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Golf’s Grass Ceiling: St Andrews Ladies Putting Club

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The St Andrews Ladies Putting Club is a revered institution based at the Old Course at St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, adjacent to one of the most storied golf courses in the world. With a history of over 150 years, it’s the world’s oldest ladies’ golf club and has played a pivotal role in the evolution of women’s golf and its promotion, paving the way for greater participation and recognition.

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This post will explore the club’s unique origins and intriguing history. We’ll learn how this pioneering institution has navigated the challenges of its era, endured, and inspired countless women to embrace the sport. The club’s home base is the Himalayas putting green, dating back to 1867.

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Genesis of the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club

The club was founded in 1867 when golf was predominantly male-dominated, and women were often excluded from playing on prestigious courses. The ladies of St Andrews recognized the need for a dedicated space where they could practice and enjoy the game without facing societal barriers.

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Old Tom Morris played a pivotal role in establishing and growing the club. As the resident “keeper of the greens” at St Andrews Links, Morris prepared the area for the club before retiring in 1895, when he was made an honorary member. Morris recognized the necessity for a dedicated space where the women of St Andrews could practice and enjoy the game.

His support and involvement in creating the ladies’ putting course, known as the “Duffers Course,” was instrumental in providing the women with a space to play and compete.  Morris’s contributions to the club, in terms of course preparation and advocacy for women’s participation in golf, were crucial in the early years and helped pave the way for its growth and success over the following decades.

In its early years, the club confronted numerous obstacles, including a lack of access to proper facilities and societal biases against women’s sports participation. However, the members persisted, and over time, they earned recognition and respect within the local community.

Himalayas Putting Course

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Old Tom Morris laid out a nine-hole course on either side of a fisherman’s path known as ‘Jordan’ in an area previously used by local washerwomen for drying clothes. Initially, only a cleek and putter were used to play the nine-hole course. Over time, the course was expanded to 27 holes, with nine holes for beginners and an 18-hole layout for more experienced players. 

The Himalayas have long been considered one of the world’s most interesting and prestigious putting courses, and it is known for its undulating greens.  Alister MacKenzie, who had a profound affection for St Andrews, described it as “the most interesting putting course I have ever seen” and said, “First-class golfers consider it a privilege to be invited there and are to be found putting with the greatest enthusiasm from early morning till late at night.” 

The Himalayas Putting Course at St Andrews is the oldest putting course in the world, dating back to 1867.  It features a series of undulating greens intentionally designed to be challenging, with slopes and contours that can make even the shortest putts tricky. This unique design has made the Himalayas Putting Ground a popular destination for casual players and enthusiasts over the past century and a quarter.

Women’s Events at the Home of Golf

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St Andrews has been the site of numerous notable women’s events and achievements. In 1895, the club hosted the first-ever Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship, won by Lady Margaret Scott. This event helped to establish the club’s reputation as a premier destination for women’s golf.

In 1938, the club hosted the Curtis Cup, a prestigious team event that pits the best amateur golfers from Great Britain and Ireland against their counterparts from the United States. The event was a resounding success, further cementing the club’s status as a leading institution in women’s golf.

The AIG Women’s Open, one of the most prestigious championships in women’s golf, has been hosted at St Andrews’ iconic Old Course multiple times, with the event returning in 2024 for the third time. This championship highlights St Andrews’ commitment to promoting gender equality in the sport. The integration of these tournaments at St Andrews is a testament to the progress and recognition of the women’s game.

St Andrews has been instrumental in offering female amateurs and professionals a platform to showcase their talents. The St Rule Trophy, for example, is a globally recognized competition for amateur females, helping them attain points for the World Amateur Golf Rankings. This tournament and the St Andrews Junior Ladies’ Open emphasize the importance of providing competitive opportunities and promoting women’s amateur golf.

