V Ladies Golf Union - First UK Golf Association

Ladies' Golf Union - first UK golfing association

The Golfing Annual Volume I of 1887-88 lists 197 golf clubs of which 10 are Ladies clubs, though several show ‘No Particulars Forthcoming’ such as Hayling Island even though it is known Maud Sandeman had founded the Ladies golf club in 1884 and that they had a highly rated Ladies course. Other Ladies Clubs, such as Stirling and Warwickshire, known to be in existence, are missing.

In the next volume, a year later, four new Ladies' clubs were listed (Cambridge, Dornoch, Eastbourne, and North Berwick). By now, several clubs were now admitting women on special terms with short courses such as Biarritz, where they had clubhouse facilities.

By 1893, the number of clubs had grown to 63 ladies clubs or sections in Great Britain, of which 14 were in Scotland.  On 9th April 1893, ten of these met in the Grand Hotel in London to found the Ladies Golf Union.  This was a year before the American men’s golf association was formed and several years before the R&A took over control of the Rules of Golf. It was met with some sceptical comments by the men who doubted that it would succeed. Nineteen clubs, shown below, joined the LGU in the first year. 

Wimbledon Lytham and St Anne's
Ashdown Forrest Blackheath
Kenilworth Minchinhampton
Royal Belfast Royal Portrush
Southdown and Brighton Tunbridge Wells
Warwickshire
Barnes Eastbourne
East Sheen Barnham Downs
Clapham Common Cotswold
Felixstowe & Littlestone West Lancashire

St Andrews club had attended the London meeting but did not join in the first year, as did none of the other Scottish clubs, so to begin with it was very much an English union. There were still arguments many years later that the representation was biased in favour of southern members who could attend the meetings. Only two of the clubs, Royal Portrush and West Lancashire had 18 hole courses.

By 1899 there were 41 affiliated clubs, and by 1914 this was 400 clubs.

The Irish Ladies Golfing Union was formed in the same year as the LGU in 1893, two years after the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1891. However, the Welsh Ladies Golf Union and Scottish Ladies Golfing Association were founded in 1904, ahead of their male counterparts, which means they and the LGU are therefore the senior organisations.

National handicapping system developed by LGU

Handicaps at the time were a nonsense, given the significant variation of golf course difficulty (at least 44 strokes between courses) .  This this was as much a problem for the men as well as the women golfers. The difference was the men did nothing about it, but the women did. They wanted golf to be able to embrace all levels of golfer on an equitable basis.

Thus, from 1896 the LGU developed a handicapping system, which in turn the men would espouse, after first decrying it. In particular Miss Issette Pearson was instrumental in devising an early form of uniform course rating. She developed the idea of three categories of players and the compulsory lodging of scorecards as well as the appointment of 'handicap advisers' who would tour LGU clubs to assigning the first Standard Scratch Score ratings to member courses. She would later be involved in the development of the men’s standard from 1898 with Dr. Laidlaw Purves and Mr. Henry Lamb of the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club

In A History of Golf, Robert Browning says of the LGU:-

"Their biggest achievement was the gradual establishment of a national system of handicapping. ... The LGU handicapping system was not quite so fool-proof as some of its authors imagined, and it has more than once been seriously modified since, but it was a sound, workable system. What is more important was the efficiency with which it was enforced. No doubt it was uphill work at the start, but within eight or ten years the LGU had done what the men had signally failed to do - had established a system of handicapping that was reasonably reliable from Club to Club."