LGU AGM January 2003
How lucky we are to play this great game of golf that brings us together
We should thank the Ladies of the past for this, and that is why I'm
going to speak to you today on the History of Ladies Golf.
[Click: river scene in Winter, Aert van der Neer]
But let's go back a little earlier
to when golf started.... There are Dutch paintings of the frozen canals
in Holland with figures holding and carrying sticks that look suspiciously
like golf clubs. They played a game on the ice called Het Kolven that
was probably a cross between ice-hockey and golf.
A Frost scene, Adriaen van de Velde]
We have proof that Gowf or golf was actually
played in Scotland in the 1400's, and it was the forerunner of the game
that we know now. The golf historian, Archie Baird, says that golf came
to the East of Scotland because of the trade we had with the Dutch who
exported their red clay pantiles for house building on the East Coast.
Scottish seamen visited Holland and saw this game played on the ice,
and adapted it for land.
[ In this picture the men in the foreground
are wearing kilts]
We had better craftsmen than the Dutch, and
an abundance of the right materials for making clubs: with our alder,
cherry and apple trees. The original balls were made of wood too.
The Links land on the East Coast of Scotland
had the best terrain. An abundance of rabbits kept the grass short, and
provided the holes and hazards to make the game interesting.
[Click: James II]
'Gowf' soon became very popular
So popular in fact that in
1457, the reigning monarch, King James II, persuaded the Scottish Parliament
to ban it!
He was worried that his subjects
were spending too much time playing golf and not enough time practicing
their archery skills.
The king felt that this jeopardised
the defence of the realm at a time when Scotland was preparing to defend
itself against an English invasion.
The ban was reaffirmed in
1470 and 1491 so obviously golf was still being played.
It seemed the Scots were in a constant state
of readiness for war with England at that time.
England and Scotland made friends again, golf was back in favour.
In 1502, King James IV signed the Treaty
of Glasgow which ended the war with England and brought peace to both
soon the Scots were swapping their bows and arrows for golf clubs.
In fact, the king even took up the game himself
and actually paid a bow-maker in Perth to make him a set of clubs. He
married Margaret, the sister of Henry VIIIth, and introduced golf to
the English court
was this royal influence that helped the spread of the game throughout
the country and, ultimately, overseas.
Unfortunately in 1513, England and Scotland
fell out and there was Flodden
perhaps the result would have been
different if we'd practiced our archery a bit more!
Katherine of Aragon]
Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry
the VIIIth, has the honour of being the first authenticated woman to
play the game, although with all the problems she had bringing a child
into the world, goodness knows where she found the time. When her husband
was away at the Wars against France in 1514, she wrote to Henry the VIIIths
right hand man, Cardinal Wolsey, (who was in France with Henry), to say
that everything was OK back home, and all the Kings subjects were amusing
themselves by getting out to play golf..... Well not exactly in those
words... but that was the gist of it! I can just see Henry VIII hopping
made! The first golf widower!
Mary Queen of Scots]
Next we hear that Mary Queen of Scots played
golf at St Andrews, and it was brought up at her trial that she had been
seen playing golf around the grounds of Seton Castle only two days after
the death of her husband Lord Darnley.
Poor Mary Queen of Scots
never do a thing right. Even at the end, she lost that head to shoulders
relationship which all golf professionals deem essential!
it amazing that they were playing golf in those days.... and that women
It seems as if golf was being played by the
nobility long before the first golf clubs were formed
. But it
wasn't just the aristocracy
[Click Fisherwomen of Musselburgh 1]
on the East Coast of Scotland
many ordinary people played , and in the late 1700's the fishwives of
Musselburgh had a thriving golf club. They also played football.
Fisherwomen of Musselburgh 2]
The minutes of Royal Musselburgh in 1810
describe the prizes they put up for competition between the fishwives,
They were a new creel and skull (a small fishing basket) , and Barcelona
Silk handkerchiefs. It must have been a welcome diversion from gutting
They didnt have the Kirkwoodgolf website
so there is no report of who had won.! (sorry
a short advertising break!)
