This is the history we come from. Yet this retrograde, seemingly ancient statement wasn’t spoken centuries ago. It was uttered less than 80 years ago, perhaps by one of your grandparents’ peers. Yes, it is a reminder of how far the golf community has come since 1946, but given its relative recency, this quotation is a comment on how far we still have to travel to fully include women into the game of golf.
With resilience and grace in equal measure over the years, women have overcome countless obstacles throughout history. And statements like these have not stopped — and will not stop — strong, passionate, and talented women from participating in and learning the game of golf while simultaneously pushing forward in the world in every other respect.
Golf is rumored to be a game that views all opponents equally as they step onto the tee box, without favor for gender or distance off the tee. But with the outright exclusion of women for the first 500-some odd years of the game’s existence, we can’t honestly say this has been the case. There’s human error afoot. And if the task of the current generation is to continue the work of making golf a welcoming pursuit for all, then it’s also our job to look to the past and see how pioneering women before us have made their mark.
Over the last 75 years, women have left their stamp on the history of golf and golf fashion. For starters, look to the creation and evolution of the LPGA Tour and the female golfers who, in the last few decades, have continually earned better wages, won more lucrative sponsorships, and stolen headlines from the PGA Tour boys club. Look further, and peer into the world of golf fashion, and you’ll see inspiration the boys club has been lacking all the while — inspiration that few male golfers outside of Rickie Fowler have begun to notice. These are trends through the years like skirts, skorts, saddle shoes, slacks, high-waisted pants, bold tops, neutrals, khakis, and more.
Let’s take a look back to see the path paved by the fashionable women before us to see if we can learn what’s still to come for golfers of all types. Decade by decade, we’ll look at the careers of a few special women in golf history and the fashion of their time.
We don’t often think of Olympic athletes and golfers in the same sentence, but let Babe Zaharias be the exception. In 1950, American golfer Babe Zaharias helped co-found the current LPGA: the first organization of its kind, and still the largest women’s golf association in the world to this day. Zaharias’ contributions were vital to the initial movement of women into the game of golf and the industry surrounding it. She was fearless, strong, and ambitious in her pursuit of the game. After competing as a track-and-field athlete in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she became the first woman ever to participate in a men’s tournament by competing in the 1938 Los Angeles Open. No woman would follow her footsteps and compete alongside men in a PGA Tour event for another six decades.
Fashion was notoriously polite in the ‘50s, but this era offered a new sartorial liberation, especially in with hem lengths that offered women like Zaharias the freedom to wear skirts above the ankle. With a shorter hem length, women began embracing more freedom and mobility, on and off the course.
Today you can also still spot the impact of 1950s footwear on modern female golfers. The iconic saddle design has been making its way from tee to green for quite some time. Some shoes never go out of style, and even Justin Thomas would agree.
The Swinging ‘60s brought bold colors, patterns, styles, and even bolder women. Clothing choices were designed to make a statement, and so were the women. As more and more female golfers climbed their way upward in the golf industry, so did their hems.
The most notable golf fashion statement to come out of this era was the skort: a pair of shorts that appear like a skirt from the front. The skort made it possible for women golfers to wear knee-length skirts at the same time as more athletic shorts, once again increasing their comfort and mobility on the course.
The ‘60s prompted the pursuit of fashion and function without compromise — something all golf clothing brands are still aspiring toward today. But it wasn’t all progress. The ‘60s also saw the likes of Marley Spearman, who herself won two British Amateur championships, being swiftly ushered out of the revolving door at a top club in England in the very same revolution she’d entered.
Golf and the world still had quite a long way to go. But this wouldn’t slow the movement of women in the sport. Instead, it was quite the opposite. These hindrances fueled female golfers with passion the world over.
The ‘70s can justifiably be called a defining decade for women in golf. The decade’s changes were evident in the on-course competition, starting with the LPGA’s Colgate-Dinah Shore tournament, which debuted in 1972. The winner’s check, $20,000, was five times higher than any previous winner had ever received on tour, and the entire week was lavish in the extreme.
Inaugural event winner Jane Blalock described the arrival of the Colgate as “a defining moment… We began getting corporate-type sponsors, we had celebrities wanting to meet and play with us, and we were asked to do TV commercials.”
