The Etiquette of the Victorian Golf Course: Twelve Tips for a Co-Ed Game

Illustration of a Woman Playing Golf by Ellen Clapsaddle, 1902.
(Sally Fox Collection, Harvard Library)

During the Victorian era, golf was a hugely popular sport. Both men and women played for pleasure and for competition. Much of this play was done in the company of those of the same sex. However, by the end of the century, it was becoming more common for men and women—especially husbands and wives—to golf together. As a result, many magazines and journals of the day offered advice to men on how to conduct themselves on the golf course when in the presence of a lady. They also offered advice to women on what they must and must not do in order to be accepted as ‘a popular member of the club.’

Advice for Women

The 1898 edition of The Capital gives a list of essential tips for female golfers who wish to play the game in mixed company. I present them to you below in no particular order.

1) Be Quiet.

“It is better to be seen and not heard on the golf links when a game is in progress. Good ‘putting’ requires absolute concentration of mind.”

2) Seriously. Be Quiet.

“A woman who chatters incessantly and is especially communicative just when a critical ‘drive’ is about to be made is not the most desirable of partners.”

3) Don’t Cast a Shadow Over a Man’s Golf Ball.

“Standing so that a shadow falls upon your partner’s ball is not only impolite, but detrimental to the success of his ‘drive.’”

Three Women Playing Golf, Jackson Sanitorium, 1890.

4) ‘Fore!’ is a Warning, Not a Consolation.

“To play first and to shout ‘fore!’ afterward is apt to add insult to actual injury. ‘Fore’ is called as a warning that a ‘drive’ is about to be made. It is not an expression of consolation after one has been hit.”

5) Don’t Daydream or Dawdle.

“Standing on the putting green after you have ‘holed out,’ whether it is to gaze at the scenery or write down your score, will exasperate your best friend on earth if he or she happens to be playing behind you.”

6) Stay Out of the Men’s Café.

“Drinking in the men’s café is not to be approved of merely because it is at a country club.”

Western College Women Golfing, n.d.
(Photo by Frank Snyder)
Advice for Men

For men who were obliged to golf with a female, The Capital offers several additional tips. Most of these consist of strictures on exhibiting patience when partnered with a woman who played poorly and slowed down the man’s game. Below are the top six tips in no particular order.

1) Keep Your Coat On.

“A man should not play in his shirt sleeves when women are in the game.”

2) Pretend to Like Her as Much as You Like Your Golf Ball.

“Don’t appear to prefer your ball to her company, and stand guard over it while she, some distance off, is making vain efforts to catch up to you. Stay near her and endeavour to make her feel she is not such a bad player after all.”

3) Remember that Women are Not Athletic.

“A man should remember when playing golf with a woman that even if his partner is an athletic girl, she may not care to scramble over fences and stone walls alone, and that it is courteous for him to help her.”

Grand golf tournament by professional players on Leith Links, 17th May 1867.
(Library of Congress)

4) Offer Your Help When Needed.

“If she is a beginner he should offer to make her ‘tee,’ but if she plays as well as he does she will prefer to build it herself.”

5) Don’t Yell at Her for Slowing You Down.

“If you choose as a partner a woman who keeps you back by slow play don’t quarrel with her on this account. Abide by your choice and do what you can to help her enjoy the game.”

6) Exercise Forbearance.

“Don’t fail to remember that you were once a beginner yourself.”

Mr. Horace Gordon Hutchinson by Leslie Ward, Vanity Fair, 1890.

There’s lots of golf on this week. If you’re watching, I hope you will spare a thought for those determined lady golfers from the Victorian era—and for those Victorian men who responded to their presence on the golf course with good manners (if not outright enthusiasm).

Mimi Matthews is the USA Today bestselling author of The Matrimonial Advertisement, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law.

Sources

The Capital, Vols. 7-8. Los Angeles: Capital Publishing Co., 1898.

Golf Illustrated, Vol. III. London: Golf Illustrated, 1900.

Hutchinson, Horace Gordon. The Book of Golf and Golfers. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1900.

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Pam Shropshire
Pam Shropshire
3 years ago

Even though I’m not a golfer (my boss is an avid one), this seems mostly good advice, even for the 21st century. Except for not drinking in the men’s cafe, of course! Lol!

Ellen Borowka
Ellen Borowka
3 years ago

So glad to not be playing golf or any game in those times… it would be really hard for me to be quiet… seriously quiet! Ha! :) Great article… love it!

Syd
Syd
3 years ago

These are so interesting – had no idea golf was that popular for women before the turn of the century. Had a few giggles with them!

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