In the beginning.......
At the turn of the 19th Century golf was fast becoming a popular pastime for ladies. In the year 1900, Mrs Cameron of Wimbledon Golf Club, Mrs Hollings of Woking Golf Club and Miss M E Phillip decided to join together and establish the Surrey Ladies County Golf Club. This trio of enthusiastic golfers were fortunate to be joined by the pioneer of British ladies' golf, Miss Issette Pearson, a member firstly of Barnes Common Golf Club and subsequently of the Wimbledon Golf Club.
It is interesting to note that the Surrey County Golf Union was not formed until 1923. Although in 1901 the Surrey Ladies Golf Club had attracted 41 playing members, who were required to pay an annual 10 shilling subscription, the Union did not actually come into existence until 1923. There is no record from those early days of the men and the ladies either playing together or consulting with each other! And it was not until 1929 that the Surrey Ladies Golf Club took the title as we know it today – the Surrey Ladies' Golf Association.
Since the modest beginning of 41 members in 1900, the Association, in 2013, totalled 7,505 members playing from 99 clubs. Competitions organised annually by the Committee range from the Surrey Ladies County Championship to a myriad of trophies played for between clubs and between individuals, whether juniors or seniors. Many of the ladies playing in the early days of the Association donated trophies to the County which were rightly named after each such donor and are still competed for to this day.
Of the founding members of the SLCGA Miss Pearson is the best known. Issette was the founder of the Ladies Golf Union and appointed its first secretary. She is acknowledged as having suggested a handicap system in 1893, primarily to level the playing field for players of different skills and that between men and women. She was elected President of the Association from the beginning of 1900 and remained in office up until the end of 1912. Miss Pearson donated a cup to Surrey Ladies specifically for handicap golfers. After much debate it was decided that teams of seven players from each affiliated club would play against each other. The Pearson Trophy as we know it today was born! Over the years there have been many tweaks to the format, but, in essence, the desire of Miss Pearson, namely that the Trophy be contested by handicap players, lives on.
Miss Molly Gourlay OBE was another member of the SLCGA who contributed hugely to Surrey county golf. She was a first class golfer, winning the county championship seven times. Miss Gourlay also played in the Curtis Cup twice, was an English international many times and became an 'administrator formidable'. She was Chairman of the Ladies Golf Union, President of ELGA and President of the SLCGA from 1947 to 1964. Miss Gourlay was renowned for her knowledge of the Rules of Golf and what she did not know about the game of golf was not worth knowing!
Joyce Wethered (left) and
Molly Gourlay, Ranelagh 1922
The primary objective of the original Surrey Ladies County Golf Club was to play matches against other counties which already had or were in the process of founding their own club. Now, in the 21st Century, the County 1st Team of Surrey plays annually against Middlesex, Sussex, Kent and Hampshire. From these four matches the winner joins the leading county from each of the other 5 Divisions within England to compete for the title of County Champions of England. Surrey has won this coveted title on no fewer than 23 occasions.
As one of the largest golfing counties within England, the SLCGA boasts a fine list of national and international champions among its alumnae. Curtis Cup Captains, Curtis Cup Players, Great Britain and Ireland players and national players are on the role of honour. One young player to come on the scene in the early 1960s was a junior named Laura Davies. Following the Curtis Cup match in 1984, Laura turned professional. With numerous professional titles to her name, Laura's finest victory came in the 1987 US Open Championship, ten years after Surrey’s other leading lady, professional golfer Vivien Saunders OBE, won the same event. The Association is justifiably proud that Laura has received recognition for her outstanding contribution to British Women's golf – firstly, the M.B.E, followed by the C.B.E and then, in 2014, she was invested Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and so became Dame Laura Davies. Laura's loyalty to her County remains strong to this day. Indeed, each year in the 'closed season', SLCGA holds a Laura Davies Day, for which ten of the youngest juniors are chosen to have an individual lesson with Surrey's and the nation's most accomplished female golfer of modern times. Laura gives her time willingly, encouraging all and making a lasting impression on the young players, their parents and family members who come along to get a glimpse of our golfing heroine.
Dame Laura Davies
So much for the past, what of now and the future?
The County would not function without the help and support of the many volunteers who contribute to golf within Surrey. The Association has always been fortunate to be blessed with women who have given freely of their time to make Surrey such a powerful county within the game. As in many other counties within the country, there are many volunteers ready and willing to help the young players of the day. Junior golfers are our future – they will become our champions and our club members.
Who would have imagined in 1900 that it would be one hundred and twelve years before the men and ladies in England became partners in the administration of all golfing matters within the country? Today, the Surrey County Golf Union and the SLCGA are taking steps to work more closely together. We have much to thank those three ladies who in 1900 laid the foundations for a successful and thriving county golf association.
Jill Thornhill, British Open Amateur Champion, 1983
Not only should we thank the Association's founders, we should also mention other ladies who have contributed to the success of the County. The true list would run to many lines and many pages, but here are a few whose names are etched in the history of the ladies’ game: Diane Bailey, Pam Barton, Diana Critchley, Eleanor Helme, Dinah Henson, Cecil Leitch, Elizabeth Price, Joan Rothschild, Jill Thornhill and Joyce Wethered.
Joan Rothschild, July 1920 - October 2010
We could go on, but this is intended to be a short introduction to ladies' golf in Surrey. To have made it longer would have been a mistake. If you have got this far in your reading, we suggest you take a look at the Honours’ List and Honours’ Board on the website.