Golf In The 1920s: Swing Into The History Of This Sport

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

The 1920s were a transformative era for golf, as the sport evolved in numerous fascinating ways.

As the world emerged from the shadow of World War I, golf in the ’20s witnessed a surge in popularity that transcended the fairways.

Vintage photo of a man playing golf, with men and women cheering behind him

With legendary figures like Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen dominating the fairways, the decade became a golden age for golfing excellence.

In today’s article, I want to delve into the intriguing stories, significant events, and defining moments that shaped golf during this vibrant period. Who was the Fairway Flapper, anyway?

Whether it was the emergence of iconic golf courses or the fashion trends that took the sport by storm, one thing is certain- the 1920s marked a dynamic shift in the world of golf.

Join me on a journey back in time as I explore the allure and enduring legacy of golf in the 1920s, a period that left an indelible mark on the game and its rich history.

Who Were the Most Famous Golfers in the 1920s?

I suppose this would depend on whether we were talking amateur golfers or pros- PGA winners or British Open winners.

Let me try to include as many names as possible.

Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen were two of the most famous names garnering the most number of major titles in golf.

Bobby Jones

Robert Tyre Bobby Jones Jr. playing golf
Robert Tyre Bobby Jones Jr. circa 1921 by Heritage Auctions

Bobby Jones, often regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all time, ascended to stardom in the 1920s. He achieved a Grand Slam in 1930, winning all four major championships (the US and British Amateurs and the US and British Opens) in the same year—an accomplishment that remains unmatched to this day. Jones’ precision and sportsmanship earned him the admiration of fans worldwide, becoming an ambassador for golf and playing a crucial role in popularizing the sport.

Walter Hagen

Golfer Walter Hagen holding a club and posing for the camera
Walter Hagen, Golfer 1914 by Pietzker, St. Louis

Walter Hagen, known for his flamboyance and charisma, was another towering figure in 1920s golf. He held a record-setting total of 11 major golf tournament championships (including four Open titles) during his career, and his showmanship on and off the course made him a beloved figure.

Hagen’s colorful personality and golfing prowess helped bring golf into the public eye, and he was a trailblazer in terms of prize money and endorsements, laying the foundation for the professional golf circuit.

Gene Sarazen

Gene Sarazen, 1922
Gene Sarazen, 1922 by National Photo Company Collection

Another notable golfer from the era would be Gene Sarazen, who achieved the career Grand Slam by winning all four major championships.

Horton Smith

Horton Smith (right) and Walter Hagen 1929
Horton Smith (right) and Walter Hagen 1929 by Bundesarchiv

Horton Smith was the first winner of the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934. (OK, so it’s a bit late, but he played in numerous tournaments in the 1920s before winning the first Masters Tournament.)

Leo Diegel

American professional golfer, Leo Diegel, swinging his golf club
American professional golfer, Leo Diegel, in full swing at the Wilshire Country Club by Los Angeles Times

Leo Diegel came in second place on the PGA championship list, losing first place by one stroke. Diegel was chosen for the first four Ryder Cup teams in 1927, 1929, 1931, and 1933. His greatest season was 1928, when he won at the Canadian Open and the match play PGA Championship, where he stopped the four-year winning streak of Walter Hagen.

These golfers defined the 1920s as a period of intense competition, sportsmanship, and rapid growth for the game of golf. Their enduring legacies continue to inspire and captivate golf enthusiasts to this day.

What Was Golf Like in the 1920s?

While baseball may have been “America’s Pastime,” golf in the 1920s was a captivating blend of tradition and innovation. This decade witnessed the sport’s transformation into a global sensation.

The 1920s marked the emergence of iconic golfing legends like Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, and Gene Sarazen, who became household names and helped elevate the game’s status.

famous golfers Harold Callaway, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones,, Watts Gunn in LaGrange 1925
A 1925 exhibition match at LaGrange, Georgia’s Highland County Club. Left to Right: Harold Callaway, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Watts Gunn by LaGrange Chamber of Commerce

Courses in the 1920s retained their classic, natural designs, often featuring challenging terrain and scenic beauty. Moreover, advancements in golf club and ball technology began to influence the game. The introduction of the Haskell golf ball, which provided greater distance and control, revolutionized play. This era also saw the proliferation of hickory-shafted clubs, a far cry from today’s modern equipment.

