Women's Golf New Zealand

1911 – 2005

Women's Golf New Zealand

1911 – 2005

Theme: Sport and recreation

Known as:

  • New Zealand Ladies' Golf Union
    1911 – 1996
  • Women's Golf New Zealand
    1996 – 2005

This essay written by Isobel Northover was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993. It was updated by Elizabeth Cox in 2018.

1911 – 1993

For its adherents, the game of golf can become an abiding passion. It challenges mind and body, and requires total concentration and a good sense of humour. It also provides healthy competition and a wide range of social contacts. Once the prerogative of the upper middle classes, golf in the 1990s was enjoyed by New Zealand women of all ages, income levels and ethnic groups.

The New Zealand Ladies' Golf Union (NZLGU) was established in 1911 as the parent body of women's golf in this country, and was itself affiliated to the Ladies' Golf Union in Great Britain (1893). It administered the game according to the rules of the Royal and Ancient Club of St Andrews, Scotland, and aimed to forward the interests of women's golf both nationally and locally.

In 1954, innovative NZLGU administrator Helen Wilson chaired the formation of the South Auckland District Ladies' Golf Association, which two years later was split into two more manageable units: Waikato-King Country and Bay of Plenty-Thames Valley. Wilson introduced coaching for schoolgirls and established the Junior Golfing Society, and from 1962 the NZLGU funded coaching for the most talented girls.

The encouragement given to young players resulted in increasingly youthful teams being fielded by the NZLGU in major international events, such as the Commonwealth Tournament (hosted at St Andrews in 1971), the World Amateur Teams Championship and the Queen Sirikit Cup. [2] At St Andrews (Hamilton) in the 1980s, Janice Arnold and Sheree Higgens, juniors who benefited from the system and became New Zealand representatives while still teenagers, finally left the amateur ranks to become professionals. From 1983 the Junior Tasman Cup was contested by under-21 teams from Australia and New Zealand.

Group portrait of the South Island Women's golf team, 1930

Alexander Turnbull Library, Evening Post, PAColl-5482-006.

South Island golf team, 1930. Women’s golf peaked in popularity and level of competition during the 1930s.

By the early 1990s, the depressed economy and the number of women in paid employment were two reasons for falling membership. Rising costs meant higher subscriptions, although it was still cheap to play golf in New Zealand by world standards. A new player could begin with second-hand equipment, and dress was relaxed – the boaters, stiff-collared shirts, ties and ankle-length skirts of the 1900s had long gone. The NZLGU, in its drive to improve the image of the game, ensured smart, comfortable, 'designer' uniforms for representative teams.

The NZLGU executive continued to work tirelessly, searching for funding and organising coaching for all players from beginners to representative golfers. In 1992 the NZLGU had 412 affiliated clubs with a total membership of 34,464. Alison Bojesen-Trepka, NZLGU president and Hamilton club member, commented, 'We are striving to publicise the game, to improve communications with the clubs and promote golf as a game for life.' [3]

Hamilton Ladies' Golf Club 1913 – 1991

A small band of men and women formed the Hamilton Golf Club in 1903. The club lacked a permanent home until a young lawyer and dedicated golfer, H.T. Gillies, purchased some land and developed it into a first-class course which he named St Andrews. In April 1913, two days after the first ball was driven on the new course, the women formed the Hamilton Ladies' Golf Club under the leadership of Cella Gillies (president) and Charlotte Douglas (captain). The club affiliated with the NZLGU and adopted its handicapping system, which allowed a close contest among players of very different ability.

In addition to their club competitions, teams of players made reciprocal visits with other clubs. Annual tournaments such as the South Auckland Open were run with great success, and gave the Hamilton women experience in organising large events. The quality of both course and administrators was recognised in 1924, when the NZLGU chose St Andrews as the venue for the annual New Zealand Ladies' Golf Championship.

During the 1930s there were new opportunities for competition, and in 1933 a team fielded by the NZLGU returned victorious from the first contest with Australia for the Tasman Cup. Within the Hamilton club there was a new striving for all-round excellence, with emphasis on the etiquette of the game and the Rules of Golf. In a weekly column in the Waikato Times under the nom de plume 'All Square', Louie Day regularly discussed changes to the Rules or explained new rulings from the NZLGU. She chided players for breaches: 'When a ball comes to rest on the edge of a hole it is decidedly wrong to jump on the ground with the intention of shaking the ball into the hole.' [1] But she was always quick to defend the rights of the women if they were hassled by impatient men during their Saturday round.

Day was club captain from 1946–50 and district executive member to NZLGU from 1949–52. She faced the problems of increasing membership as players from country clubs came to St Andrews seeking top competition. The NZLGU inter-provincial competition for the Russell Grace Cup, introduced in 1949, provided stimulus, and for a number of years the district team was dominated by club members. Doreen Blundell, Billie Glanville and Phyl MacDiarmid were also New Zealand representatives.

In the affluent 1970s membership at St Andrews reached its peak, with over 300 women playing weekly. Sharing the course and club-house facilities inevitably led to conflicts of interest between men and women members. With the rise of feminism, many considered that women should have a greater input into the overall administration of the course and its environs. By the 1980s, declining membership and its attendant financial problems led the men to suggest that the two clubs amalgamate.

