Golf has been a game that has been played and loved by many for generations. Its history is enriched with great stories, triumphs and perseverance. But the history of women and golf never seems to get the full attention it deserves.
To this day, golf still brings us new victories that we will always remember, … like the 2016 US Ryder Cup Team “taking back the cup” with the crowd fully engaged, or Danny Willett winning the Masters and the “green jacket” for the first time. Now it’s the women’s turn!
Our love of the game should also be shared with an appreciation for it as well.
As a woman golfer, I have come to admire those that made it possible for me to golf in the first place. The historic roots of the game make me realize how far women have come in not only playing golf, but also in being recognized as a legend for it.
There is a long list of milestones that have resonated within the game of golf for women players. As part of divulging into the history of this great sport, I am going to highlight some of the most important events that have shaped the game and made it into a sport that has come to be loved and played by both men and women.
Writer and golfer Nancy Berkley lays out the most influential moments in women’s golf history that shaped its path and gave golf the status that it is today. (For a more detailed timeline, click here).
The Beginning to Present: The Love Affair for Women & Golf
The earliest trace of women golfers dates back to the 16th century in Scotland, where the game of golf first originated. The first golfer among women was in the 1500’s when Mary, the Queen of Scots, became an avid player of the game. It was in her time as Queen that the legendary golf course, St.Andrews, was built. It was rumored that the Queen enjoyed the game more than attending to her royal duties (Berkley, 2001).
While the beginnings of golf were started years before, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the first Ladies Club was established at St.Andrews. Years later, the first golf course who graciously opened its doors to women was the Shinnaecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island in 1891.
At the start of the 20th century a multitude of events took place that were instrumental in shaping the game of golf that we know of today for women. Well-known figures set the stage for future women golfers, as well as pioneered the way for the creation of the now established LPGA entity.
1930’s-1950’s: Women golf legends, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias make headlines with their golf successes.
Patty Berg had 63 professional wins, including 15 Major tour championships throughout her professional career. Even after recovering from a scattered knee due to a car crash in 1941, Berg was able to fully recover and play professionally until 1962 where she won the Muskogee Civitan Open.
Former Olympic track and field gold medalist, Mildred “Babe” Zaharias, holds 10 Major LPGA championship titles and a total of 82 tournament winnings. Zaharias was also one of the only few women who competed in an PGA tournament with the men. For Zaharias, she competed in the PGA Los Angeles Open in 1938 where she only missed the cut by three strokes, shooting an 84. Zaharias had the first career grand slam, winning the three major championships of the time: U.S. Open, the Titleholders Championship, and the Women’s Western Open.
1950 – The LPGA is formed, establishing the official governing body for women’s golf. A total of 13 women’s golfers founded the LPGA: Alice Bauer, Patty Berg, Betty Danoff, Helen Dettweiler, Marlene Bauer Hagge, Helen Hicks, Opal Hill, Betty Jameson, Sally Sessions, Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork, Louise Suggs, and Babe Zaharias.
1961 – Mickey Wright and Barbara Romack defeated Arnold Palmer and Dow Finsterwald on a par-3 course in Las Vegas. There was no advantage given to the ladies, as all four hit from the same tees.
1972 – The first six-figure amount of $110,000 is debuted on the LPGA tour under the Colgate-Dinah Shore Major tournament. The tournament is still around today and is called the ANA inspiration.
1977 – The PGA Tour of America votes to accept all female members, while golfing pro Nancy Lopez gives the tour a boost of popularity by winning five tournaments in a row in 1978.
1981 – Kathy Withworth breaks two records: The most earnings for a woman golfer (over $1 million) and the record for most LPGA tournament wins with 83 championships under her belt. The previous record was held by Mickey Wright who posted 82 LPGA tournament wins. Withworth will go on to win 88 tournaments by 1985, the most tournament victories for both men and women at that time.
As the 1990’s approached, it became a pivotal era that marked many accomplishments within the women’s golf arena.
1990 – The Solheim Cup is introduced (women’s version of the Ryder Cup). This event is still played to this day; the 2017 Solheim Cup will take place Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
The LPGA Foundation was established in 1991 to promote junior golf programs and scholarships for young women. The LPGA Foundation still exists to this day, and has helped grow the game of golf among young girls exponentially with their innovative programs.
In 1992, the Susan B. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation marked the first national charity partner of the LPGA.
By the end of the 90’s, the LPGA Teaching Divisions recorded over 1,000 members. The LPGA also embarked on the first-ever sponsored television series in women’s golf (seven LPGA tournaments) that would be aired on channels ESPN and ESPN2.
At the turn of the 21st century, certain female golfers became pivotal figures within the game.
2000 – Michelle Wie, at the tender age of 10, qualifies for a woman’s amateur event.
2001 – Battle of Big Horn between Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam vs. David Duvall and Karrie Webb. Riding the tide of the golf popularity explosion, these four powerhouse golfers played together for the first time in the Lincoln Financial Group prime-time televised event. Sorenstam and Woods beat Duvall and Webb after coming back to force a sudden death playoff on the 19th hole.
2003 – Annika Sorenstam goes to compete in a PGA tournament (a feat not competed since Babe Zaharias), but does not make the cut to play the full tournament.
2012 – Augusta National Golf Course extends its first two memberships to females – Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore.
The path that was given for women golfers hasn’t been an easy one, as it was met with an unfair battle of discrimination and low visibility. If history has taught us anything, it’s to appreciate those that trailed before us because their ability to play was more difficult and down played. As a woman golfer, I know that I cannot take for granted my chance to play on a golf course because it was a fight that was worth fighting for and never giving up on.
(Note: In the Spring of 2016, a “partnership” was formed between the PGA & LPGA – this should bring added visibility to the sport of women’s golf)
Berkley, Nancy (2001). Important Events is the History of Women’s Golf. Berkley Golf Consulting. Retrieved from https://nancyberkley.com/774892.html
Featured Photo: Joyce Wethered during the Mixed Foursomes at Worplesdon Golf Club, Surrey, England, circa 1922
Photo Credit: Copyright Unknown/Courtesy USGA Archives