One of the more contentious stories in golf over past couple years has centered on the question of whether or not women will be allowed to take up membership at some of the golf clubs whose courses comprise the Open Championship rota.
Members of the 2016 Open host Royal Troon Golf Club voted to end the club's single-sex membership policy just a few weeks before the tournament last July.
Now, Muirfield and its Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers are embroiled in similar controversy, as the lone remaining traditional Open venue with an all-male membership. A vote of the membership that affirmed the policy last year resulted in the R&A taking Muirfield out of the Open rota. A new vote has been called, and the results are expected any day now.
The history of single-sex membership policies at golf clubs has had an interesting consequence that escapes the notice of most golfers:
Ladies' golf courses.
Borne out of necessity for women golfers who were barred entry to their husbands' home clubs, these courses sprouted up at the same time as "traditional" (read: all-male) clubs in the UK and Scotland in the 19th century. At one point, there were dozens of ladies' clubs and courses in the late 1800s.
There are few ladies' golf courses around today, but they can be found in some of the most prestigious places for golf, and unlike the clubs that prompted their founding, they have had a largely inclusive attitude throughout history.
What's more, they can be a fun addition to a golf trip. Four quick reasons why:
- They tend to be short and very playable - perfect for a late-day add-on round.
- Their modest size means they tend to be inexpensive to play.
- Their founders demanded great golf for themselves, and they and their successors took (and take) great pride in their courses.
- These courses, being founded by wives and daughters of members of high-profile clubs, are close within the same orbit, making them easy to visit.
Here are some examples:
Sunningdale Heath (Sunningdale Ladies) Golf Club - Located next door to the vaunted heathland courses of Sunningdale Golf Club in Surrey, south of London, Sunningdale Heath (formerly Sunningdale Ladies, but still home to the Sunningdale Ladies society) tops out at only 3,700 yards from its back tees, making it akin to what Americans would call an "executive course." But the par-60 layout, designed by Harry Colt in the early years of the 20th century, is no pushover. At just £30 for visitors, it makes an inexpensive add-on to any golf itinerary in this wonderful part of the golfing world.
Play here if you're also playing... Sunningdale (Old and New), St. George's Hill Golf Club, Swinley Forest Golf Club, The Berkshire Golf Club
Formby Ladies Golf Club - Formby Golf Club is firmly ensconced in any good list of England's best inland courses outside of the London area, located as it is just north of Liverpool and close to the coast, but no so much that it is considered a links. The ladies course is on the same property and while it only plays to about 5,300 yards, par 67, from the longest tees, no less a figure than Greg Norman has praised the way in which the course has held up over nearly 110 years.
Play here if you're also playing... Formby Golf Club, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club
Lundin Ladies Golf Club - With nine holes measuring less than 2,300 yards (par 34), this course and its club are run by ladies - only women can become full members, though men are welcome to play the course and purchase annual tickets to play the course regularly. Located just a dozen miles south of St. Andrews, Lundin Ladies was designed by five-time Open champion James Braid, who laid out dozens of excellent courses throughout the United Kingdom. A unique sight greets players on the tee of the second hole, a 262-yard par four: three "standing stones" (think Stonehenge) in the middle of the fairway.
Play here if you're also playing... Lundin Golf Club; The Golf House Club, Elie; Crail Golfing Society, Kingsbarns Golf Links, St. Andrews (all courses)
Himalayas Putting Course - Speaking of St. Andrews, did you know that this impressive, mammoth putting green is the official course of the St. Andrews Ladies' Putting Club? The club dates back 150 years, founded originally by daughters, sisters and wives of members of the all-male Royal & Ancient Golf Club. The course was originally intended to be a pitch-and-putt but as maintenance practices improved, a putter became the only club needed to enjoy this unique layout. The Ladies Putting Club now has approximately 200 members.
Play here if you're also playing... Anywhere in or around St. Andrews. It's an essential item on any golfer's bucket list.
Ladies Golf Club of Toronto - The U.K. is not alone when it comes to ladies' golf clubs, though this is the only remaining club of its kind in North America. It dates back to 1924, founded by Ada Mackenzie, one of the greatest Canadian amateur golfers in history. The course was designed by legendary architect Stanley Thompson, and has an intriguing 21-hole layout, played in different configurations depending on whether one is playing nine or 18 holes. Access may be tricky, as Ladies Golf Club functions more like an American private club than a U.K. club. Here, only women can be full members, though men are welcome to become "Guest Card Holders." That said, the club has reciprocal arrangements with many area clubs, and your home pro might be able to get you on with a phone call.
Play here if you're also playing... Angus Glen Golf Club, Glen Abbey Golf Club.
Have you played any of these ladies' golf courses? Let us know your thoughts below in the comments!