The women made it clear that they expected equal representation at the highest levels of the new organisation. After years of negotiation and experiment, a consensus was reached. The men's and ladies' sections would each have a domestic committee responsible for the day-to-day running of its affairs. The president, captain and one other member of each section would form a joint management committee responsible for policy and financial matters; its chair person could be from either section. This satisfied both parties, and on 11 February 1991 the Hamilton Ladies' Golf Club was wound up, the 180 or so women becoming members of the Ladies' Section of the Hamilton Golf Club.

Isobel Northover

1994 – 2005

In 1996 the New Zealand Ladies’ Golf Union changed its name to Women’s Golf New Zealand (WGNZ), with a new constitution and board, led by its first chief executive Jane Smart.  By then around 100,000 women played golf, but only 32,000 were members of WGNZ. The following year the new organisation introduced a 9-hole membership, in an attempt to make the game more accessible to new players, younger women with families, and older women. It was a successful experiment which was adopted by many clubs around the country.

In November 2005, after nearly 100 years as separate entities, the New Zealand Golf Association and Women’s Golf New Zealand amalgamated to form New Zealand Golf Incorporated, encouraged by the success of similar mergers by other sports such as hockey, cricket and bowls, and in an effort by both organisations to make the most of scarce resources in the amateur side of the game. [4] Negotiations had been going on for some time before the decision was finally made. The intention behind amalgamation was to bring about efficiencies in administration, and an increase in playing numbers. The residual funds of Women's Golf New Zealand were not merged into the new organisation, but set aside in a trust fund to promote the women's game in the future. Some local women’s clubs which had continued to be independent, such as the women’s section of the Templeton Golf Club in Christchurch, merged with the men at about the same time. 

At the time of the merger, there were 33,085 registered women playing golf in New Zealand, but the biggest issue facing both the new national organisation and local clubs was the decline in club members. Arresting that trend was significantly hampered by the lack of New Zealand stars in the sport. This changed for women’s golf with the rise of Cecilia Cho and Lydia Ko, both Korean-born, New Zealand-based players. A massive spike in the profile and popularity of women’s golf, particularly among young players, accompanied Ko’s remarkable success at the age of 15, as the first New Zealander and youngest player to win a Ladies’ Professional Golf Association Tour event in 2012. She went on to win the Sportswoman and Supreme Halberg Awards in 2014, achieved world number one ranking in 2015 after turning professional, and won a silver medal at the Olympics in 2016.

Some money left over from the amalgamation was used to support the inaugural New Zealand Women’s Open, held at Clearwater in 2009; it became an event on the prestigious Ladies Professional Golf Association international circuit for the first time in 2017. But difficulties in securing its return after that showed how hard it was to compete for sponsorship and events in the international sporting arena. In 2018 New Zealand Golf adopted a charter which acknowledged that clubs and facilities needed to be more welcoming of women and girls, and pledged to ensure their growing participation, both for those playing socially and those trying to pursue a career. In the same year it launched a public campaign to encourage women into the sport, headed by Ko and other celebrities.

Elizabeth Cox

Notes

[1] Waikato Times, 1 July 1933.

[2] In 1992 the New Zealand women's team came third in the World Amateur Teams Championship in Canada; the oldest member of the team was 22.

[3] Interview with A. Bojesen-Trepka, July 1992. 

[4] Women’s Golf New Zealand, ‘Report for 10 months ending 31 October 2005’. Available from http://www.golf.co.nz/uploads/Womens%20Golf%202005.pdf

Unpublished sources

Hamilton Ladies' Golf Club records, 1940–1992, Hamilton Golf Club, Hamilton

New Zealand Ladies' Golf Union records, 1911–1992, NZLGU National Office, Wellington

South Auckland District Ladies' Golf Association minute books, 1955–1964, Te Awamutu Golf Club, Te Awamutu

Waikato-King Country District Ladies' Golf Association minute books, 1955–1964, Te Awamutu Golf Club, Te Awamutu

Published sources

Gray, Russell, ‘The Smart Way to Women’s Golf’, Golf Club, No. 2, 1998

Kelly, G.M., Golf in New Zealand: A Centennial History, New Zealand Golf Association (Inc.), Wellington, 1971

Northover, Isobel, Women at St Andrews: A History of the Hamilton Ladies' Golf Club, Hamilton Golf Club, Hamilton, 1992

Reid, Clare, Christchurch Templeton Golf Club Women’s History 1955–2004, Christchurch, 2005

Williams, Peter, ‘Amateur merger can only be good for the game’, Herald on Sunday, 7 May 2005, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=10124365

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Ann MacDougall

Posted: 08 Feb 2019

I am the great grand daughter of Rev. James Somerville, who won the championship in 1893 as he had helped with the ladies. See the below links from their website:

https://www.otagogolfclub.co.nz/club-history?ComeFromCat=1415

as well as this article from the newspaper of which you might be able to find more - It is a treasure trove of information !

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18931202.2.23?query=J.%2...

Please feel free to contact me at anniemacdougall55@gmail.com

Hoping this will help add to your information.

Kind regards,

Ann MacDougall, Brighton, Ontario, Canada