Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Evolution of Women in Golf


Women have played golf since 1550 when Mary, Queen of Scots, commissioned the course at St. Andrews. She called the club carriers "caddies" since military cadets carried the clubs in France where she originally played the game. Scotland remained the center of golf for men and women with the first known women's tournament at the Musselburgh Golf Club in 1811. 

In 1867, St. Andrews created the first miniature golf course. Surprisingly it was intentionally made for the use of women. At the time, it was deemed improper for women to raise their golf club above their shoulder, so naturally a less impressive alternative was invented. The miniature golf courses incorporated natural features of a large course, such as sand traps, ponds, trees, and more.

Golf crossed the ocean and became popular with women in the 1800's. Country clubs allowed the wives of members to play the course. The first women's tournament was played in 1894 on seven holes at the Morris County Golf Club in New Jersey, the same year the USGA was established. The following year, the first U.S. Women's Amateur tournament was held in Hempstead, N.Y. at the Meadow Brook Club.

The Women's Tournament Committee of the USGA was founded in 1917. Glenna Colette Vare set a record by winning six Women's Amateur Championships in the 1920's. The LPGA's low-scoring average trophy is named for her.

A history of women in golf must include Olympic athlete Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrickson-Zaharias who won medals in track and field events at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. This all-round athlete became the Texas State Amateur Golf Champion in 1935. She married wrestler George Zaharias in 1938 who subsequently managed her career. He also had the distinction of driving a golf ball farther than she did, a major achievement since Babe was known to drive a ball 260 yards off the tee!

Babe won the British Ladies' Amateur Championship in Scotland in 1947, the first American to accomplish this. She then turned professional and became a founding member of the LPGA in 1950 along with Patty Berg and Louise Suggs who also turned pro after winning U.S. and British amateur championships. Babe is still considered one of the top five women golfers of all time since she won over 80 tournaments in her life.

The LPGA

The first LPGA National Golf School was established in 1960 and the first U.S. Women's Open was televised in 1963. Commentators noted the apparel worn by women golfers and golf skirts, shirts and shorts became popular at public and country club courses. Singer Dinah Shore, one of a few single women accepted as a country club member at that time, sponsored the first LPGA Colgate - Dinah Shore Championship in Palm Springs in 1972. The $110,000 purse for the televised tournament was the largest for women golfers to date. Mickie Wright won her 82nd tournament at this event in 1973.

LPGA tournaments gained more airtime in the 1970's. Nancy Lopez became the first woman to win rookie and player of the year in 1978. The winnings gradually became larger and Kerrie Webb became the first woman to win over one million dollars in a single season in 1996.

The percentage of women in golf has increased annually. It is easy to see that women have been making great strides to be taken seriously in the sport. Soon enough, ladies will be able to put the ‘gentlemen only, ladies forbidden’ acronym to rest once and for all.

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This article was written by Melinda Bailey.  Melinda is an avid golfer and the Executive Editor of 9 & Dine Women’s Golf Apparel blog. You can connect with Melinda via Twitter @9Dine.