Some of my posts are about who’s playing next weekend, or how the women played today, who had the fewest putts or the longest drives, or who won. They’re posts about people. This post is more focused on the game of golf, although there are some people in the story.
The bagpipers who often pipe us onto and off the golf course are a direct legacy from Scotland, unquestionably the home of our beloved sport. And this coming weekend, the Ladies Scottish Open will be played near the very epicenter of women’s golf.
The first woman known to have picked up a stick and teed it up did so at Musselburgh Links in East Lothian, just south of Edinburgh. There, in 1567, 25-year old Mary, Queen of Scots, took a brief vacation from her wars and intrigues to play a bit of golf with her new husband, the Earl of Bothwell, and a few members of her court.Rolling forward in time a few hundred years, in 1811 Musselburgh Links sponsored the first known women’s golf competition, providing a new fishing creel (The Creel Trophy) to the winner and blue silk handkerchiefs imported from Spain to the runners-up. A number of local women, many of whom made their livelihood as fishwives, participated in that tournament, which came to be known as the Fishwives Greensomes Competition.
Rolling forward again, by the early 20th century golf had evolved into a pass-time of the belle monde, women as well as men. Before there was an LPGA, an LET, or an ALPG, women were playing an ambitious and hotly contested annual series of 4 international amateur competitions in England, Scotland, Canada, and the United States. The events were reported in detail in the New York Times, which apparently found golf more interesting before major league baseball, football, and basketball took over the sports pages headlines.
Even as the professional golf infrastructure emerged during the middle of the 20th century the line between amateur and professional golfers blurred and the two groups continued to compete. Amateurs routinely qualify and participate in most LPGA, LET, and ALPG events. But this blurring is particularly prominent at the Ladies Scottish Open.
The Ladies Scottish Open, a 52-hole pro-am event will be played at Archerfield Links, about 15 miles along the Scottish Coast from Musselburgh Links, and just a tone’s throw across the Firth of Forth from St Andrews, this coming weekend, from Friday, August 30 – Sunday, September 1.
Archerfield Links is the home course of Catriona Matthew, who is also the 2011 winner of the competition. The #10 ranked player in the world, Matthew is a familiar figure in LPGA and LET events. We’ve followed her sturdy, consistent, first-class game this season from an 8th place finish at Women’s Australian Open in February through a 7th place finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April to her 2nd place finish at the Wegman’s LPGA Championship in June, her 3rd place finish at the Manulife Financial in July and her contribution to the Team Europe triumph at the Solheim Cup.
The Ladies Scottish Open is the only LET event in Scotland and is co-sanctioned by the LPGA. This weekend, 70 professional and 70 amateur golfers will tee it up. Among them, in addition to Matthew, will be the 2012 champion, Carly Booth and 4 Americans Beth Allen, Hannah Jun, Mallory Fraiche, and Megan Grehan.
Carley Booth, the defending champion at the Ladies Scottish Open, isn’t a member of the LPGA Tour and as a result is less familiar to American fans. The 21-year old Scot turned pro in 2010. After compiling an impressive resume as an amateur golfer, Booth began a steady climb through the LET ranks. In 2012 she won both the Ladies Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open and recorded top-10 finishes at the Ladies Irish Open and Allianz Ladies Slovak Open. Booth just missed qualifying for the Solheim Cup Team Europe. I’m betting we’ll see her on the European team in 2015.
And so we will keep an eye on a tournament in Scotland that won’t be covered by the Golf Channel or ESPN. Can Carley Booth successfully defend her title? Will Catriona Matthew, playing at her home course in the very center of women’s golfing history, reclaim her title? Will the thin American representation make a respectable showing? Will an amateur rise, as Lydia Ko did again last weekend at the Canadian Open, to remind us all that golf is a unique form of athletic competition, where amateurs and professionals, teenagers and mature women whose husbands caddy and whose children follow them in the gallery, where the common language of the sport overlays national and cultural and ethnic identities that too often create friction and division in other venues.