Ladies on the Links

By contrast with many other sports, golf was open to women from the beginning, and American women developed a keen interest in the game. Golf’s relaxed pace, individual play, and pleasant surroundings seemed to make it particularly fitting for upper-class women, who were generally discouraged from more strenuous athletic pursuits. The New York Times advised in 1898, “The woman who wishes to be good and beautiful, which is to be healthy, must play golf.”

The popularity of golf among women added to the success of the early country clubs, where young women found opportunities to discover their talents for the game. Women amateurs could compete with each other at their clubs, in regional championships through the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association (organized in 1899) and at a national level in the USGA Women’s Championship, which was first held in 1895. Winning the USGA Women’s Amateur title in 1904 made Brooklawn’s Georgianna Bishop the first national champion of either gender from Connecticut.

While women were members of clubs from the beginning, they did not always participate on equal terms with men in golf’s early years. Their playing times were often restricted on weekends and other popular tee times. At clubs around the country from the 1890s through the 1950s, men held the governing roles, while women took charge of the clubs’ social calendar and décor. They often used separate spaces within the club to organize events for civic causes as well as for recreation.

Over time, due to the success of women golfers like Glenna Collett, Babe Zaharias, and Patty Berg, women gained recognition as professional golfers, establishing the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in 1950. And with growing demands for women’s equality in sports and across society, women gradually gained access and greater equality within the world of golf at schools, private clubs, and public courses.