Longnose and feathery]
During this time golf developed from a roughly
hewn club and wooden ball (which hardly went any distance) to an elegant
long-nosed club and feathery ball, and it had become expensive. Feathery
balls flew further and straighter. The ball was made of animal skin and
was stuffed while damp, with a top hat full of feathers, sewn up and hammered
into shape. A good ball-maker could only make a maximum of three balls
per day, and consequently a ball cost more than a club!
people could not afford to play.
List of Clubs in 1850]
By 1850, there were only 17 golf clubs and
perhaps less than 3000 players in the world. Golf was a declining sport.
Iron Club and Gutty ball]
It was the invention of the Gutta Percha
golf ball that changed everything. A gentleman in St Andrews by the name
of JAMES PATTERSON took delivery of a Hindu statuette from his brother
in Malaya. It came packed in strange rubbery lumps, which when heated
and rolled could be fashioned into a ball. When it cooled it hardened
to a solid sphere that could stand up to any amount of hitting. And boy!
could it fly! It could be remoulded if it got cut or out of shape. It
was cheap and plentiful, and more importantly - wooden clubs were no longer
essential for the delicate feathery ball, the Gutta Percha could be used
with iron clubs.
Within 5 years the whole nature of Golf had
changed, and from a game for the rich, it became a game for the masses.
The Industrial Revolution meant that there were far more people who had
the time and the money to play golf.
List of Ladies clubs]
first women to form golf clubs were "gentlewomen", the wives
of the new middle class who had the money and the leisure time to play.
would have worn the clothes of the time, full skirts, fitted jackets and
large bonnets or sailor hats held on with scarves. They played in blouses
with tight sleeves and stiff stand-up collars. It's a wonder they were
able to swing at all.
The Ladies started to play over th putting
green at St Andrews, and founded the first Ladies club in 1867. More
Ladies clubs sprung up, as extensions of the Men's course, either as
putting courses or what we would consider a six or nine hole pitch and
putt. Royal North Devon at Westward Ho! in 1967, Musselburgh and Wimbledon
in 1872, etc.
[Click: St Andrews Ladies Golf Club 1880]
The weekly paper Golf started in 1890, and
Womens Golf was first publicised. Letters started to appear.
Mabel Stringer quote]
Mabel Stringer, writes that they were "absurd
stories holding up to ridicule their ignorance of the game, their attempts
at play, their indifference to its fascinations, their ridiculous ambitions,
their reprehensible conduct in daring to aspire to the possession of more
than a putter, or to desire more than a putting course or a disused turf
nursery of the Mens links."
The Ladies were not content, as soon as
they experienced the excitement and fascination of a full game of golf,
they wanted to play on the long course.
By 1893 there were over 50 Ladies clubs
in the UK
In 1893 two important things, (well important
in terms of Ladies golf!) happened. Lytham St Annes suggested that they
might have an Open competition for Ladies, and simultaneously, a woman
called Issette Pearson, a member of the Wimbledon Club, with the help
of Laidlaw Purves a leading Wimbledon golfer and experienced organiser,
suggested that the clubs should form a Ladies Golf Union. In April
1893, the first meeting was held in London with representatives from 20
clubs. The LGU was formed
but it is not the oldest.. the Irish
Ladies Golf Union started in 1893 too, and claims to be the oldest Ladies
Golf Union in the world.
[Click: Horace Hutchison's letter]
There was still much opposition to Womens'
golf. This letter was written to Miss Blanche Martin, the first LGU
Treasurer, by Horace Hutchison, a famous golfer of the day. You'll be
pleased to hear that he later changed his mind, and indeed later became
a staunch supporter and a Vice-President of the LGU.
Purpose of the LGU]
LGU established a Purpose, drew up Rules, appointed officials, made provision
for funds, produced a handbook and instituted a handicapping system
first in the world.
The first British Championship 1893 St Annes]
The LGU took up the St Annes offer and organised
the First Ladies Championship in June1893. Note: There are 32 sailor
hats in this photograph!
