The Ladies Professional Golf Association was established by 13 women golfers in 1950, one year after the first professional women’s golf organization disbanded. Six years prior to the creation of the LPGA, a group of women created the Women’s Professional Golf Association, but women had played golf long before their first professional league.
One of the first women golfers is said to be Mary, Queen of Scots back in the mid-1500s. According to Golf College, she built a golf course in St. Andrews and developed the term “caddies.” The first women’s golf tournament was played in January 1811 in Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland, but the first golf tournament that allowed women to play in America wasn’t until 1895 in Hempstead, New York.
The Women’s Professional Golf Association lasted five years before being disbanded in 1949, but the presence of the organization made it clear a women’s golf organization was wanted.
The founding of the WPGA helped paved the way for the founding of the LPGA. In the beginning, the newly established LPGA struggled with creating year long tournaments, but in 1959, the organization established a teaching division. The first televised LPGA Tour was in 1963. Following the first televised women’s golf professional tournament, the amount of prize money began to increase.
“Women’s professional golf made a major shift from a player-run organization to modern business in 1975 when the LPGA hired its first commissioner, Ray Volpe. Under Volpe’s leadership, the organization grew, and by 1979 annual prize money reached $4.4 million,” a Florida’s First Coast of Golf article states.
Three women of the 13 who founded the league were Helen Hicks, Babe Zaharias, and Patty Berg. Hicks was one of the first prominent women golfers and to sign a deal with a sporting goods company. In 1934 she began her career as a professional golfer and went on to win two LPGA tours.
“In 1934, she signed an endorsement deal with Wilson Golf and became the first female golfer to travel the country, promoting a brand through golf clinics,” Brett Kelley wrote in an article.
Babe Zaharias was the first woman to attempt to play men’s professional golf, although she was denied the opportunity to. She was one of the most famous golfers of her time in the 1940s and 50s.
“Zaharias was the first American to win the British Ladies Amateur in 1947. She won a total of 82 amateur and professional golf tournaments, including all golf titles available at the time and an unmatched feat of 14 straight amateur wins,” according to Golf College.
Patty Berg was the first woman to have her own line of golf clubs. She currently holds the record for most LPGA championships with 15.
“Despite many of those wins coming prior to the LPGA’s founding, the LPGA does recognize them as official tour wins, as it does for other women golf pioneers who played professional golf prior to the LPGA’s founding,” Kelley wrote in an article.
The Hall of Fame for Women’s Golf was established in 1959. It would later go on to merge with the LPGA’s Hall of Fame in 1998. Berg and Zaharias were two women who were a part of the inaugural hall of fame class.
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