St Andrews Ladies Putting Club Today

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Today, the club remains a vibrant institution, and the course attracts visitors from around the world to play the Himalayas. Open to the public, it’s a fun way to spend time on a trip to the Home of Golf. The club also promotes and develops women’s golf, hosting various events and competitions annually.

The members take great pride in their heritage and work tirelessly to preserve their traditions and values. As the sport evolves, the club continues to inspire generations of women to take up the game, with ongoing efforts to promote and celebrate the achievements of female golfers. The course remains open from April to September, with the layout changed every Wednesday to offer new challenges. 

Further Reading

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The Spirit of St Andrews
by Alister McKenzie

Summary: Alister MacKenzie was one of golf’s greatest architects.  He designed his courses so players of all skill levels could enjoy the game while creating fantastic challenges for the most experienced players.  MacKenzie’s courses, such as Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Pasatiempo, remain in the top 100 today.  

In his “lost” 1933 manuscript, published for the first time in 1995 and now finally available in paperback, MacKenzie leads you through the evolution of golf–from St. Andrews to the modern-day golf course–and shares his insight on great golf holes the swing, technology and equipment, putting tips, the USGA, the Royal & Ancient, and more.  With fascinating stories about Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, and many others, The Spirit of St.  Andrews gives valuable lessons for all golfers and an intimate portrait of Alister MacKenzie, a true legend of the game.

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Golf Courses of the British Isles
by Bernard Darwin

Summary: “Golf Courses of the British Isles” by Bernard Darwin is a classic text that explores and celebrates the unique beauty and challenges of golf courses throughout the British Isles. Darwin, a revered golf writer and grandson of Charles Darwin, provides insightful commentary on the architecture, history, and character of iconic courses, blending personal anecdotes with expert analysis. His vivid descriptions transport readers to the very greens and fairways of famous venues, highlighting their natural beauty and the intricacies of their design. The book, illustrated with evocative drawings by Harry Rountree, remains a timeless tribute to the game of golf and is considered a must-read for enthusiasts of the sport and its storied landscapes.

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Scotland’s Gift, Golf
by Charles Blair MacDonald

Summary: Scotland’s Gift, Golf is a masterpiece of early golf literature, written by the Father of American Golf Course Architecture, C.B. MacDonald. Considered by historians to be the most important book ever written on early American golf, this book details the birth of golf in the United States in the late nineteenth century and the formation of the U.S.G.A. in 1894.

In addition to a detailed summary of the characteristics of an ideal golf course, this guide provides rare insight into the methods and philosophies that MacDonald used to design some of the world’s most renowned courses, including the National Golf Links of America, Mid-Ocean Club, Lido, and Yale Golf Club. It also includes personal anecdotes and correspondence describing the development of the rules of golf, as well as the evolution of the modern golf ball and golf club.

Written in 1928, this book features 56 black-and-white photographs from the author’s personal collection, including rare photos of Bobby Jones, Young Tom Morris, and Francis Ouimet. Also included is an appendix which highlights the oldest surviving rules of golf from 1754, as well as the amended version from 1858.

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A Course Called Scotland
by Tom Coyne

Summary: For much of his adult life, best-selling author Tom Coyne has been chasing a golf ball around the globe. When he was in college, studying abroad in London, he entered the lottery for a prized tee time in Scotland, grabbing his clubs and jumping the train to St. Andrews as his friends partied in Amsterdam; later, he golfed the entirety of Ireland’s coastline, chased pros through the mini-tours, and attended grueling Qualifying Schools in Australia, Canada, and Latin America. Yet, as he watched the greats compete, he felt something was missing. Then one day a friend suggested he attempt to play every links course in Scotland, and qualify for the greatest championship in golf. 

The result is A Course Called Scotland, a hilarious golf and travel adventure throughout the birthplace of the sport and home to some of the oldest and most beloved courses in the world, including St. Andrews, Turnberry, Dornoch, Prestwick, Troon, and Carnoustie.

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