[Click: Lady Margaret Scott]
The Championship was won by an 18 year old,
Lady Margaret Scott. She beat Issette Pearson, the LGU Secretary, in
the final. Lady Margaret was in a different league from the others.
She had played regularly with her brothers, who were all excellent golfers.
In 1892 she had won a Championship at Cheltenham where the rest her opponents
were men, and had made the best scratch score, a 70 at Bath in similar
company. She must have been the one that changed Horace Hutchison's mind,
for he said that she had the best swing, man or woman, that he had ever
In 1894 the Championship was held at Littlestone,
Lady Margaret was again the winner, beating Issette Pearson once again
in the final. If you attended one of these Championships, it would take
practically two weeks, what with all the traveling by train and then
pony and trap, and the competitors treated it like a huge house party,
with many excursions, dances and other entertainments during the event.
They made up songs and poems and I've copied a couple of verses of a
poem here. (Miss Starkie Bence poem)
In the first couple of years, Championships
were played on short courses, but as play improved, and swings
became longer and shots went further, the women campaigned to play on
the Mens courses. Men were happy when their Ladies were out of
sight on their own patch of ground, but put up many objections to sharing
their course with the Ladies.
[Click: The Ruling passion]
What strong wills these Ladies must have
had. They had to persuade the men that they could play on their long
course. At first they were barely tolerated, but eventually they were
accepted on the same course as the Men.
a century ago, those first women probably did more for women's golf than
at any time since.
British Ladies Final, Portrush 1895]
In 1895 the Championship went to Royal Portrush.
This was the first time it was played on a long course. Lady Margaret,
was the hot favorite, and, as happens in Ireland, there was a sweepstake
and then the locals held a auction for the players and a gentleman paid
£30 for LadyM. This was a huge amount of money at the time. Imagine
his horror, when, for the first time ever, Lady Margaret was four down
at the turn against Mrs Ryder-Richardson in the semi-final. However she
fought back and won, then went on to beat Miss E. Lythgoe of the Lytham
St Annes Club by 6 & 5.
This picture shows Lady Margaret Scott with
the other medal winners. I don't think the caddies were ever asked to
smile! This was the last time that Lady Margaret played in the Championship,
although she continued to play golf and as Lady Margaret Russell she
won the Swiss Championship in 1908-9-10, perhaps she wanted to give the
others a chance!
A dance followed in the evening for the competitors,
which continued until the small hours of the morning. Whoever scheduled
the first International match between England and Ireland the next day
must have regretted it, for it was reported that Miss Pearson had a terrible
time getting her English team up in time to get to the tee.
Miss Sybil Whigham]
1895 was the first Championship that a Scot
Miss Annie Whigham from Prestwick, There had been a lot
of talk of there being excellent golfers north of the border, and Miss
Whigham had been one of the favorites, winning the scratch medal before
the tournament started.
1896 The Championship at Hoylake was won by Amy Pascoe
In 1897 the Championship was held at Gullane.
By now the Scots had overcome their aversion to entering the Championship,
and entered in great numbers. Their play was far superior, and, by the
time it got to the last eight, there was only one English player in the
field, the rest were Scots. The English Lass was duly dispatched. The
final was contested between two sisters who entered out of North Berwick
(their home was in Glasgow) Miss Edith Orr and her older sister Miss Orr.
In the final their father was horrified by the betting that was going
on in the sidelines by the professionals and locals. The younger Miss
Edith Orr won by 4 & 3, but their father was so disgusted with the
goings-on that he would not allow his daughters to enter another Championship.
Great Yarmouth 1898]
The Championship was won in 1898 by Lena
Thomson By this time there were 220 Ladies Clubs, and many others where
Ladies were members.
1899: May Hezlet]
The Championship returned to Ireland, the
following year, and youth appeared again in the form of May Hezlet, who
won the Irish and British crowns within 8 days when she had just turned
17. May Hezlet and Rhona Adair led a contingent of excellent Irish players
who dominated the Championship over the next few years.
