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History of Womens’ Professional Golf in South Africa

The first formally recorded beginnings of women’s golf in South Africa was in 1889 at the Cape Golf Club (which became Royal Cape Golf Club in 1910) where they admitted women for the first time, mainly because they were battling to keep the club alive!
It would appear that golf was being played at various clubs around the country, and the first recorded photograph of women golfers was taken at Graaff-Reinet in 1897.

Although golf was being played at an amateur level and was enjoying rising popularity it wasn’t until the late 1970’s that the concept of women playing the game professionally was mooted.

Early prejudices remained and the South African Women’s Professional Golf Association was formally founded in the early 1980’s as the LPGA, by the late Jackie Mercer and WPGA multiple ex-President Lyle Nel, as there was a need for an Association as ladies were beginning to show an interest in coaching and playing golf for a living.

The association consisted of both a playing and a teaching division.  A constitution was drawn up in this regard, rules and regulations were laid down and the membership started growing.

Lady Golfers in 1912
Photo credit:  Royal Cape Golf Club, Cape Town, ladies section
Several pro-am events were played over the years and by 1986 the membership had grown to 12.  The LPGA became the WPGA in 1987 and remains so today.

In 1988 the WPGA established the first South African Women’s Open (SAWO) which was held at Germiston Golf Club.  The event was supported by some of the top lady professional golfers from the Ladies European Tour which led to strong relationships being built with international tours and bodies around the world.

As the oldest and most prestigious professional women’s golf tournament in South Africa the SAWO is the WPGA’s flagship event and has been co-sanctioned with the Ladies European Tour on no fewer than six occasions since 2012.

In recognition of her service to women’s golf the leading amateur trophy at the SAWO was aptly named the Jackie Mercer Trophy in memory of one of South Africa’s finest women golfers and co-founder of the WPGA.

Today this trophy boasts a number of illustrious names, including a multiple winner, who went onto turn professional and is currently South Africa’s leading woman professional golfer, namely Ashleigh Buhai (nee Simon).

The success of the SAWO led to the WPGA hosting the inaugural WPGA Championship in 1989 at Observatory Golf Club which ultimately set the stage for future women’s professional events.

The WPGA has not walked alone in this mostly challenging journey, none of this would have been possible without the generous support of our valued sponsors and partners over the years.

As the WPGA and its membership we thank them one and all for embracing the women’s professional game as we continually strive to empower women golfers whilst growing the game and the membership.

Jackie Mercer
Jackie Mercer
Read more of the interesting history of women’s golf in South Africa on the GolfRSA website here