If your life depended on it, who would you trust to make a crucial putt? Tiger Woods? Jack Nicklaus? Ben Crenshaw?
There are numerous debatable choices, but it is unlikely that many people would consider a team of women from Fife, Scotland who have no professional experience in golf, and many of whom are older than the typical Tour player.
Maybe they should consider it, as trusting the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club means relying on a group with more than 150 years of experience in the short game.
Top-rated golf courses in Scotland
The group was founded in 1867 and is recognized as the oldest women’s golf club in existence. This achievement is thanks to determined women who loved the sport, despite facing opposition from some discontented men.
The St. Andrews Royal & Ancient (R&A) Club, known as the birthplace of golf, initially did not offer golf as an option for women. Instead, traditional activities like croquet and archery were available for female members.
The caddies quickly wanted the women to leave the putting course they had ventured onto. This course was typically used by the golf bag attendants during breaks between rounds.
“They were not pleased with it, and I don’t believe the club members were very fond of it either,” stated club archivist Eve Soulsby in an interview with CNN’s The Jazzy Golfer.
Putting things right
However, the caddies faced a predicament as they were unable to voice their concerns to the club members. A solution was reached through a compromise – providing the women with a plot of land near the well-known Swilcan Bridge to create a nine-hole putting course.
The location was challenging, with many burrows, pits, and sandy patches, but it marked the beginning. After a month, 22 female competitors took part in the first-ever tournament at St. Andrews Ladies Golf Club.
The news spread rapidly. In the late 1880s, the group had expanded to 600 people, including male associate members. Currently, there is a constantly growing list of people waiting to become part of the 140-member group, which is intentionally kept small to maintain smooth operation of tournaments.
Afterwards, Old Tom Morris, the resident player and greenkeeper of the course, known as the “founder of golf,” proposed that the ladies should visit the nearby Himalaya area of the course, which was named after its hilly terrain.
In 1895, Morris retired from his position and was made an honorary member after preparing the club’s area.
According to Soulsby, the initial members of the club were instrumental in helping women in St. Andrews gain more autonomy during the late 1800s. He mentions the establishment of a women’s course and the Himalaya’s putting course, both of which can still be played today.
The money earned from guests at the putting course is given to charitable causes in the community. However, last year, an exception was made to allocate funds to Ukrainian organizations.
In 1897, The Jubilee Course was officially opened and designated as the women’s 18-hole course, known as “The Duffers Course.” This name reflected the prevailing attitudes towards women at that time. Soulsby acknowledged this history but stated that it is now disregarded.
Sylvia Dunne, the current president of the club, is one of the individuals who continue to honor the legacy of the early pioneers.
Dunne has been a member since 2011 and plays a key role in coordinating the group’s weekly tournaments. These tournaments consist of a two-round showcase on Wednesday afternoons and a one-round competition on Thursday mornings, specifically designed for older members who may have difficulty playing multiple rounds.
“She mentioned the sense of camaraderie and social aspect of the club, as getting older and being unable to play golf could lead to spending all day at home with nothing to do.”
“Afterwards is the best part because they offer coffee, biscuits, and lively conversation.”
During the early 1900s, fortunate members of the club may have had the opportunity to win a prestigious prize. The initial royal contribution was given by Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, and subsequent trophies were donated by Edward VIII and King George VI.
Previously, R&A captains contributed trophies, but currently they compete against the Ladies Putting Club in a yearly event where 18 members from each club participate in a putting challenge.
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 give out a prize at the end of the season for the most holes in one. I proposed that we also have a prize for the most near misses.”
“There is a significant amount of both skill and luck involved. Some days, the ball may roll in your favor, while other days it may not make it into the hole.”