III Early Women's Golf Clubs Part 1

Beginnings at St Andrews

Towards the middle of the 19th century, there was a caddies' putting green beside the 17th hole at St Andrews, and women golfers began using this and displaced the caddies, but it would be some time later before women were granted playing rights over the Old Course. In 1855, Mrs Wolfe-Murray, daughter of the distinguished golfer John Whyte Melville, was seen playing regularly on the links at St Andrews with two golf clubs and was the subject of some public comment and even criticism. Sadly she died a few years later after giving birth.

In 1867 a women’s group began playing golf, or at least putting, at St Andrews, supported by many including Old Tom Morris. Initially known as the St Andrews Ladies Golf Club, it later become the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club and is now The Ladies Putting Club of St Andrews. It still plays over the 'Himalayas' 18-hole putting green, located near the visitors' clubhouse. Local newspaper reports say the club struggled initially and the golf strokes were of the 'putting variety'. However, 19 years later it had 500 members.

Their first president was Madeleine Boothby, the wife of an R&A member, Colonel Robert Boothby. Though it runs the Himalayas green, the Ladies Putting Club does not own a clubhouse.

Ladies Putting 1894 R

Ladies Putting Club 1894 on Himalayas with Old Tom Morris

First Ladies golf at Westward Ho!

A year later, in June 1868, at Westward Ho!, in south-east England, women golfers were playing a medal competition within three months of their course being opened. They were ‘accompanied by gentlemen caddies resplendent in scarlet uniforms’. What the women were wearing is not described. The North Devon Ladies club included the daughter of the Reverend Gosset, founder of the local course, and Mrs Hutchison, aunt of Horace Hutchinson, the renown golfer and golf writer.

The rules laid down that only one club, a putter, was allowed and there were extensive allowances for drops under penalty of one shot from bushes, road and bunkers. Other rule provisions included a total ban on members bringing dogs, to avoid interference with local livestock.

Oldest Women's Course North Berwick - Play at Perth and Dunbar

Though Musselburgh is probably the oldest championship course that women played on, the oldest extant 'Ladies' Course was laid out at North Berwick in 1867. The Ladies Club was formed twenty years later and, until 1935, they were responsible for the lease of their course and employing their own greenkeeping staff. They had a timber clubhouse in what is now the grounds of the Marine Hotel. Today, their course is called the ‘Children’s Course’ and it is beside the 16th fairway. 

N Berwick Ladies Course E

North Berwick Ladies course, now the Children's Course, and oldest Ladies golf course in the world

In 1870, a 6-hole ladies' course was laid out at Perth to the north of Balhousie Castle. Unfortunately, this was lost and is now a built up area.

At Dunbar, there is a mention of ladies’ golf when an organization was created in 1870 to enable them to play over 12 holes on a western part of the links, though the Dunbar Ladies Golf Club was not officially inaugurated until 1894.

Women's Clubs formed in London and Musselburgh

Golf was by now as popular in England as it was in Scotland and the London Scottish Ladies formed a club of 14 members on 6th April 1972, which was active until 1879, when it declined somewhat, to be revived in 1890.

The Leith Burgh Pilot reported the formation of the Musselburgh Ladies golf club in 1872, and a competition on a short 12-hole course for a Ladies Cup donated by Mr Andrew Usher and won by Miss Wilson. It appears the club only lasted a year, as the Ladies Cup was then presented to the Bruntsfield Links GS in 1873 where it has been played for ever since as the handicap prize in the Spring medal. In 1887, the Golfing Annual noted that the Musselburgh Ladies club was in abeyance through 'a general lack of interest and sickness among some of the leading members'  but it revived in 1888, when they played two rounds of the 9-hole course for the medal. One of their medals was open to men but the other was ladies only.

For a ladies club to have male associate members was not at all unusual, as the social aspect of the golf was a key motivation for the formation of Ladies clubs. For many young women, golf afforded the rare opportunity to meet suitable gentlemen individually in a socially acceptable setting.

Carnoustie Ladies Golf Club - oldest independent women's golf club

The Carnoustie Ladies Golf Club was formally inaugurated on 25th August 1873, two days after the Dalhousie Club had hosted a golf competition for women over a dedicated Ladies course. The first secretary/treasurer was Mr Murdock and in the early days the financial support of male (associate) members was needed, but in 1886 the first lady secretary was elected and the club became more independent. The present clubhouse was designed in 1895 and constructed at a cost of £510, which was £100 over the estimate. The club is considered the oldest independent Ladies Golf Club.

