The pioneering ladies who brought women’s golf to the fore

Eileen Tweedi teeing off the first at North Berwick c.1936.
Eileen Tweedi teeing off the first at North Berwick c.1936.
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They were the pioneering women who strived for parity between the sexes both on and off the course.

Now, a light has been shed on some of the earliest members of North Berwick Women’s Golf Club in a new book charting the history of the club from its formation in 1888 to the present day.

Par for the Ladies, which features a foreword from North Berwick-based golfer Catriona Matthew, reveals the fascinating story behind the club’s development from its male-operated beginnings to becoming fully integrated into the North Berwick Golf Club in 2005.

And author Ailsa Fortune says parallels could be drawn with the historical struggles women faced on and off the course.

“There is an element of social history to it in the way women were treated at the time the club was formed,” she said.

“The men only allowed a women’s club as long as they had a shorter, separate course to play on and women only got the right to run the club in 1922.

“That was only really caused by the First World War when women took over a lot of the jobs men had left behind, but for 34 years before then it had been male-run.

“In the 1930s, women started wearing trousers on the course for the first time, that caused outrage among the men.”

While male members were able to enjoy a full round of 18 holes, women were forced on to the smaller, nine-hole course for almost 50 years after their club’s formation, before finally gaining the right to play on the full links course in 1935 – however, full voting right were not acquired until 2005.

Ailsa, a former history teacher at Boroughmuir High School, was encouraged to write the book by a friend who is a current member of the club and discovered former members included some of the country’s elite in the late 19th and early 20th century

“At that point, North Berwick was a mecca for the wealthiest residents of Edinburgh, Glasgow and even as far afield as London,” she said.

“Princess Helena Victoria, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, golfed regularly at North Berwick in the 1920s.

“She chose to stay at Gullane and travel the four miles to North Berwick in a chauffeur-driven car to golf before hosting glittering parties in the ­evenings for the golfing set.

“Nancy Astor, the first female Member of Parliament, was also a regular, so there’s quite a lineage there.”

North Berwick is able to boast a proud golfing legacy, particularly among the women’s game, with the likes of Dorothy Campbell and Elsie Grant Suttie – two of the most dominant female golfers of their time – perfecting their game on the links.

Matthew, who lives in the town, wrote in her foreword that the club was integral to her success and said it is vital to the town as a whole.

“I believe that encouraging youngsters to play any sport is a good thing and nowadays girls have as many sporting opportunities as boys,” she writes.

“Par for the Ladies highlights the enduring importance of golf at North Berwick and in particular the ladies’ game.”