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Unlike the ladies tour in America which had an established tournament circuit by the 1950s, thanks in no small part to the amazing feats of Babe Zaharias, women’s professional golf in Britain didn’t really hit its stride until the late 70s.
When it did come, it arrived in the wake of the burgeoning success enjoyed by the men’s game during the 70s under the direction of the PGA’s John Jacobs which eventually led to the setting up of the PGA European Tour.
Increased interest in tournament golf brought a flood of new sponsors with it and soon women’s golf was also attracting investment creating the possibility of a ladies tour.
By 1978 Carlsberg were prepared to put up £30,000 for a series of tournaments if the top British women would turn professional.
Vivien Saunders, one of the great names of British golf, became the instigator for the launch of a women’s professional circuit when she set up the Women’s Professional Golf Association.
Saunders, winner of the second British Ladies Open in 1977, and a respected coach and broadcaster, is widely credited for making it possible for women to play the game for a living.
Following its establishment in 1978, the WPGA subsequently applied to join the PGA as a region and on being accepted, the former ladies section of the PGA was scrapped and the distinction between men and women removed from the constitution.
Progress, give or take the odd hiccup, was spectacular, buoyed by new stars of the game like Laura Davies, and by 1986 the WPGA tour programme had total prize money of £710,000.
But behind the scenes changes following the departure of PGA Executive Director Colin Snape signalled a change within the WPGA and two years later in January 1988 the Tour players voted to separate from the PGA.
Saunders, unhappy at the decision, gifted the name ‘Women’s Professional Golf Association’ to the PGA, while the Tour players changed their name to the Women Professional Golfers European Tour which later became the Ladies European Tour.
Following the separation, the PGA was left with the title WPGA and a range of women tour players who wanted to keep their options open, as well as those working at clubs, driving ranges and golf resorts.
In the modern era, women PGA members are automatically members of the WPGA and in addition to playing in the regions also have limited playing opportunities with the WPGA which members can combine with their roles at clubs and other golf facilities.