Carnoustie Ladies CH 2015

Carnoustie Ladies Golf Club clubhouse

Soon, there were many Ladies courses, such as at Carnoustie, though they were not the secondary courses that we know today. In 1890, the local Courier newspaper reported that ‘an average of 3 is considered grand scoring’ on the Carnoustie Ladies course, from which we can deduce that it would have looked more like a Par 3 course, such as at Craigielaw or what might be called a children’s course. That is not to say it was not challenging and at Carnoustie the men must have played the ladies course for practice as the Ladies club had to remind them on at least one occasion in 1883 that men could only play the Ladies course when accompanied by a Lady member. Today Carnoustie Ladies play the three courses of the public Links.

Young ladies golf and their golfing knowledge was growing apace. It is reported that in the 1878 Open at Prestwick a young girl in the crowd pointed out that Jamie Anderson was teeing up outside the teeing area on the 11th hole of his final round. He corrected his mistake, played the hole in one and duly won the tournament.

Pau in France and Troon on West Coast

Pau in France was another pioneering place where women played on the men's course. There are pictures of them, from 1856 onward, playing with men, before the Ladies course was created in 1877.  This short course lasted until 1941 when it was dug up for food production and never re-instated.

Pau courses overview

Pau courses courtesy of Pau GC, showing part of Ladies course at bottom

The creation of the Ladies course was attributed to the influence of Sir Victor Brooke, father of Lord Allanbrooke, who moved there for his health in 1864, when he got married. The Pau Ladies Club was always considered a section of the main club.

The Ladies' Golf Club Troon was instituted on 22nd August in 1882, although women had been playing the Troon course prior to this date. The entry fee was two shillings and sixpence. Soon after, as the Golfing Annual reports

‘A special course for the ladies has been laid out on Troon Links, and over this course the members of the boys' club are allowed to play.

When more land became available in 1896, the Portland Course was created which is the second full course at Troon. The present clubhouse was opened on the 11th September 1897 and provides the Ladies Club with superb views of both Troon courses and Arran.

Juniors under 12 had been allowed to join Troon Ladies golf club since 1887. Of course, many of them would be the children of lady members, and it is noticeable that Ladies Golf Clubs such as Troon and Lundin promoted Junior golf and their related competitions.

Women's clubs abound - at Bath, Elie, Cupar, Yarmouth and Lytham St Annes

In 1883, the Bath and Kingsdown Golf Club created a Ladies Club with a 9-hole course though women with a handicap below 6 were allowed to play the gentlemen’s course. They had 23 lady members and 17 gentlemen members in 1888.

At Elie and Earlsferry, the Ladies Club began in 1884, founded by Mrs Anderson of Lossiemouth. By 1898 they had 25 members. However, clubhouse facilities were non-existent until 1928, when they were granted use of the ‘card room’ in the clubhouse, and full changing facilities only arrived in 2003. They now enjoy their own space in the clubhouse on the one of the oldest golf courses in the world.

Elie Hole 13 W

Elie and Earlsferry Hole 13

The Cupar Ladies Golf Club is recorded as being instituted in 1885 and playing over a course at Bonvil Park. This club also admitted gentlemen members and by 1888 there were 23 women and 14 gentlemen members.

In the same year the Yarmouth Ladies’ Golf Club was instituted, now part of the Great Yarmouth and Caister Club.

In 1886, women formed a section with Lytham and St Anne's, which had 22 members in 1887.

Miss Issette Pearson at Wimbledon and Ascot Ladies

1886 marked a milestone year in women's golf, as it is in this year that Miss Issette Pearson is noted playing golf at Wimbledon.  She was the daughter of one the breakaway Wimbledon members from London Scottish, and would become a luminary in the formation of the LGU in 1893 as well as the development of handicapping for both men and women. The formation of the Wimbledon Ladies club itself was in 1890, and the first secretary was, appropriately, a Miss Tee.

Ascot Ladies Golf Club, founded in 1887, had a 9-hole course on Ascot Heath, but they amalgamated clubs and courses with the Royal Ascot and their 9-hole course in 1895 to make an 18-hole course. The  club organizer, Skelton Anderson, was the husband of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first female doctor in Britain and local mayor.

Early Women's Golf Clubs Part 2