1900 Rhona Adair, Westward Ho!]
By the turn of the century Golf was really
taking off. The number of golf clubs increased from 17 in 1850 to 2330
in 1900 to the massive participation sport that it is today. The golf
ball changed again, this time to the rubber cored wound ball invented
by Haskell which improved the enjoyment of hitting shots, and went even
further than the gutty ball.
[Click: Molly Graham 1901]
In 1901, The Championship went to Wales,
and was won by a Scot, Molly Graham, who entered from Hoylake.
May Hezlet 1902]
In 1902, Scotland played England and Ireland
for the first time. We came away with the wooden spoon
Rhona Adair 1903]
And here we are at 1903, exactly 100 years
ago. Rhona Adair won the British Championship at Portrush,
Scottish Ladies Championship St Andrews]
but in June 1903, we had a Championship of
our own here in Scotland, held at St Andrews with 46 competitors.
final was contested between Molly Graham, British Champion in 1901, an
Honorary member of St Rule, and Alexa Glover of Elie and Earlsferry.
Miss A. Glover]
Glover beat Miss Graham by one hole in the final.
This year we celebrate the Centenary of this
Championship back at St Andrews, and the SLGA is planning a dinner at
the Old Course Hotel. It will be a memorable Championship, one to tell
your grandchildren that you played in!
The founding of the Championship in 1903
and of the SLGA in 1904, owes a lot to this Lady, Mrs Agnes Grainger of
the St Rule Club. She had seen Scotland being beaten at Deal in 1902,
and realised that if Scottish golfers were to hold their own against those
of other countries, they must gain experience of match play by competing
in a wider field than that furnished by their clubs and neighbours. She
alone was the driving force behind that first Championship, and, along
with Miss Hamilton Campbell and Miss M.J. Alison of Prestwick St Nicolas,
she founded the SLGA in 1904.
wisdom and foresight came to quick fruition, for Scotland won the International
Shield in 1904, 05, 06, 08, 09 and 10.
The SLGA celebrates its centenary next year
with various events and momentoes of the occasion. A book will be be
published which will fill you in with what happened in their first 100
Ladies, Before I finish, I hope I have
whetted your appetite for the history of the Ladies game. and Ill
take this opportunity to have my second advertising break
tell you about the Women Golfers Museum.
The Women Golfers' Museum was founded in
1938 by The Veteran Ladies Golf Association, The first committeee had
as its President, Issette Pearson, and the first Chairman was Mabel Stringer
"Auntie Mabel" to her golfing friends. Golf owes a lot to
Aunty Mabel, she was the first female golf jounalist, assistant secretary
of the LGU, she founded the Girls Golfing Society and the Veteran Ladies
Golf Association. The Museum was launched with much publicity, and soon
collected donations of golfing artefacts, clubs, balls, books and trophies,
which were displayed in the Lady Golfers Club in London
After the war, the committee was led by Cecil
Leitch, three times a winner of the British Championship, and the collection
moved around various London Clubs, until finding a home in the offices
of the Colgate Palmolive Company in Oxford Street.
This company ceased trading and the collection
was then displayed in the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh from 1982
to 1984. Some of you might remember that it was opened by Belle Robertson,
at that time the reigning British Champion.
Since then the Museum has remained in Scotland
but the collection has been split. Most of the clubs, balls, trophies
and medals are out on general display at the British Golf Museum at St
the books and other artefacts are in the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
My fellow Trustees and I are keen for the
Collection to be displayed as a Tribute to Ladies Golf, and we are lobbying
for it to have more exposure. We are hoping that there will be a Display
at the British Golf Museum in St Andrews, perhaps in time for the Scottish
Championships in May, and I would urge you to visit the Museum if you
are in St Andrews, and ask to see the Ladies Golf exhibits.
Ladies golf has a tremendous future before
it, but it also has a fascinating history, and one which is not well
These early ladies were really the suffragettes
of their time, they forged the way for us to follow. They fought tooth
and nail for womens' golf to be recognised and taken seriously. I think
they might be disappointed that some attitudes to women golfers have not
changed much in the intervening 100 years. Let us hope that progress
will be made in our lifetime, and that, instead of men and women members
of golf clubs, there will be just Golfers, enjoying this great game of