HomeSportsFrom feminist pioneers to putting pros, the historic journey of the St....

From feminist pioneers to putting pros, the historic journey of the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club

CNN — Who would you trust to sink a putt and save your life? Tiger Woods? Jack Nicklaus? Ben Crenshaw? There are numerous options to debate, but it’s unlikely many would consider a group of women in Fife, Scotland. However, perhaps they should, because entrusting your life to the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club means relying on an organization with over 150 years of short game experience.

Established in 1867, the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club is the oldest ladies golf club in the world. This title is owed to a group of determined women who loved golf and some disgruntled men. When the daughters of members of the St. Andrews Royal & Ancient (R&A) Club, widely regarded as the historic home of the game, expressed their desire to play golf, it was not a conventional activity for women. Traditional choices such as croquet and archery were more commonly available.

When these women ventured onto the caddy’s putting course, which was used by those handling the members’ golf bags, the caddies wanted them gone immediately. However, as employees of the club, they couldn’t complain to the members. A compromise was reached when the women were allotted a piece of land next to the iconic Swilcan Bridge to use as a nine-hole putting course. Though the area was rough, filled with rabbit holes, divots, and sand, it was a starting point.

Just one month later, 22 women participated in the St. Andrews Ladies Golf Club’s first tournament. Word about the club soon spread, and by the late 1880s, membership had grown to 600, including male associate members. Today, there is a growing waiting list to join the 140-strong membership, which is deliberately kept low to ensure smooth tournaments.

Old Tom Morris, the course’s player and greenkeeper often referred to as the “founding father of golf,” later suggested that the ladies should visit the nearby Himalaya section of the course. Morris prepared the area for the club and retired in 1895 as an honorary member. The ladies’ course, alongside the Himalaya’s putting course, remains playable to this day.

The income generated from visitors to the putting course is donated to local charities, with an exception made last year to support Ukrainian organizations. The women’s designated 18 holes, officially named The Jubilee Course and opened in 1897, was originally referred to as “The Duffers Course,” reflecting the prevailing attitudes towards women during that era.

Among the current torchbearers for these early pioneers is Sylvia Dunne, the club’s president. Dunne, who has been a member since 2011, helps organize the group’s weekly tournaments. The camaraderie and social aspect of the club are important, particularly for the elderly members who may struggle to manage multiple rounds. “The best part is afterwards because they have coffee and biscuits and a chat,” Dunne said.

In the early 20th century, members who won tournaments were fortunate enough to receive royal prizes. The club’s first regal donation came from Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria, and other trophies followed from Edward VIII and King George VI. In the past, R&A captains also donated trophies. However, they now engage in an annual 18 vs 18 putting competition against the Ladies Putting Club.

Dunne is one of the club’s most successful putters, winning six trophies in a single season during her best year. However, she acknowledges that the putting green can be unforgiving, even for her. “One day recently I was so exasperated,” she said. “We have a prize at the end of the season for the most holes in one – so I suggested, isn’t it time we had a prize for the most near misses? There is a lot of skill involved, but there’s also a lot of luck. Some days the ball rolls for you, and other days it will not drop in the hole.”