The conditions which have improved our greens have been apparently the higher standard of play exhibited by women who have the advantage of constant rounds on the long links, and the greater increase of experience in matters connected with the sport. Though a player may not be sufficiently good to win a championship, yet she may know more about the game and the surroundings indispensable for its improvement, than a better golfer. It is chiefly stupidity and carelessness which hinder progress. More knowledge and enthusiasm are wanted, and these qualities are more general with the younger members who are not elected to club committees, where their elders, but not necessarily betters, have the vote.
There are sixty-four ladies' golf clubs upon record in England, thirty-two in Scotland, nine in Ireland, and three in Wales. It follows, therefore, we can only mention a few of the leading ones which are famous for longevity, a model green, or distinguished membership.
The most ancient woman's green, St. Andrews, 1867, is a putting course with eighteen holes. Already in 1875 Clark notes on prize days the largeness of the field and the fancy costumes of the competitors, remarking that on their own ground the best of the members would be backed freely against the cracks of the Royal and Ancient. A new course of twelve holes, varying in length from 150 to 300 yards, is now being laid out.
Westward Ho! founded in 1868. The members played between the Pebble Ridge and the present short and long links. It ceased to exist, but the gold challenge medal, engraved with a lady playing and the inscription, "The Westward Ho ! and North Devon Ladies' Golf Club, 1868," attests its early origin. This trophy is a beautiful thing, very different from the Palais Royal rewards of modern clubs. However, some people prefer paste to gold. The new club started in 1804 has nine holes, with hazards of ditches and rushes.
The London Scottish Ladies', 1872, was reconstituted under the name of the Wimbledon Ladies' in 1890. The nine holes are bounded by the men's green. The chief hazard is inviolable furze, defended by tar lines. No skill is acquired in extricating the ball, which, if lying within the line, must be lifted and dropped with the loss of a stroke. I hear this local rule is to be revoked. It sounds too good to be true!
Pau, dating 1874, is one of the elderly clubs. Long driving and strong iron play are necessary for a good score round its nine holes.
The best players in Scotland have made North Berwick famous. Founded in 1888, it has now a membership of 300. Miss Gillies Smith has carried off the annual scratch medal eight times out of the eleven competitions.
The Prestwick St. Nicholas Ladies' have a good course, belonging formerly to the men, who handed it over when removing to new quarters in 1893. The Royal Belfast, 1888, is the most important green in Ireland, the County Down Ladies' Club, its formidable rival, not having links of their own, but using the long course. Women in Wales play little. At Penarth and Porthcawl they use the long course, but Rhyl has a separate links for ladies, and a distinguished member in Miss Kennedy.
Nothing can beat the eighteen holes owned by West Lancashire at Blundellsands. The distances between the tees and greens are arranged that every stroke tells; weakness and foozles are punished, and the good shot has its reward. The hazards are model; the club-house one of the best. Princes', a recent birth, is the only eighteen-hole course within a three and a half mile radius of Victoria Station, though extremely youthful, its management can give a third to many others. The links are difficult. They possess a grand supply of natural hazard in rush and whin; there are artificial bunkers and no tame hole. Very different in character is the course of Royal Eastbourne, a good and very favourite green, whose members are strong in numbers and quality. Blackheath must be remembered for its kind hospitality to guests, and a right interpretation of the laws and spirit of the game. It continuously improves its course on the common.
From the club we approach the player, and here it must be stated that while in Scotland a good orthodox style was prevalent in the earliest period, throughout the south, where golf was an exotic, style moulded chiefly on ignorance, or misapprehended theories, amused and appalled the few who had golfed north, or had enjoyed professional tuition. One of the chief characteristics of what we will call Early English golf was a hit with a cleek off a high tee, euphoniously termed driving ! The attitudes assumed for a short approach consisted of angles - acute ones; the waggle, which had to be named before recognition, extended into a flowing, flamboyant tracery of the club-head over the entire tee, not the ball ! Lady Margaret Hamilton Russell's appearances gave new ideas as to style and game; a full swing and better follow-through were cultivated. Such was the zeal of her imitators, that it was necessary afterwards to soften down and subdue the painstaking copies which bore so little mark of the original. Verticality and excess of swing are faults of southern golf, and were noticeable in the late championship; a good occasion for comparing the differences in Scottish and English form.
To enumerate a quarter of the good golfers would be impossible; the selection of a dozen who have appeared at the six championships is a difficult task; they are divided into two classes: players of ten years or over, whose game is moulded, and those who have golfed a comparatively short while, and are still improving.
First, among the best exponents of a woman's game are the Misses Orr. They grew up with clubs in their hands. David Grant and North Berwick links trained hand and eye. They possess an unobtrusive, easy style, natural, accurate, scientific play, and a high reputation, which is but the shadow of their brilliant game. A countrywoman of theirs, Miss Sybil Whigham, was the best player at Portrush, in 1895. She also possesses the power of knowing what to do and how to do it. Her drives have a grand carry and run, and when in England she rarely meets an opponent worthy of her steel. Though Miss Whigham plays much at Cannes, the blue riband of the sport seems to have little attraction for her; were she only to appear more often it could not be denied her.