glenna Collett-Vare who was a stellar amateur golfer in the 1920s and 30s, winning a number of women's amateur titles along with being part of the first Curtis Cup. In 1959 the LPGA forms its Teaching Division, which later in 1992 became the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional (T&CP) Division, and the prize fund reached the $200,000 mark that year.
In the 1960's two sensational female golfers emerged to dominate the field, Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth. Helping spark the popularity of women's golf was a televised exhibition match between the great Arnold Palmer and Dow Finsterwald against Mickey Wright and Barbara Romack in which Wright and Romack defeated the pair of male golfers. Mickey Wright would win 68 LPGA tournaments during the 1960s on her way to a career 82 LPGA Tour wins. Kathy Whitworth holds the record for the most career LPGA Tour victories with 88 total with 53 coming in the 1960s.
The LPGA first gained national television coverage during the 1963 U.S. Women's Open Championship final round. In 1967 the LPGA Hall of Fame, which was established in 1951, finally had a physical premise in Augusta, Georgia. Its inaugural members were Betty Jameson, Louise Suggs, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias. The LPGA Hall of Fame was eventually merged together with the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1998. At the end of the 1960s the prize money upon the LPGA Tour grew to $600,000 with 34 scheduled events.
Fast Forward to the 21st century
Annika Sörenstam is by far one of the greatest female golfers of our time, with 72 wins on the LPGA tour (10 majors) and with the significant achievement of having shot a score of 59 in a competitive round. Annika started playing golf at the age of 12 and it wasn't love at first sight. Her parents promised her and her sister ice cream if they came along to the golf course. It wasn't until she realized that she had talent and her game rapidly improved that her interest picked up. Although her career seems to have headed on a straight line, she was a very shy golfer at first and actually missed a putt on purpose to avoid the spotlight. Annika was a professional golfer between 1992 – 2008.
Lydia Ko (born 24 April 1997) is a New Zealand professional golfer and the No. 1-ranked woman professional golfer as of January 2023. She first achieved the top ranking on 2 February 2015 at 17 years, 9 months and 9 days of age, making her the youngest player of either gender to be ranked No. 1 in professional golf.
Ko had much success from an early age holding many youngest accolades on the LPGA Tour. Until 2017, she is the youngest ever (age 15) to win an LPGA Tour event. In August 2013, she became the only amateur to win two LPGA Tour events. Upon winning The Evian Championship in France on 13 September 2015, she became the youngest woman, at age 18 years, 4 months and 20 days, to win a major championship. Her closing round of 63 was a record lowest final round in the history of women's golf majors, but she lowered that record with a 62 at the 2021 ANA Inspiration. She had previously won the ANA Inspiration on 3 April 2016 for her second consecutive major championship, where she also became the youngest player to win two women's major championships.
Let's Celebrate all the women who play the game this month and let's continue to grow the game together!
Information from Professional Golfers Career College, Header Image Sources: "Mary Queen of Scots Golfing" from National Library of Scotland & "Early LPGA Group Photo" from South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame
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