The women who put the Biarritz into North Berwick

A mixed game in North Berwick in 1936. PIC Copyright Stanton Press/written permission required to re-use.
A mixed game in North Berwick in 1936. PIC Copyright Stanton Press/written permission required to re-use.
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They were eager to be seen on one of Scotland’s first ‘ladies links’ and helped turn the town of North Berwick into a ‘Biarritz of the North’.

North Berwick Ladies’ Club was created in 1888 with a nine-hole course built to meet the growing demands of women who wanted to play the game.

Dorothy Campbell, the world's first internationally dominant female golfer and former member of North Berwick Ladies' Club. PIC Wikipedia.

Dorothy Campbell, the world's first internationally dominant female golfer and former member of North Berwick Ladies' Club. PIC Wikipedia.

A new book Par for the Ladies, by Ailsa Fortune, looks at the women who came to North Berwick - from the noble ladies to the politicians’ wives and industrialist’s daughters - and helped create a new fashionable town that had golf at the heart of this high society meeting point.

Ms Fortune, a social historian of East Lothian, said: “These women were the mistresses of the house, they never did any domestic chores and their husbands were in control.

“When they saw their husbands, sons and brothers head out onto the golf course, they thought ‘we want a bit of that’.”

In 1888, the committee of the new North Berwick Golf Club agreed to create the nine-hole links for women.

A new book by social historian Ailsa Fortune looks at how women shaped the golfing legacy of North Berwick. PIC Contributed

A new book by social historian Ailsa Fortune looks at how women shaped the golfing legacy of North Berwick. PIC Contributed

Ms Fortune said: “It wasn’t that they were trying to please them. They wanted them off the long course and out of the way.”

Ladies were already playing at women-only course in Mussleburgh and St Andrews and by this time, but the new links at North Berwick was considered to be far superioir, Ms Fortune said.

At the time, it was still considered impolite for women to raise their arms over their head with the women’s game a more sedate affair than those played on the long course.

Women at North Berwick were also subject to the ongoing prejudices of their male counterparts, Ms Fortune said.

Elsie Blyth, daugher of one of the founders of North Berwick Ladies' Club. PIC Contributed.

Elsie Blyth, daugher of one of the founders of North Berwick Ladies' Club. PIC Contributed.

“Men would say that the women were dressing like men on the course and that they weren’t looking after their appearance.

“But then the women were also criticised when they chose to wear something more shapely,” Ms Fortune said.

The arrival of female players at North Berwick chimed with growth of the resort town and the ease of access of visitors from both London and Edinburgh by train.

And while the elite of London society would normally go to Biarritz to play golf, North Berwick was to become a destination of choice.

“The upper classes needed something to occupy themselves and they would come up to North Berwick for golfing seasons in August and September.

“They would come up on the train and head to these vast homes that they had built in the west of the town. They would promenade and visit each other’s houses for tea.”

Among women to play in the North Berwick Ladies’ Club was Lady Grace Wemyss, wife of the 10th Earl of Wemyss and Margot Asquith, wife of the Liberal Prime Minister HH Asquith.

Ms Fortune said: “When you see the list of people who came to North Berwick to play golf, it is astonishing. It is like a Who’s Who of Britain.”

One of the most successful players at North Berwick was Dorothy Campbell joined the North Berwick Ladies’ Club in 1896, aged just 13, after her uncle, a wealthy Edinburgh industrialist, built a summer house over looking the 18th tee of the West Links.

She was a pupil of golf-pro Ben Sayers and is described as the first internationally dominant female golfer. She was the first woman to win the national championship of five countries - USA, Great Britain, Scotland, Canada and Bermuda

Other female players who have come through the club include Elsie Grant-Suttie, who won the British Ladies Open Championship in 1910.

Millicent Couper represented Scotland in the Home Internationals seven times between 1929-1956 and won the Scottish Ladies Amateur Championship at Turnberry in 1933.

And more recently, Catriona Matthew, who represented Team GB in Rio, also came through the North Berwick club.

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