Seven of the nine founding WPGA Members, who are current members of the PGA, attended a lunch at The Belfry in celebration of them becoming PGA honorary members (from left): Catherine Panton-Lewis, Jane Forrest, Jane Denman (nee Chapman), Maxine Burton, Denise Hastings, Christine Langford and Susan Bamford. Beverly Huke and Joanna Smurthwaite were unable to attend.
The PGA has honoured nine of the founding members of the Women’s Professional Golfers’ Association (WPGA) whose foresight has resulted in women golfers playing for seven-figure prize purses on an international stage.
The WPGA sowed the seeds for the Ladies European Tour (LET), which has seen the likes of Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam become as famous as their male counterparts.
It was formed in the United Kingdom in 1978 and nine current PGA Members who played a part by competing in it and getting it off the ground have been granted honorary membership of the Association.
The group comprises: Susan Bamford, Maxine Burton, Jane Denman, Jane Forrest, Denise Hastings, Beverly Huke, Christine Langford, Catherine Panton-Lewis and Joanna Smurthwaite.
All have remained PGA Members since those pioneering days, as have Beverly Lewis and Mickey Walker, two other founding members of the WPGA who have already been made honorary PGA Members.
The decision to recognise the other nine has been made with the forthcoming 40th anniversary of the WPGA’s founding in mind.
“At a time when women’s participation in sport is very much in vogue and the WPGA is approaching its 40th anniversary, we felt it was appropriate to recognise the contribution of our members,” said Sandy Jones, PGA executive president.
“Of those who were there at the founding of the WPGA we still have 11 members who have maintained their PGA membership.
“They showed a lot of belief in supporting what was not seen by many at the time as a viable idea because professional women’s golf was very much in its infancy.
“Happily, their foresight and determination has paid off and it is therefore fitting they are now all to be recognised as honorary members of the Association.
“There is no doubt they totally deserve this recognition for the long service and commitment they have given to the game of golf.”
One of the nine honoured by The PGA, Catherine Panton-Lewis, was the winner of the first WPGA Order of Merit and earned £2,495 for her efforts. Catherine is the daughter of a PGA honorary Member and three time Ryder Cup player, the late John Panton, but despite having golf in her genes, her decision to turn professional in 1978 was seen as a risk.
Reflecting on those early days, she said: “It seems a very long time now since I made the decision to turn professional. My father thought it was a rather risky proposition, but I have to say, it was much more fun than having a proper job.
“I have also been greatly encouraged by the numbers of young women now joining the WPGA and choosing golf as their career path.
“The impressive results which women are achieving during their PGA training, I believe go to show that like all of my fellow Founder Members, they have definitely chosen the best career.”
Fellow Founder Member Christine Langford, who initially embarked on a career as a tour player with the US LPGA in 1977, went on to win five tournaments on the Ladies European Tour before turning her attention to becoming a club professional and coach.
She became the first woman professional to be appointed Head Pro at a members’ club when she was selected by Clevedon Golf Club in 1988 and in 1992 she was made Director of Golf at the prestigious Castle Combe Golf Club in Wiltshire. She is currently based at Thorpeness Hotel & Golf Club in Suffolk.
Christine said: “It was a real honour for the PGA to recognise us, as the LET’s Founding Members who have been PGA members in perpetuity. I’ve been a PGA member for more than 40 years and been in golf all my life.
“When I turned pro in ’76, no-one thought it was possible for a woman to have a lifetime career in golf, so it is a fantastic honour. There was no Ladies European Tour and no women club pros at that time; most of us were in America. Once you turned pro in those days, you had to stay pro, so the only option was to stay over there.
“There was a real stigma to being a pro in the 70s and we weren’t welcome; nice girls didn’t turn pro! We had one girl from Sweden playing and we didn’t even know women played golf in Sweden! It was a good 10 years until becoming a pro was seen as acceptable. It has grown into something that we all wanted 40 years ago.”
Ladies European Tour CEO Ivan Khodabakhsh commented: “We are delighted that the PGA has granted honorary membership to nine of the LET’s Founding Members, which underscores their enormous contribution to the development of women’s golf. We are grateful for our Founding Members’ vision in establishing the tour and for everything they have done to help it grow into what it is today. They have enabled generations of women to follow their dreams and to carve successful careers as professional golfers on a global stage.”