You may be wondering what Mary Queen of Scots and Golf have in common.
Especially asking “whatever in the world does Mary Queen of Scots have to do with golf?”
Well, in researching the history of women’s golf, we came across some interesting snippets.
These actually tied together Mary Queen of Scots and Golf.
So, come with me as we trace the history of women’s golf way back to the 16th Century.
Mary Queen of Scots and Golf
We know that a game with wooden balls and sticks was likely played around the 14th Century – this may have been the fore-runner to golf.
Here, though, we are researching the beginnings of women’s golf, and that takes us back to Mary Queen of Scots. In fact, as far back at 1552, Mary was playing golf.
Because she was a member of the Royal Family, it is likely that military “cadets” were assigned to carry her clubs.
Thus, it is said that she invented the concept of “caddies”. Whether this is true or not, it’s a great story. And there is evidence that she was seen playing golf shortly after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley in 1567.
The jurors of the day used this against her as being inappropriate for a widow, especially one of her stature.
This led to suspicions of her own involvement in his death.
Ultimately, of course, she was beheaded at the decree of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
It is purported that Mary Queen of Scots commissioned the famous St Andrews Golf Links in Scotland. It may have been true that these golf links had been created in her time.
But the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (the R&A) was not actually founded until 1754.
In the ensuing century, golf was definitely the game of aristocrats and gentlemen. Golf clubs of the time, and subsequently, refused membership to women.
However, the wives and daughters of these aristocrats and gentlemen were at last permitted to play at The Himalayas Putting Green.
This became known as the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club which began in 1867 and still exists today.
The Golfing Prowess of the Musselburgh Fishwives
The wives of the fishermen who lived in Fisherrow, which was a town adjacent to Musselburgh, were as integral to the fishing industry as their husbands.
They helped at all stages of the process, including walking into Edinburgh to sell the catch.
Not surprisingly, then they were quite fit and active. They played football and golf, they sang in choirs and ran races.
Nevertheless, despite women being banned from most golf clubs, these particular women were not daunted.
In fact, the first known golf tournament for women was held by them in Musselburgh, Scotland in January 1811.
At the end of the golf tournament, the winner was presented with a creel (wicker basket) and shawl. The runner-up received two silk handkerchiefs from Barcelona.
Despite this watershed event, women were not going to get an easy ride into golf!
The Male Campaign Against Women’s Golf
Towards the end of the 19th Century, the central character who was leading the charge against women golfers was Lord Moncrieff.
He had actually decreed that women were not allowed to hit the golf ball farther than 60-70 yards!
This was because he felt their clothing inappropriate for raising their arms above their heads to swing at the ball.
Nevertheless, women persisted and many women’s golf clubs sprang up throughout the UK.
By 1890 there were almost 50 such clubs in existence.
In about 1893, there was a movement among women golfers to form their own official group.
This to be known as the Ladies Golf Union (LGU), led by Miss Blanche Martin. Blanche Martin contacted Horace Hutchinson, a leading golfer of the time, for advice.
You will not be surprised to learn that his response was not very reassuring. It included the following paragraph.
“Constitutionally and physically women are unfitted for golf. They will never last through two rounds of a long course in a day. Nor can they ever hope to defy the wind and weather encountered on our best links even in spring and summer. Temperamentally, the strain will be too great for them. THE FIRST LADIES’ CHAMPIONSHIP WILL BE THE LAST, unless I and others are greatly mistaken. The LGU seems scarcely worthwhile.”
Thus, the “red flag” was waved which caused the women to spring into action and establish the LGU straight away.
Then, before the year was out, the LGU had held the first British Women’s Championship. It was won by Lady Margaret Scott, then, aged 18.
Women’s golf was a juggernaut that could not be stopped!
The Exponential Growth of Women’s Golf
Now that the girls had finally got regular access to the golf course, the game (in conjunction with the LGU) grew exponentially.
As women’s clubs were formed they joined the Union so that by 1912, there were some 500 clubs spread throughout the UK.
One of the significant golf players during the early days of the LGU was Issette Pearson.
She was also the first Honorary Secretary of the LGU.
Issette was runner up to Lady Margaret Scott twice in the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championships in 1893 and 1894.
Pearson invented the very first golf handicap system that enabled people of different ability levels to play together.
The LGU controlled all women’s golf competition from 1893 through until 2017 when it amalgamated with The R&A.
Meanwhile in America, women in golf were making their presence felt, too!
In 1894, women golfers in the USA held their first golf tournament. This was in New Jersey at a 7-hole course in Morristown.
The first U.S. Women’s Amateur Competition was held at Meadow Brook Club in Hempstead, New York in 1895 and was won by Lucy Barnes Brown.
Nevertheless, it was not until 1917 that the Women’s Tournament Committee of the USGA was established.
Thus, the importance of the women’s game was officially recognized in this male-dominated sport.
Women’s Golf Attire Through The Ages
Of course, back in Lord Moncrieff’s day, it was a lot more difficult for women to play golf, given what they had to wear.
Perhaps, then, his comments are more understandable.
Here are some images that illustrate the progress of women’s golf fashions through the ages.
Women’s golf attire in the late 19th Century.
Undoubtedly, it was difficult to play golf wearing such constricting outfits.
But the women of the day persevered and founded women’s golf for the world.
Things became a little better in the early part of the 20th Century.
These 1920s golfers, relieved of the corsets and long skirts, probably had an easier time.
These 1930s golfing outfits were much more flexible than earlier fashions.
Female golfers were more comfortable and, thus, their golfing prowess was able to show itself more clearly.
Things became even easier as the decades passed and then, in 1933, the mysterious “Gloria Minoprio” appeared in a women’s championship match wearing trousers.
She was the first woman to do so, much to the horror of those watching.
Of course, this paved the way for progress and took women’s golf fashions into new areas.
By the middle of the 20th Century, women’s golfing attire had improved tremendously. There was much more freedom in the clothing to allow for better golf.
Our golf course fashions today are eons away from the fashions of the 1890s. We can now match our male counterparts with freedom of movement.
The Pioneering Spirit
The pioneering spirit of those early female golfers is something we must all admire. Without it, where would we all be today?
It is not only golf that owes its existence to pioneering spirit. There are many aspects of our lives today for which we are grateful to our ancestors both male and female.
In addition to women’s golf, these include electricity, the motor car, air travel, medical science, computing, the internet, and the list goes on.
In fact, everything that we take for granted today required perseverance and pioneering spirit by those who came before us.
I am always thankful that I was born in the 20th Century!
I do hope you have enjoyed tracing the history of women’s golf with me. It has certainly been great fun for me to do so.
If you are interested in finding out about different aspects of the game of golf for women, there is much more info on this website.