If your life depended on sinking a putt, who would you choose to back you – Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, or Ben Crenshaw?
There are numerous contentious choices, but it is improbable that the majority would turn to a team of females from Fife, Scotland, who lack professional golf experience and are generally older than the average Tour player.
Maybe they should, as entrusting one’s life to the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club means relying on a group with over 150 years of experience in the short game.
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The group was founded in 1867 and holds the distinction of being the oldest women’s golf club in the world. This accomplishment can be attributed to determined women who love the sport, as well as some unhappy men.
Daughters of individuals belonging to the prestigious St. Andrews Royal & Ancient (R&A) Club, known as the birthplace of golf, expressed interest in playing the sport. However, it was not a common pastime for women at the time. Instead, activities such as croquet and archery were more commonly chosen due to limited options for women.
The caddies were eager to have the women leave the putting course, which was typically reserved for those working with the members’ golf bags during breaks between rounds.
“The club archivist, Eve Soulsby, stated to CNN’s The Jazzy Golfer that the members did not enjoy it and she believes they were not fond of it either.”
Putting things right
However, the caddies faced a dilemma. Since they were employed by the club, they were unable to voice their grievances to the members. A solution was soon reached – the women would be granted a parcel of land adjacent to the well-known Swilcan Bridge, which they could utilize as a nine-hole putting course.
It was a rough area, filled with rabbit holes, divots and sand, but it was a start. One month later, 22 women competed at the St. Andrews Ladies Golf Club’s inaugural tournament.
The news spread rapidly. In the late 1880s, the group had expanded to 600 members, including male associates. Currently, there is a continuously growing waitlist to become one of the 140 members, a deliberately limited amount to maintain smooth operation of tournaments.
Shortly after, the course’s resident player and greenkeeper, known as the “founding father of golf,” Old Tom Morris, suggested that the ladies should explore the nearby Himalaya area of the course, named for its hilly terrain.
Morris readied the space for the club prior to his retirement in 1895, at which point he was granted an honorary membership.
According to Soulsby, the initial members of the club played a crucial part in promoting greater independence for women in St. Andrews during the late 1800s. This was evidenced by the establishment of a women’s course, which is still in use today alongside the Himalaya’s putting course.
The proceeds from visitors on the putting course are given to charity, except for last year when they were donated to Ukrainian organizations.
The Jubilee Course, established in 1897, was originally known as “The Duffers Course” for women. This name reflected the prevailing sentiments towards women at the time. Soulsby stated, “We choose to overlook that piece of history.”
Sylvia Dunne, the current president of the club, carries the torch for the early pioneers.
Since 2011, Dunne has been assisting in arranging the group’s weekly tournaments. These tournaments consist of a two-round event on Wednesday afternoons and a one-round competition on Thursday mornings, specifically designed for older members who may have difficulty participating in multiple rounds.
She stated that the camaraderie and social aspect of the club are also important, as it provides a sense of community and prevents boredom for older individuals who may not be able to play golf anymore.
“The most enjoyable aspect is what comes after, as they offer coffee, biscuits, and lively conversation.”
Winners of competitions during the early 1900s may have had the opportunity to receive a prestigious reward. The initial royal contribution to the club was given by Prince Leopold, the youngest child of Queen Victoria, and additional trophies were later donated by Edward VIII and King George VI.
Previously, R&A captains used to contribute trophies, but currently they compete against the Ladies Putting Club in a yearly 18 vs 18 putting match.
Dunne is one of the most prolific putters at the club, sweeping six trophies in a single season during her best year. However, she admits the putting green can be a cruel mistress, even for her.
“She expressed her frustration one day, saying, ‘We have a reward at the end of the season for the most holes in one. Shouldn’t we also recognize the most near misses?'”
“There is a significant amount of skill required, but there is also a strong element of chance. Certain days, the ball may roll in your favor, while other days it may not find its way into the hole.”