How Women's Golf Found Its Roots In India: A History

Golfer Champika Nanda Sayal writes on how women's golf found its roots in India and dynamic players who shaped its journey to the Rio Olympics.

Champika Sayal
Aug 30, 2019 10:31 IST
history golf women

India’s golf journey for the fairer sex began, a long time before many of us were even born.


Under the stewardship of two eminent ladies namely Lady Curzon, wife of the then Viceroy of British India and Lady Frazer, wife of the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club was instituted, on May 7th, 1891 with a regulation 9-hole golf course exclusively for women. A committee of ladies was also formed to control and manage the affairs of the club.

A princely sum of Rupees 3000 (35 Great Britain Pound) was subscribed by the Vicereine Curzon and Lady Frazer along with some local ladies from erstwhile princely families of West Bengal for the commissioning of a large tented space which then became a Clubhouse on Wheels, since no permanent structure was allowed to be constructed on Kolkata’s Maidan. Interestingly golf archives suggest that two years after Calcutta Ladies Golf Club was instituted in 1893, a gentleman Horace Hutchinson a leading amateur golfer of those times, received a written request from Blanche Martin, requesting for recognition of a Ladies Golf Union and staging the first-ever Ladies championship.

According to Golf archives, Hutchinson’s replied that "Ladies were constitutionally and physically unfitted for golf." another line to Ms Martin’s letter read, “Tears will bedew -if wigs do not bestrew,” suggesting bickering amongst women golfers would finally bring their hair down! Archives give light to the fact that Calcutta Ladies Golf Club was indeed instituted prior to LGU and once the LGU came into being, CLGC was affiliated to them. LGU’s rules and regulations became the BIBLE of Indian ladies golf in 1970!


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Amongst the oldest trophies, Walker Cup played as a Matchplay was instituted by The Calcutta Ladies Golf Club in 1905. The Walker Cup was played amongst English Ladies between 1905 and 1969 in Calcutta (Kolkata). Walker Cup had an English winner for sixty- four years, except for war years when Walker Cup was not played.

In 1969 when Indian Golf Union ladies Section came into being under aegis of Indian Golf Union, the English Ladies handed over Walker Trophy known as All India Amateur Golf Championship to Indian Golf Union ladies Section.


The Indian Golf Union Ladies Section an affiliate of Ladies Golf Union (UK), decided to hold the All Indian Ladies Amateur Golf Championship the erstwhile Walker Trophy in three cities Calcutta(Kolkata), Bombay (Mumbai) and New-Delhi until 1999.

Sita Rawley Anjani Desai Anjani Desai and Sita Rawlley: Under whose patronage WGAI (Pro Golf) was created.

In 1970 Calcutta Ladies Golf Club hosted the All India Ladies Amateur Golf Championship which was open to Indian female players. Anjani Desai from Mumbai thus became the first-ever winner of India’s National Amateur Golf Championship. In 2000 the millennium year, the All India Ladies Amateur Golf Championship was rotated to South India for the first time. India’s prestigious Matchplay championship was played at KGA in Bangalore (Bengaluru) after almost 30 years since the rota system was in place. Thereafter the trophy has been played at several other venues across the country.


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India’s top players Sita Rawlley, Vinita Tripathi, Ranjeet Grewal, and I played in late seventies, early into the eighties when golf was considered a club sport. The younger brigade of Arjuna Awardee Nonita Lall, Shiraz Shaheed, Vandana Agarwal, Smriti Mehra dominated the eighties and nineties. From 1999 emergence of much younger talent surged, teenage players such as Irina Brar, Parneeta Grewal, Shruti Khanna, Urvashi Sethi, Anjali Chopra dominated the national amateur golf. By 2002-03,  several talented young amateur players were unable to afford to play. The rising cost of equipment, customs duties, travel costs besides scarifying their education, became a deterrent. In 2004, I was invited by USLPGA as a speaker to the first ever World Women’s Golf Congress. It was at WWGC the way forward was paved for professional golf for women players in India. Having been Chairperson of National Amateur Golf from 1999 to 2002, I shared my vision with Golf Arjuna Awardees Anjani Desai and Sita Rawlley under whose patronage WGAI (Pro Golf) was created.

Calcutta golfing ladies regarded as the “baton carriers” for ladies golf in India, continue to nurture India’s and Kolkata’s exclusive Calcutta Ladies Golf Club till date. On May 7th2019, the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club turned 128 years.


Smriti Mehra, who was based in the USA then, was invited by the first board of WGAI (Pro Golf) to be the first Chairperson of WGAI’s Players Division, being India’s first female playing professional. Thus women's professional golf came into being, 28 years after men’s professional golf.


On October 22nd, 2005, Smriti Mehrawon her first professional golf tournament on Indian soil. An invitational skins game for 18,000 USD against Heather Daly Donofrio the then Chairman of LPGA’s Players Division from the USA and Celeste Troche from Paraguay at the DLF Golf & Country Club was the first International match played in India, marked the beginning of Women’s Professional Golf in India. India’s first Women’s Professional domestic tournament was played at Qutub Golf Club in New Delhi in October 2006 and won by Smriti Mehra.


Calcutta golfing ladies regarded as the “baton carriers” for ladies golf in India, continue to nurture India’s and Kolkata’s exclusive Calcutta Ladies Golf Club till date. On May 7th2019, the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club turned 128 years.

Aditi Ashok, Diksha Dagar, Sharmila Nicollet and Vani Kapoor have brought global attention to Women’s Golf in India in the recent past.

From a small beginning in 1891 to date, our golfers have taken Indian ladies golf on a historic journey, including the Rio 2016 Olympics. As numbers surge and prize money surges, our journey continues to 2020 Tokyo Olympic.

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