The history of women’s golf sets up future excellence



Women’s golf history is similar to the sport itself: quiet and consistent, but still possessing a keen excellence that characterizes women’s golf players today.

From Mary, Queen of Scots to recent NorCal qualifier Michelle Ho of the DVHS women’s golf team, a sport that has traditionally stayed out of the limelight ought to be more recognized for its stellar players.

Golf originated in 15th century Scotland, and the first recorded instance of a woman playing golf was Mary, Queen of Scots during her reign from 1542 to 1567. A painting of her made by Scottish golf portrait artist Joseph Austen in 1960 depicts the queen playing golf on Leith Links, Edinburgh, practicing her golf putts in a fashionable, puffed-out dress, red hairdo aglow, as attendants wait nearby in adoration.

After Mary, many women took up the sport and even set about improving it. Issette Pearson, a leading women’s golfer in 1893, invented a system of golf handicapping measures that leveled the playing field and allowed new players to break into the sport. Handicapping means numerically measuring a player’s potential to allow players of different abilities to compete together. The Ladies Golf Union in Britain and Ireland was one of the first organizations to adopt a standardized and equitable handicapping system under Pearson.

But every union only succeeds through the efforts of extremely noteworthy individuals.

Helen Hicks was the first professional women’s golfer. She signed with the Wilson-Western Sporting Goods Company in 1934, becoming one of the first women to ever sign with a professional sporting goods company.

In the same vein, Babe Zaharias was the first woman to play in an all-men’s golf tournament. She wasn’t allowed to progress far, but she did meet her sweetheart there — George Zaharias, a professional wrestler. Before she played golf, Zaharias also did track and field, basketball and baseball, winning two gold medals in the 1932 Summer Olympics for track and field.

More often than not, youth golf programs create a cycle that keeps on giving.

Then, in 1950, the Ladies Professional Golf Association was formed. Zaharias was one of the leading founders — by then, she’d become the modern equivalent of a golf celebrity, named “Woman Athlete of the Half-Century.”

In 1990, Pebble Beach became the first professional tournament with men and women competing alongside each other.

At the dawn of the new millennium, some of the youngest professional golfers came into the limelight. Michelle Wie broke into USGA’s Women’s Amateur Event when she was 10; Lydia Ko did so when she was 13.

Alongside the fresh talent is an expansion of golf outreach to younger kids. Programs like The First Tee teach kids golf etiquette and the basic rules of the game.

DVHS women’s golf assistant coach Danielle Suh comments on the helpful nature of these programs in expanding youth outreach. Suh played on the DVHS women’s golf team until she graduated in 2020; now, besides coaching, she also plays collegiate golf at SJSU. 

“Programs like The First Tee made it so that it’s more accessible and more comfortable for young girls to want to join,” she said. “[There are events] where LPGA players will actually come out and hit a couple of shots and it’s really inspiring for younger kids because it’s like, ‘Wow, this is a professional golfer. She’s playing golf, this is a sport. She’s not sitting at a desk job and doing corporate stuff.’ It definitely inspired me.”

More often than not, youth golf programs create a cycle that keeps on giving. Besides coaching a new generation of golf players at Dougherty, Suh contributes to these outreach programs as well.

“I work with Junior programs with little kids, so I know what it’s like to go to a clinic and have girls watch you and see [that] you can hit the ball this far. It’s very inspirational, not even for golf, but I’d say any other sports team, so I hope I can make an impact that way,” she noted.

After the consistent historical breakthroughs in women’s golf, DVHS can turn its eyes to their very own women’s golf team. The team took third place at the 2022 EBAL championships to end their current season; in previous years, they’ve been four-time EBAL League Champions (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), three-time NCS Champions, two-time NorCal Champions, and they placed second at the 2018 CIF State. With the team already placing well at the 2022 EBAL championships, sophomore Michelle Ho went on to qualify for NorCal.

Suh explained that Dougherty has evolved especially in the amount of talent on the team. Whereas before there would be one or two star players, she believes that the team has been full of strong players in recent years.

“I would say something that’s been pretty consistent [for the team] is that everyone is an experienced golfer,” Suh said.

As such, the young student-athletes of DVHS women’s golf are who we should take note of as we move out of history and into the future.