The rich history of women's golf is a tapestry of tradition, talent and tenacity. From the first known tournaments in the late 19th century to the modern LPGA Tour, women's golf has a captivating story of progress and persistence.
We’ll explain where women’s golf originated, along with where and how women’s golf organizations developed, introduce the most notable women’s golf trailblazers and wrap up with where women’s golf stands today.
An Intro to the History of Women's Golf
Let's roll back the calendar to 1867 Scotland — the birthplace of golf. A group of pioneering women have come together to form the Ladies' Club of St. Andrews, marking the first women's golf club in history.
The women who formed this club were largely from the local area; many of them wives and daughters of gentlemen who were members of the prestigious Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
This groundbreaking moment is the spark that lights the fuse, kicking off a journey of progress and achievement in women's golf that continues to this day.
The Start of Women's Golf Organizations
An essential aspect of the development of women's golf was the formation of dedicated golf organizations. These bodies played crucial roles in formalizing women's golf, organizing competitive events and advocating for women golfers.
The Establishment of the Ladies Golf Union (1893)
The Ladies Golf Union (LGU) was formed in the UK in 1893, as the first golf organization exclusively for women.
It was founded by Issette Pearson, who recognized the need for a governing body to oversee the growing number of women's golf clubs in Britain and Ireland.
The LGU went on to play a significant role in promoting women's golf across the UK and beyond. It was responsible for organizing the first Women's Amateur Championship in 1893, and later introduced the Girls' British Open Amateur Championship and the Ladies' British Open Amateur Championship.
The LGU merged with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) in 2017, but its legacy in shaping women's golf remains an essential part of the sport's history.
The Formation of the American Ladies Golf Association (1897)
On the other side of the Atlantic, the American Ladies Golf Association (ALGA) was formed in 1897. Like its UK counterpart, the ALGA was created to foster interest in women's golf and provide a structure for women's golf competitions.
The ALGA was instrumental in organizing the first U.S. Women's Amateur Championship in 1895 — a critical milestone in the development of women's golf in America.
The success of the ALGA's early efforts helped to lay the groundwork for the formation of the Women's Professional Golf Association (WPGA) in 1944 and subsequently the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in 1950.
Pioneering Tournaments and Championships in Women’s Golf
Women's golf started to make significant strides in terms of visibility and recognition with the inception of organized tournaments and championships.
These pioneering events not only affirmed women's place in the sport but also inspired future generations of female golfers to aspire for greatness.
The First U.S. Women's Amateur Championship (1895)
In 1895, a landmark event for women's golf took place — the first U.S. Women's Amateur Championship. Organized by the United States Golf Association (USGA), this championship provided a competitive platform for women golfers at a time when few existed.
The inaugural tournament was held at Meadow Brook Club in Long Island, and the title was claimed by Lucy Barnes Brown. This event was a turning point, marking the official start of competitive golf for women in America.
The tournament only had 13 entries — a stark contrast to the large fields in today's women's amateur golf tournaments.
In the following years, the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship continued to grow and became an esteemed title, setting a significant precedent for women's golf tournaments.
5 Major Championships in Women's Golf Today
As women's golf continued to evolve, the introduction of major championships added a new dimension to the sport.
There are two events that represent the starting foundation of major tournaments in women’s golf:
U.S. Women's Open: Established in 1946, this is one of the oldest and most prestigious women's professional golf tournaments. It's organized by the USGA and is usually held in early June.
Women's PGA Championship: Known also as the KPMG Women's PGA Championship due to sponsorship, this tournament was established in 1955 by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). It's typically held also in June.
Over time, three more tournaments were added to the list of women's majors:
ANA Inspiration: Founded in 1972, this tournament is typically held in late March or early April in Rancho Mirage, California. It was originally known as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner's Circle, and later the Kraft Nabisco Championship, before its current sponsorship.
Women's British Open: The Women's British Open was established in 1976 and was recognized as a major by the LPGA in 2001. It is usually held in August.
The Evian Championship: This tournament, held in France, became a major in 2013. It was originally known as the Evian Masters before its current status and is typically held in July.
These five tournaments now constitute the major championships in women's golf.
The Formation and Role of the LPGA (1950)
The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) was formed on September 13, 1950, in Wichita, Kansas. The LPGA was founded by 13 women and among them were legendary golfers such as Patty Berg, Betty Jameson and Babe Zaharias.
These founding women wanted to establish a professional league for women golfers, creating opportunities and legitimizing the professional status of women's golf.
Since its inception, the LPGA's primary role has been to organize and promote professional golf events for women. The organization of those events was successful; The LPGA currently organizes many events, including five major championships: The ANA Inspiration, the U.S. Women's Open, the Women's PGA Championship, The Evian Championship and the Women's British Open.
