Women in Golf: A Brief History

Here’s some trivia for you. Do you know who the first female professional golfer was? If you guessed Helen Hicks, you’re correct! And once she got started, there was no stopping the movement of women in golf.

Helen became the first female professional golfer in 1934 after signing a contract with the Wilson Sporting Goods Company to promote their line of golf equipment. But she also played a pretty excellent game of golf before that, enjoying success as an amateur and later becoming one of the 13 founders of the LPGA tour.

Following in her footsteps were other notable female professionals known for  playing golf, including Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg, Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, and Michelle Wie.

A Long Drive for Women Playing Golf

While participation of women in golf is continually growing to new heights each year, the road to get there wasn’t easy. Mary, Queen of Scots, is noted by some as the first female to play golf. During her reign, the famous St. Andrews Links golf course was built and she’s credited for coining the term “caddie,” derived from the word “cadets” which she called her assistants.

Unfortunately, women’s relationship with the game went downhill from there. On trial in 1587, her prosecutors suggested that because she’d played golf days after the death of her husband, her character must have been questionable. Sadly, she was beheaded.

Whether poor Mary, Queen of Scots was the reason or not, women seemed to disappear from golf altogether for nearly 300 years. While the men of Scotland embraced the game, women were either not interested in playing golf, or more likely, discouraged from engaging in what was becoming a gentleman’s game.

One Woman Levels the Field Playing Golf

Although golf began as an elitist and male-dominated sport, there was a growing acceptance of women playing golf at the turn of the century. It was actually a top female golfer, Isette Miller, who played a crucial role in developing the handicap system in 1893.

In 1917, the Women’s Tournament Committee of the United States Golf Association (U.S.G.A.) was formed, which became the Women’s Committee of the U.S.G.A. in 1934 – bring us back full circle to Helen Hicks becoming the first professional woman golfer.

Women in Golf By the Numbers

25 – Number of golf clubs in the U.S. that limited memberships to men only in 2012, according to NBC. The most well-known is Augusta in Georgia.

19% – Percentage of all golfers who are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

80 Million – Number of golfers worldwide, according to HSBC.

30 Million – Number of female participants in the World Golf Foundation (WGF) as of 2017, according to Golf Week.

48% – Number of women who say they want to learn golf with other beginners, according to the National Golf Foundation.

5.6 Million – Number of female on-course golfers (age 6+) in 2019, according to the NGF.

It’s Never Too Late to Start Playing Golf

If you’re a woman looking to get into the game of golf, it’s never too late to begin. And with the beautiful Westlake Golf & Country Club right in your NJ backyard, there’s no reason not to get started today!