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TV documentary explores history of women’s golf in Scotland

12.26pm 1st January 2021 - Media

A new TV documentary that explores the history of women’s golf in Scotland, and celebrates some of the little-known female pioneers, is set to air this weekend.

Iron Women, which was produced for BBC ALBA by Glasgow-based independent production company purpleTV, is the latest documentary created by filmmaker Margot McCuaig. It airs on Saturday, January 2 at 9pm and will also be available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days afterwards.

She said: “Women’s golf in Scotland has a long and prestigious history. Despite barriers, both in terms of attitude and physical structures, pioneers have continued to lead the way. Consequently, sporting celebrities have emerged as role models, on and off the green, ensuring that there has been a fairer way for women. 

Charlotte Beddows and Helen Holm were pioneers of women’s golf in Scotland

“Whether playing professionally or competitively at amateur level, golf has a common theme. Friendships are created and cherished, time on the course is relished and Iron Women have continued to make their mark, and their own home, in Scottish golf.”

From the early pioneers of the 18th century, to formidable role models who challenged the patriarchal constraints of male dominated golfing arenas, the documentary celebrates the trailblazers who put Scottish women’s golf firmly on the world map.

The story begins in the 18th century in Musselburgh, with recorded evidence of fishwives playing golf and competing for the prize of a creel and silk handkerchiefs. The game gathered momentum among the Victorian ladies of St Andrews from 1863, albeit under the watchful gaze of husbands and fathers who controlled the spaces women frequented, and how they used them. 

Over the centuries, while some women were open about their love for golf, their space was often severely curtailed and distinctive male and female spheres came into play. Transgressors such as Issette Pearson and Agnes Grainger developed strategies to create opportunities for women and thanks to their determination the Ladies Golf Union and the Scottish Ladies Golf Association were formed in 1893 and 1904, formalising the sport and creating competition, and fundamentally, a handicap system before men. Formidable golfers emerged, with several Scots leading the way at home and abroad. 

Professional golfer Karyn Dallas gives a shocking account of arriving at a club to play a tournament and there was a sign that said ‘No Dogs or Women Allowed’, while Dr Fiona Skillen says men ‘supervised’ women to make sure they behaved appropriately when they played golf in the 19th century and land was gifted to the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club. 

Dr Skillen said: “It’s interesting that the land the women are gifted to play on is straight beside the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse so there’s an argument there that this is in order for the men to be able to keep a watchful eye on what the women are getting up to.  The men check to see if the women are behaving themselves in a circumspect manner. They are being encouraged to play but a very specific kind of golf, it’s putting, it’s not challenging.”

Nine-time Curtis Cup player Belle Robertson won the British Ladies Amateur in 1981
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