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LGU AGM January 2003

How lucky we are to play this great game of golf that brings us together today.

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.

[Click: 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 in Scotland.

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.   

When England and Scotland made friends again, golf was back in favour.

[Click James IV]

In 1502, King James IV signed the Treaty of Glasgow which ended the war with England and brought peace to both sides. 

Pretty 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

It was this royal influence that helped the spread of the game throughout the country and, ultimately, overseas.

[Click: Flodden]

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!

[Click: 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 VIIIth’s  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!

[Click 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… she could never do a thing right.   Even at the end,  she lost that head to shoulders relationship which all golf professionals  deem essential!

Isn't it amazing that they were playing golf in those days.... and that women played then?.

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. 

[Click: 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 fish.

They didn’t have the Kirkwoodgolf  website then… so there is no report of who had won.! (sorry… that was a short advertising break!)

[Click: 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!

Poor people could not afford to play.

[Click: 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.

[Click: 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.

[Click: List of Ladies clubs]

The 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.

They 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.  

[Click 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."

[Click Littlehampton]

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

[Click Issette Pearson]

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.

[Click Purpose of the LGU]

The LGU established a Purpose, drew up Rules, appointed officials, made provision for funds, produced a handbook and instituted a handicapping system…the first in the world.

[Click: 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 seen.

[Click: Littlestone 1894]

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 Men’s 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.

Over a century ago, those first women probably did more for women's golf than at any time since.

[Click 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.

[Click Medalwinners 1895]

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.

[Click: Miss Sybil Whigham]

1895 was the first Championship that a Scot entered… 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.

[Click Hoylake 1896]

In 1896 The Championship at Hoylake was won by Amy Pascoe

[Click Gullane 1897]

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.

[Click: 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.

[Click 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.

[Click 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.

[Click: May Hezlet 1902]

In 1902, Scotland played England and Ireland for the first time.  We came away with the wooden spoon

[Click Rhona Adair 1903]

And here we are at 1903,  exactly 100 years ago.  Rhona Adair won the British Championship at Portrush, 

[Click: 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. 

[Click: finalists 1903]

The final was contested between Molly Graham, British Champion in 1901, an Honorary member of St Rule, and Alexa Glover of Elie and Earlsferry.

[Click Miss A. Glover]

Miss 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!

[Click Mrs Grainger]

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.

Her 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 years.

Ladies,  Before I finish,  I hope I have whetted your appetite for the history of the Ladies game.  and I’ll take this opportunity to have my second advertising break… and to tell you about the Women Golfers Museum.

[Click Mabel Stringer]

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

[Click Cecil Leitch]

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.

[Click Ball mould]

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 Andrews

[Click WGM books]

Whilst 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 publicised.

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 ours!

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