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Women have been at the heart of golf’s journey.

From the fishwives of Musselburgh, who competed on links in 1795, to the modern stars who play for millions on professional tours, they have helped the game grow and develop into what it is today.

Yet their role has been less heralded than their male counterparts and they have often faced greater challenges and obstacles. For that very reason though, their history in the game is perhaps more compelling, inspiring and engrossing.

Now the R&A World Golf Museum in St Andrews is shining a light on this rich tapestry with its exhibition Pass it on: Women’s Experiences in Golf.

Angela Howe, Director of Museum & Heritage at The R&A, explained: “The AIG Women’s Open is coming to St Andrews in August and we really wanted to take the opportunity to showcase and celebrate the collection of women’s golfing memorabilia. We have a fantastic collection that we’ve been accumulating since the Museum opened in 1990.”

What’s in the collection?

David Mack’s Members Only painting.
David Mach’s Members Only was painted in 2015 in response to the first women admitted as members of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews a year earlier.

The exhibition includes previously unseen collections, new research and the stories of golfers themselves.

There’s a short film showing archive and contemporary footage of women in golf. There are also clips from a study by Dr Lauren Beatty that explored women’s golf between 1945 and 1995. Her interviews give a fascinating insight into the motivations for women who got involved with the game over that time and the challenges they faced. They look at different topics from playing golf competitively to holiday golf and the enjoyment gained from it.

These oral histories are complemented by a wealth of artworks and photographs which document the path of the women’s game. They are an interesting insight to the changing face of the game, with some being, as Angela says drily, “of their time”.

She added: “There are some satirical cartoons which expose the more misogynistic attitudes that were common in the past.”

Another painting marks one of the most recent controversies to envelop the game. David Mach’s Members Only was painted in 2015 in response to the first women admitted as members of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews a year earlier. The collage-style work depicts a woman golfer with a wall of men behind her.

Angela said: “It’s quite tongue-in-cheek and you could ask yourself, ‘Are they blocking her, or are they supporting her?’. So it’s perhaps quite ambiguous, but I think it’s really relevant for the exhibition, and lends something a bit different.”

A tale of change and progress

A screen giving access to woman's oral histories of the game.
Visitors will be able to hear spoken accounts of women’s experiences in the game.

Other works show the different clothing that told the tale of their times. An 1886 photograph shows women playing golf in long dresses with bustles and tight corsets.

Meanwhile, an outfit worn by trailblazer Gloria Minoprio at the 1933 English Ladies Championship tells a different tale. Her navy tailored trousers caused the Ladies’ Golf Union to issue a press release criticising her choice of dress. But, as Angela says: “You make these statements and from that things start to change.” It was not long after that women started to wear trousers and it was no longer frowned upon.

A tribute to the trailblazers

Mickey Walker's Solheim Cup bag and shirt.
The bag of Europe’s first Solheim Cup Captain, Mickey Walker, is on display.

The exhibition will also look at famous figures from the game, such as Jessie Valentine, who was the first female golfer to be awarded an MBE.

Angela continued: “We have her Scottish Women’s Amateur Gold Medal. Her MBE was a really significant milestone, for women golfers to be recognised in that way.”

Visitors to the exhibition will also be able to see the bag of Europe’s first Solheim Cup Captain, Mickey Walker.

Most importantly, the exhibition is a tribute to the women who broke down barriers and paved the way for today’s game. Take the Ladies’ Golf Union, which formed in 1893. In that year, they established a national championship and a handicapping scheme.

Angela said: “These were major achievements when you’ve only just formed. All credit to these women who put themselves out there and made a difference. That’s why we can have an exhibition like this today and celebrate it.”

Pass it on: Women’s Experiences in Golf is open now at the R&A World Golf Museum in St Andrews.

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