Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 22 News List

Women's golf in Britain hamstrung by tradition

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND

Sweden's Annika Sorenstam tees off on the 18th hole during a Pro Am event ahead of the Women's British Open golf tournament at the Old Course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

Up the road from the 18th green at the Old Course, roughly 160 paces as a caddie counts, is a two-story stone building barely big enough to contain the history of women's amateur golf in the British Isles.

There are 114 years of memories stashed away in the Ladies' Golf Union headquarters at No. 4 The Scores, its picture windows with the sweeping views of the Firth of Tay a felicitous architectural nod to the broad vision of Issette Pearson, who founded the union in 1893 to promote and govern the women's game in England.

Down the hill and around the corner, on a road that runs parallel to the 18th fairway of the Old Course, sits the St. Andrews Ladies' Golf Club, which was formed in 1867.

These buildings, either of which the long-hitting Englishwoman Laura Davies could reach with an iron from the first tee, are mileposts along a passage in Britain's sporting history that seems to end at the gates of professional golf.

After paving the way for women in amateur golf, Britain has lagged behind the US, South Korea and Sweden in turning out top female professionals. With the 150 entrants in the Women's British Open congregating at the Old Course yesterday for the first time in pro competition, the title hopes of a golf-mad Britain are shouldered by three of the older women on the LPGATour: Davies, 43; Catriona Matthew, 37; and Janice Moodie, 34.

By contrast, the US contenders include a 19-year-old, Morgan Pressel, who won the year's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship; a 20-year-old, Paula Creamer; a 21-year-old, Brittany Lincicome; and a 24-year-old, Natalie Gulbis, who is fresh off her first LPGA Tour victory, at the Evian Masters.

Two 21-year-olds, Lee Seon-hwa and Lee Jee-young, are among five South Koreans ranked in the top 15 on the current LPGA money list.

The 36-year-old Annika Sorenstam leads the Swedes, but she is being pursued by a handful of countrywomen in their 20s, including the 23-year-old Karin Sjodin, one of the tour's longest hitters, and the 22-year-old Louise Stahle.

In South Korea, a young woman's quest to become a professional golfer is considered a family project, lending her the support, both financial and otherwise, that she needs to succeed. Moodie pointed out that the US draws from a large population pool and that golfers in Sweden will go to the ends of the earth to develop their talent.

"They will take girls, and they will go to the south of Spain and play all year," said Moodie, who grew up in Scotland, attended college at San Jose State and makes her home in Florida. "We have a very, very short season," she said, referring to the Scottish summer, "which I think people forget about."

Susan Simpson, the Ladies' Golf Union's director of championships, said something else was worth remembering about women's golf in Britain. Its patrician beginnings, she suggested, have proved harder to shed than the puffy-sleeved blouses and knitted skirts that for a long time were required golfing attire for women.

"It's more a tradition here," Simpson said. "And in some aspects, we've been not held back, but maybe bound by that tradition."

She added: "It's very much an elite game. For men, it was also an elite game, but for women, more so. You had to be out of the ordinary to play golf 100 years ago, whereas in Sweden and the European countries, it's a new game and it's been embraced as a sport."

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