The History of Women & Golf
Golf has long been considered the sport of business networking. Sadly, it has also long been considered a man’s sport. Despite the fact that the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour is older than the PGA Tour by nearly twenty years, discrimination against women runs rampant in the sport.
In fact, the number one ranked golf course in the United States, Pine Valley, didn’t agree to allow female members until May 2021. (Yes, you read that right.)
Thankfully, this hasn’t swayed women from dominating the sport and participating in golf networking events.
According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of female golfers, adult and junior, has surpassed 6 million in the past three years. The percentage of women on the course also rose to 25% in 2021 (where it continues to stand today), up from 19% a decade ago.
From players to professionals in the golf industry, women have contributed significantly to the game. Here’s a brief glimpse into the history of women and golf:
4 Historic Women in Golf
Queen of Scots
The first recorded female to play golf was Mary, Queen of Scots. She ruled Scotland from 1542 to 1567, and it was during her reign that the ever-famous St. Andrews Links golf course was built.
Not only did she kickstart the eventual normalization of women playing golf, but she was also credited for creating the term “caddie.” She derived it from the word “cadets” which was how she referred to her assistants.
In other words, her influence on golf lives on today in our language! (Talk about reigning the game.)
Unfortunately, her regular participation in the sport cast some doubt upon her character. In 1567 her husband, Lord Darnley, was murdered. A few short months later, she married the leading suspect, the Earl of Bothwell.
In the trial, it was suggested that she was involved in the assassination plot with the evidence pointing to the fact that she was seen playing golf within days of the murder.
Perhaps because of these events and the Queen’s continued turbulent life (she was eventually beheaded for treason in England in 1587), it wasn’t until nearly 250 years later that the first recorded golf tournament for women occurred.
By the end of the 19th century, women playing golf was not only normalized but started to become popular. At the time, the woman leading the game was Issette Miller who invented the first fold handicapping system.
This system allowed less experienced golfers to level the playing field – and is still used today.
Not only did this allow women of mixed abilities to play with one another, but it also enabled men and women to compete together, which contributed to women being seen as more legitimate in the game.
By the 1930s, women started to get recognized professionally. Helen Hicks was the first professional golfer in the women’s game, signed to a sporting goods company, Wilson-Western.
Hicks won two tournaments that are now major tournaments on the LPGA tour: the 1937 Women’s Western Open and the 1940 Titleholders Championship.
Despite all this, women around the world faced criticism and ridicule for participating in golf. In fact, many clubs ensured that no woman would enter their clubhouses.
One of the most iconic names in the women’s golf game is Babe Zaharias. Considered a true legend, Zaharias didn’t take no for an answer.
In response to being denied amateur status in the women’s game, she went on to compete in the 1938 LA Open, a men’s professional tournament. Although she was unable to make the cut after the first two (of three) rounds, she was the first woman to attempt to play in a PGA event.
Zaharias also remained the only woman to do so until 2003.
She went on to become a golf sensation in the 1940s and 50s and won a grand total of 82 amateur and professional golf tournaments, including all golf titles available at the time and an unmatched achievement of 14 straight amateur wins.
Founding the Ladies Professional Golf Association
As women continued to make history in the game, it became clear that a separate association was needed to advocate for and create space for them. The formation of the Women’s Professional Golf Association, or the WPGA, was the first major step in doing so.
Chartered by three prominent golfers – Hope Seignious, Betty Hicks, and Ellen Griffin – in 1944, the WPGA paved the way for more female golfers to rise to fame. However, the time and money required to fund a golf association quickly became a challenge.
The group’s founders themselves were the ones organizing tournaments and maintaining the course through menial chores. In a short five years, the WPGA shut down due to financial struggle.
Fortunately, the WPGA’s run proved the need for a dedicated association for female golfers. In 1950, the Ladies Professional Golf Association was formed by the original three founders of the WPGA along with 10 others.
Today, the LPGA is one of the longest-running women’s professional sports associations in the world. In addition to hosting the LPGA Tour, the group maintains a strong presence in charity work through its tournaments and nurtures young talent through its grassroots junior and women’s programs.
Dominating the Game
In the years since the founding of the LPGA, golf has risen in popularity around the world. Countries like Japan, Ireland, and the UK all rival the United States in terms of golf popularity. Every day citizens play just as often as businessmen and women get out on the greens.
Arguably, the most esteemed women’s golfers hail from South Korea. In fact, Michelle Sung Wie made history with her debut at the 2000 U.S.G.A. Women’s Amateur event as the youngest player to qualify at the age of 10.
She went on to blaze trails for women by winning the U.S.G.A.’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at the record young age of 13 in 2003, qualifying for an LPGA event at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2004, and becoming the fourth and youngest woman to play in a PGA Tour event, the 2004 Sony Open in Hawaii.
Other Korean golfers went on to make similar history, including names like Lydia Ko, Inbee Park, Sung Hyun Park, So Yeon Ryu, and many more.
Athletes from South Korea have repeatedly mentioned that few other countries compare the intensity with which golf is practiced. Culturally, this is because of the government-backed dedication to sports in Korea.
When a player reaches a certain level, everything from their schooling to their practice time is centered around achieving global recognition. Players enter an academy-style program for their sport and dedicate all of their time to training.
South Korean golfers are therefore more likely than their worldwide competitors to exceed because of the limited number of non-sport recreational activities available to them.
Still, women around the world cultivate their passion and talent for golf in different ways. Whether it’s playing professionally, learning for the sake of networking, or enjoying recreational tee time, there is room for women on the greens – now and always.
Women at Golf Networking Events
It is especially important for underrepresented groups to pull up a seat at the table – in any industry. By amplifying the voices of those who have been historically excluded, we allow room for change to happen ethically and equitably.
As a cannabis golf tournament, the TeeHC Open prioritizes women, BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color), and other marginalized identities as attendees.
The cannabis industry boasts women of all demographics across the entire spectrum. From corporate leadership positions to budtenders and cultivators, we are seeing more and more women enter the industry.
In fact, the hosts of the TeehC Open are more than 50% women-owned and operated. From our event photographers and DJs to the industry professionals in attendance, our team is dedicated to curating an inclusive list of guests for our invite-only event.