Minjee Lee is the latest U.S. Women's Open champion where she received $1.8 million for her victory, the largest payout in the history of women's golf. [Source: LPGA]
The LPGA also acts as a governing body for women's golf. It sets rules and guidelines for participation in its events, monitors the professional conduct of its members and oversees rankings and qualifications for tournaments. The LPGA is in charge of enforcing the rules of golf as specified by the USGA and the R&A.
Additionally, the LPGA has a role in educating and nurturing future players through its developmental tour (Symetra Tour) and the Teaching and Club Professionals division (LPGA T&CP).
Today, the organization's membership includes more than 1,700 women golfers from over 50 countries. The LPGA not only provides opportunities for professional women golfers to compete at high levels, but also serves as a leader in the broader golf industry.
The Evolution and Expansion of the LPGA
Over the years, the LPGA has grown into a premier women's professional golf organization, hosting more than 30 events annually with millions of dollars in prize money. The tour has expanded globally, with tournaments held in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Key to this growth was the inclusion of international players. In the late 1970s, players like Japan's Ayako Okamoto and later South Korea's Se Ri Pak broke through on the LPGA Tour, paving the way for a surge of international players who now dominate the tour.
The LPGA has not only been instrumental in raising the profile of women's golf, but it has also advocated for equality within the sport. It has launched several initiatives, such as the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program, to encourage young girls to play golf, and has pushed for increased recognition and financial reward for women golfers.
The evolution and expansion of the LPGA has been pivotal to the growth and development of women's golf, making it a truly global and inclusive sport. Its journey demonstrates how far women's golf has come, while also highlighting the work still needed to ensure complete equality in the sport.
Where Women’s Golf Stands Today
Today, golf is played by women across the world, connecting female players internationally. According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of women in golf saw a significant rise post Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, there were about 6.4 million female golfers, up from 5.6 million just three years prior.
Women's golf has seen an increase in both popularity and visibility. Major tournaments are televised globally and the presence of women's golf on social media and online platforms has expanded, attracting a younger and more diverse audience.
Particularly noteworthy is the rise and significant representation of Asian players, especially from South Korea, which has produced many world-class golfers in recent years.
The most notable stars that currently compete on tour are golfers such as Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko, showcasing a high caliber of play that pushes the boundaries of the sport.
In fact, Nelly Korda became the youngest women's golf champion in the history of the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 at the age of 16, while Jin Young Ko is currently the World No.1 in the Women’s World Golf Rankings and holds the record for the most consecutive bogey-free holes on the LPGA Tour. In 2019, she went 114 holes without making a bogey, breaking a 13-year-old record.
Jin Young Ko made her breakthrough onto the international scene with a victory at the 2017 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, an event co-sanctioned by the LPGA of Korea Tour and the LPGA Tour. [Source: The New York Times]
Trailblazers in Women's Golf
While there are many remarkable golfers who have graced the women's game, we’ve compiled a list of those whose impact has been particularly profound.
Here are some of the most notable trailblazers in women’s golf:
Lady Margaret Scott: Considered one of the starting pioneers of women’s golf in the UK, Scott was a remarkable golfer who won the first three Women's Amateur Championships in the late 1890s.
Joyce Wethered: Considered one of the greatest female golfers of all time, Wethered’s brilliant career spanned the 1920s and 1930s, during which she won four Women's British Open titles and five English Ladies' Championships.
Glenna Collett Vare: Another luminary of the early 20th century, Vare dominated American women's golf in the 1920s and 1930s. She won the U.S. Women's Amateur six times — a record that still stands today.
Patty Berg: A founding member of the LPGA, Berg won a record 15 major championships — the most in LPGA history. Over the course of her career from the 1930s through the 1960s, she accumulated a total of 60 victories on the LPGA Tour.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias: Arguably one of the most influential figures in women's golf, Zaharias was an gifted athlete who turned her focus to golf in the mid-1930s and quickly made her mark. She became the first American to win the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship and the first woman to compete against men in a PGA Tour event. Zaharias was a founding member of the LPGA and won 10 LPGA major championships. Her fearless attitude and outstanding skill broke barriers and changed the perception of women's golf.
Nancy Lopez: An influential figure in the sport, Lopez won 48 LPGA Tour events, including three majors. She was instrumental in increasing the popularity of women's golf in the 1970s and 80s.
Annika Sorenstam: A dominant force in women's golf from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, the Swedish player won 72 LPGA Tour events, including 10 majors. In 2003, she became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since 1945.
Lorena Ochoa: The first Mexican golfer to be ranked number one in the world, Ochoa held this position for 158 consecutive weeks playing in the mid-2000s.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias was the first woman to compete against men in a PGA Tour event. [Source: The Ledger]
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