Women’s golf 125 years ago

Ready for the tee-off, 1897

Gullane is currently hosting the 2022 Women’s Open. These are the competitors for the Ladies Open in 1897.

They’re gathered outside the Old Clubhouse – since extended and now a very fine pub.

Women’s golf was in the ascendancy then and was largely for the well-to-do middle and aristocratic classes.

This was the first championship in Scotland hosted by the Ladies Golf Union. Gullane offered a challenging course for the 102 competitors.

There was a degree of distance between the Scottish and English golfers. This wasn’t helped by a incident in the old primary school (now the village library) which was used as a tea room. A party of English golfers came in and were charged double what they’d paid the previous day – because they had sat at window seats with a view over the course.

It was the Scots who dominated with devastating form. The final was between two sisters from North Berwick, Theodora and Edith Orr.

As a contemporary noted, it was a good exhibition of steady golf in dreich conditions but Edith (pictured below) outplayed Theodora “somewhat easily, her shots all through being beautifully judged, especially the full iron shots or half iron approaches, which never failed to be within a putt of the hole.”

It was, however, a resounding success and paved the way for future generations of female golfers, despite opposition from diehard men who defined olf as Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.

Back in 1897 the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers had only recently established itself at Muirfield at the other end of Gullane. Women could previously play the course but the all-male membership remained for century. This has now been dropped and hosting this year’s Women’s Open marks a new start.

Women’s football was beginning to gather momentum in 1900 but only really took off in World War One with munitions workers teams. It was a short-lived ascent until the ban imposed by the English FA in 1921 and followed by other home nations.

However, this week’s UEFA triumph for England’s Lionesses will generate new interest in the beautiful game among young women. About time too…..

Further reading

Ailsa Fortune’s “Par for the Ladies” (Stanton Press, North Berwick, 2016 ) is a meticulously researched and brilliantly written account of the Orr sisters and other early women golfers from North Berwick.

Categories: gems from the archive, history on the web

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