Dating back to the 1500s, women have played a key role in the growth and evolution of golf as a sport. From the days of Queen Mary in the 16th century to the formation of the first Women’s Club in the 1860s, female golfers in past history helped pave the way for the professional women of today. In honor of the Ricoh Women’s British Open commencing for its 38th year, we’ve highlighted some of the most influential women throughout history and their tribute to the game.
Queen Mary of Scots
Known to many as the “Mother of Golf,” Queen Mary was a famously avid golfer during her reign. The queen is even credited with coining the term caddy, as she called her assistants on the green “cadets.” She held the crown when the world renowned St. Andrews golf course was built, and her portrait hangs on the wall of the course’s golf museum.
St. Andrews Golf Course
1867 was a big year for female golf enthusiasts. Before, women friendly sports were limited to croquet and archery, until the St. Andrews Ladies’ Golf Club was formed. The formation of the Club was a milestone for women of the sport, as no such entity priorly existed. About 25 years later, a Ladies’ Golf Union was created.
By the 1930s, women were competing in amateur golf tournaments in the US and across the atlantic. Although professional tournaments would not exist for many years to come, golfer Helen Hicks became a pioneer for her fellow female golfers as one of the first professional women in the sport. In 1934, she signed with Wilson Western Sporting Goods Company to promote their products. Sixteen years later, she became one of 13 women that founded the LPGA.
Another founding member of the LPGA, Patty Berg won the first Titleholders Championship for professional and amateur female golfers in 1937. But she didn’t stop there. A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Patty still holds the all-time record for most major wins by a female golfer with 15 titles.
All-around athletic superstar and Olympic Gold Medalist Babe Zaharias didn’t hang her hat on her Olympic laurels in Track and Field. Although she was considered a latecomer to golf in 1935, she quickly made a name for herself and gained international fame. She became the first woman to compete in a men’s PGA tournament, securing celebrity status in the US. She went on to win numerous tournaments as an amateur then a professional, and by 1950, had taken every golf title available. Her number of victories sits at 82.
The next few decades saw a stream of influential female golfers make waves and setting records, including Mikey Wright, Judy Rankin, Kathy Whitworth and Juli Inkster. In 1996, Judy Bell makes history as the first woman president of the United States Golf Association and serves two terms.
Today, the LPGA and PGA of America work together to empower, educate and elevate female golfers and to keep the dream alive of the original and founding LPGA members.