When talking about golf, it’s very clear this is a male-dominated sport, or at least has been for a very long time. Type in “best golf players of all time,” and nine times out of ten, you’ll get a list of male names such as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, or Sam Snead.
However, women in golf are becoming quite a prominent force. In 2018, 31% of beginners in golf were women, and they comprised 23% of all golf players worldwide.
With that said, in the wake of International Women’s Day, we believe it’s time we gave props to all the female athletes that competed and achieved great things in this noble sport. Let’s have a look at a brief history of women in golf.
The Earliest Days of Women in Golf
You might be surprised at this fact, but the earliest prominent golf player reaches all the way back to the mid 16th century!
The prominent player we’re talking about here was none other than Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Yes, the Bloody Mary played golf in the 1550s, and it was she who had the famous St Andrews Links golf course built, and it was she who is (purportedly) credited with creating the term “caddie.”
Unfortunately, this sensation didn’t last long. Queen Mary was often criticized by her contemporaries as taking part in “sports that were clearly unsuitable to women” (George Buchanan), and after her death at the hands of her sister, Queen Elizabeth I, female gold fell into obscurity.
And there it would remain until some 250 years later when the first-ever all-female golf tournament took place in 1811. The tournament was held in Musselburgh, Scotland, and it was organized by the Musselburgh Golf Club as recreation for wives of the local fishermen.
In 1867, the first female golf club was created in St Andrews, called the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club. The club struggled to gain membership at first and achieved a 500-membership number some 19 years later.
Let’s fast-forward to the more modern times in female golf. In 1934, Helen Hicks became the first professional female golfer. She won numerous tournaments, including the Junior Girls Championship Metropolitan Women’s Golf Association amateur title, and in 1937 she would go on to win the Women’s Western Open and Titleholders Championship in 1940.
One of the most impressive ladies to ever grace the golf course was Babe Zaharias. Zaharias (also known as The Babe) was a quick-witted former Olympian, having won gold in javelin and hurdles.
Unfortunately, she was initially denied amateur golf status. That didn’t dissuade The Babe, however, and she would enter a PGA event in 1938. She didn’t make the cut then, but she would go on to have a long and prosperous career.
Zaharias again attempted to stand shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts and actually made the initial cut in three different PGA events in 1945, a feat that wasn’t attempted by a female golfer until some 50 years later.
That feat belongs to none other than the person widely considered to be the best female golfer of all time, Annika Sorenstam. Annika holds 72 LPGA tour titles, with 10 majors. In 2003, she entered a PGA tournament at Colonial, a bold move that didn’t sit well with some male players, despite it being the 21st century! Sorenstam is also the only woman to hit a shot score of 59 in a competitive round.
The Ladies Professional Golf Association was first founded in 1950. It is the oldest continuing female golf organization in the United States. It was originally founded by 13 professional female golf players, including big names like Helen Hicks, Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, and others.
However, LPGA wasn’t the first such organization for women. LPGA draws its roots from the Women’s Professional Golf Association, founded six years prior. This organization was founded by Betty Hicks, Helen Griffin, and Hope Seignous; alas, WPGA went under due to financial struggle.
Luckily, determined female golfers persevered, and Wilson Sporting Goods stepped in to alleviate their financial troubles, helping to found LPGA. In its opening year, LPGA held 14 tournaments with $50.000 in total prize funds.
To this day, LPGA remains the leading authority in women’s golf as an organization. Women’s golf is still a little unformed and less than regulated, in that there is no clear distinction between major and minor tournaments. However, LPGA is taken as the de facto authority on rankings and tournament regulation.
And with that, we’re going to wrap up our little brush-up on the history of women in golf. As you’ve seen, it’s been quite a struggle for women to become recognized as athletes worthy of note in this sport. However, the times have changed significantly, and women have become respected golf players through the effort of brave and determined pioneers like Sorenstam, The Babe, Helen Hicks, and others.
Travis Dillard is a business consultant and an organizational psychologist based in Arlington, Texas. Passionate about marketing, social networks, and business in general. In his spare time, he writes a lot about new business strategies and digital marketing for Life & Style Hub.