The same decade also saw the prime of Renee Powell’s career. Powell, known originally as the first black woman to enter the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in the late ‘60s, went on to establish a number of firsts for women and black women in the sport during the ‘70s. Chief among them was her appearance as the first woman in a British men’s event: the Surrey PGA Championship of 1977.
Continually jockeying for headlines, sponsorships, and wages along with their spot in the game, women wanted more than ever to be viewed as equals in golf — and the fashion of this era proves exactly that. The ‘70s was a turning point in female fashion on the course. Dresses were subbed out for form-fitting pants, pant suits, and even platform shoes that served as statements of power and equality to male counterparts. A more unisex style grew to be the norm. Slacks replaced some golf dresses while at the same time the golf world saw more women’s clothing accentuating the waistline.
When we think ‘1980s fashion’, we rightfully think spandex, leg-warmers, and scrunchies.
But while those were off-the-course fashion statements in the ‘80s, high-waisted pants continued to be an on-course fad. Vaulted waistlines were featured with sleek belts, and brilliant color coordination was at an all-time high.
Like the decades prior, women continued not only to break existing barriers, but to set new records as well. Mary Beth Zimmerman set the record for the lowest nine-hole score to par when she shot an 8-under 28 at the 1984 Rail Charity Golf Classic in Springfield, Illinois. Cindy Mackey also won the MasterCard international Pro-Am by fourteen shots, an LPGA record.
The 1990s saw extreme growth in womens’ golf. Notably, players like Annika Sorenstam were grabbing major headlines away from PGA players. With over 70 official LPGA Tour victories, including 10 major championships to her credit, Sorenstam earned the right to be called one of the greatest female golfers of all time.
Across the decade, fans connected on a deeper level with female golfers and LPGA events continued to garner more attention. But as the world took more notice of ladies’ on-course achievements, fashion choices became less bold. Perhaps it was intentional that women traded loud colors for classic khakis and oversized polos. With great golf to be played, Sorenstam’s generation didn’t need to be known for their fashion sense.
Top players like Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb, and Se Ri Pak left their mark on womens’ golf with performances on the LPGA Tour that broke records and once again showed the world that women’s golf was here to stay. With many talented and captivating players on the scene, the 2000s was a great decade for fans and followers, with exceptional competition and TV ratings. In golf fashion, the 2000s brought an end to neutrals and khakis, and, depending on your point of view, this was a very welcome change. Women decided that despite an increasingly level playing field with the men of the PGA Tour, that didn’t have to mean their fashion choices had to suffer. Instead of blending in, women once again pushed the boundaries — especially when it came to country clubs and resort golf standards.
As sleeve length shrank, it wasn’t just women’s fashion that was beginning to change. Companies began to focus on using more breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics like polyester. Women also started trading in their visors for hats. Visors grew less popular as professionals started to opt for the comfort, coverage, and style of hats on the course.
Women have steadily gained more fans and followers since 2010, and with them an even more equal footing with male golfers. Along with the rest of the fashion industry outside of sports, women’s golf fashion became focused on athletic styles. Demand grew for clothing that can easily transition from work to play to the 19th hole. Fashion and function have since been married together seamlessly.
Among the decade’s biggest stars was Inbee Park. Park won the first three majors of 2013 and showed up at the AIG Women’s British Open – on The Old Course at St. Andrews of all places – with a chance to become the first professional, male or female, to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam. The week didn’t go her way and Park fell out of contention early, but she ended the year as the first golfer since Tiger Woods to win three consecutive major championships. By the end, Park left the 2010s with 18 wins, including six majors among them.
Today, women have changed so much in golf history and golf fashion. With so much owed to the pioneers of the past seven decades, these bold and talented women have each done more than their part to pave the road for all future female golfers to come as we begin a new decade.
As for fashion: styles and trends change like the seasons, but if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that some looks will eventually return. So hold onto your skort or even those scrunchies. What golf trends do you think will be making a comeback, in men’s or women’s golf?
Did you know “a golfer who sings” is the unsung hero to thank for one of the game’s most fun traditions?