The British Ladies’ Championship returns to Littlestone-on-Sea, Kent, this June, 111 years since it was first held there in 1894.
The first Championship, held at Lytham St Anne’s in 1893 was deemed a great success, even although Horace Hutchison, in a letter to Blanche Martin in “Golf”, prophesised a dismal failure “ Women never have, and never can unite to push any scheme to success…” “They are bound to fall out and quarrel at the slightest provocation…” “Constitutionally and physically women are unfitted for golf…” and finishing his diatribe “The first Ladies’ Championship will be the last…”.
The LGU and the competitors at Lytham were not to be dissuaded by Mr Hutchison’s gloomy remarks, and held a very successful Championship with a very worthy winner in Lady Margaret Scott, who beat Miss Issette Pearson, the founder and first Secretary of the LGU, by 7 & 5 in the final. With great foresight and resolve, those present chose Littlestone for their second Championship.
The Ladies’ Golf Club at Littlestone had been founded in 1891, and Mabel Stringer, (photo right taken in 1924), who was later to play a major role in the LGU and early ladies’ golf, was the first Ladies’ Captain. The Littlestone Ladies played most of their golf on the mens’ course and only deferred to the 9 hole Ladies course, nicknamed the “hen-run”, for their own competitions, which were few and far between. The Ladies were quite insular in outlook, and knew very little of golf elsewhere. Miss Stringer had been out of the country in the previous year, and knew nothing of the LGU and the first Championship. In the autumn of 1893, the Secretary of the Mens’ Club, Mr Wintle, a bachelor, asked Miss Stringer to play and entertain a Miss Issette Pearson from the LGU, who was coming to look at the course for the following year’s Championship. It was the start of a long and fruitful friendship between the two ladies.
Miss Stringer, in her book “Golfing Reminiscences” (Mills and Boon 1924) relates that she took Miss Pearson to play on the mens’ links, and “beat her quite respectably, not in the least understanding the some-what uncomplimentary surprise at my having done so expressed by Dr Laidlaw Purves, Mr Arthur Adams and other distinguished golfers who had accompanied Miss Pearson to Littlestone”. After that first encounter, Miss Stringer joined the LGU as the delegate from Littlestone, represented them for over twenty years, and for a while was Assistant Secretary.
The draw for the 1894 Championship was made in London. The Hon. Secretary announced that there were 63 entrants, and with commendable speed of thought, one of the Vice-Presidents nominated his wife to obviate a bye and even up the numbers.
Miss Stringer’s name was first out of the hat, and she relates “How vividly that scene comes back to me – the little crowd, mostly players waiting their turn to go off, the brilliant sunshine, the red coats… Following some of the matches were a few spectators, curious to see how women could play. Lady Margaret Scott (Cotswold) and the northern crack, Mrs Ernest Catterall (Lytham and St Anne’s), had about a dozen or so round them, for both enjoyed quite a big reputation”
“E. Catterall would scatter all
If in the fateful draw
She had not got the champion Scott.
Who is a gowfer braw.” *
Competitors at Littlestone 1894
Lottie Dod (Moreton), the Wimbledon Tennis Champion, was beaten in the third round at the 19th, as was local hopeful Miss Stringer who lost by 4 & 2 to Miss Lena Thomson (Wimbleton). Also playing in the Littlestone Championship was Mrs Tennent, who entered from Cannes, France, the elder sister of Misses Molly and Sybil Whigham, and incidentally the first Scot to enter the Championship. She had a fine run, succumbing in the quarterfinals to Miss Pearson (Wimbledon) on the last hole. Miss Starkie-Bence (of drives immense) of Eastbourne, reached the semi-finals, but succumbed to Lady Margaret on the Thursday afternoon. Miss Pearson beat Miss May Mugliston (Lytham and St Anne’s) by 9 & 7 in the other semi-final, and thus the scene was set for a repeat of the 1893 final. Lady Margaret had never been taken past the 15th green whilst Miss Pearson, who you may remember was organising the tournament as well as playing in it, had close encounters which may have exhausted her.
The Friday morning dawned calm and fine and a large crowd gathered to watch the play. The early part of the game was touch and go with first one and then the other gaining the honour, and at the 13th hole Lady Margaret was only one up. Miss Pearson played well, but lost it round the greens, and Lady Margaret holed a long putt on the 16th to become the victor by 3 & 2.
The account of the Championship week in the bi-weekly paper “Golf”, June 5, 1894, says of Lady Margaret “…there is little doubt that she towers head and shoulders above all her competitors. Her perfect swing is by no means the greatest point in her favour; she excels equally by reason of repose and ease of her play. There is no pressing, no haste, no nervous anxiety apparent;….” A spectator remarked that “…so long as one lady can play so fine a game, the Ladies Golf Championship will be a contest worth a long journey to see.”
This second Championship was perhaps even more important than the first; it proved that Ladies could play a Championship on a mens’ course (Littlestone was 4286 yards), it established the Championship as a serious and viable event, and disproved Horace Hutchison’s theory that “The first Ladies’ Championship will be the last…”.
It also introduce Miss Mabel Stringer to Miss Issette Pearson, and the two ladies formed a formidable partnership. Miss Stringer went on to found the Veteran Golfers Association, started the Girls’ Championship, and organised many other Associations and tournaments over the next twenty years. She became the first Chairman of The Women Golfers’ Museum in 1938. Incidentally Issette Pearson was its first President.
The Women Golfers’ Museum is delighted to have the opportunity to mount a small display of 1894 memorabilia in the Littlestone clubhouse during the 2005 British Ladies Open Amateur Championship (June 7-11).
Gillian Kirkwood, June 2005
[This article is published in the June 2005 edition of "Through the Green", the journal of the British Golf Collectors' Society.]
* This verse came from a poem found one morning during the 1894 Championship lying on the floor of the clubhouse, and were written from “The Cottage, New Romney.” The poem was published in "Golf"and also in Mabel Stringer's book, "Golfing Reminiscences"