Fashion also played a prominent role in 1920s golf, with players donning stylish attire on the course.

Men typically wore knickers and ties, while women sported fashionable dresses, hats, and gloves. This era’s golfing attire remains iconic and evokes a sense of timeless elegance.

Tournaments like the U.S. Open, The Open Championship, and the PGA Championship grew in prestige and popularity.

Walter Hagen’s charisma and showmanship, combined with Bobby Jones’ amateur success, drew crowds and media attention, propelling golf into the public eye.

Why Did Golf Become So Popular in the 1920s?

Golf’s surge in popularity during the 1920s can be attributed to a mix of factors that transformed it into a cultural phenomenon.

First and foremost, the 1920s marked the emergence of charismatic and immensely talented golfers like Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Their rivalry on the greens captured the public’s imagination and drew massive crowds to tournaments, elevating the sport’s profile.

man playing golf

Technological advancements in golf equipment, particularly the introduction of the Haskell golf ball, improved performance and made the game more accessible to a broader range of players. This, in turn, fueled interest and participation.

The roaring ’20s also saw the expansion of golf courses across the United States with new and innovative designs that appealed to both seasoned golfers and newcomers. Golf became a social pastime, a way to network, and a symbol of affluence, attracting people from various walks of life.

The media played a pivotal role in golf’s popularity, with radio broadcasts and newspaper coverage bringing tournaments and players into homes across the nation. This increased exposure helped cultivate a growing fan base.

Lastly, the allure of golf’s etiquette, stylish fashion, and leisurely pace resonated with the spirit of the era. The sport embodied the elegance and sophistication of the 1920s, making it a cultural touchstone that transcended athletics.

How Did Golf Clubs and Golf Balls Change in the 1920s?

The 1920s marked a significant period of evolution in the world of golf, with notable changes witnessed in both golf clubs and golf balls.

In terms of golf clubs, the 1920s saw the transition from hickory wood shafts to steel shafts. This shift revolutionized the game, as steel shafts provided more consistency and power to golfers’ swings.

A set of 1920s golf clubs and golf balls

The increased durability of steel shafts also meant that golfers could rely on their clubs for longer periods, contributing to improved performance.

Clubhead designs also underwent innovations, with the introduction of heads that were more stable and had improved weight, as well as more aerodynamic shapes.

This change allowed golfers to achieve greater control and accuracy in their shots, especially with the introduction of the perimeter-weighted clubheads.

Golf balls also underwent substantial changes in the 1920s. The rubber-wound golf ball, known as the “Haskell ball,” emerged as a major game-changer.

This design replaced the older gutta-percha balls, which were made from latex, offering enhanced distance and control.

golf balls

The Haskell ball’s core was wound with rubber thread, and covered with a dimpled surface, improving the overall aerodynamics of the ball and allowing golfers to achieve longer and more accurate shots.

Overall, the 1920s witnessed a true transformation in golf equipment.

Did Women Wear Pants While Golfing in the 1920s?

The short answer here is no, women did not wear pants in the 1920s, but they did so in the early 1930s.

Let me take you back to a short history of women and the game of golf:

Mary I Queen of Scotland

Mary Queen of Scots broke barriers in the 1550s as the first woman to passionately embrace and play golf in France. Her fervor for the game was so contagious that she took the historic step of commissioning the construction of a golf course at St. Andrews in Scotland, contributing significantly to its early popularity.

Under her influence, golf quickly gained traction, captivating enthusiasts not only in Scotland but also throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.

Regrettably, Mary Queen of Scots’ pioneering influence and legacy faced challenges.

She encountered harsh criticism for her involvement in sports deemed “unsuitable for women.” In the wake of her era, a staggering 188 years would pass before women’s voices were finally heard on the golf course.

It wasn’t until 1738 that women were granted the opportunity to play at Scotland’s Bruntsfield Links, despite the game’s origins, emphasizing the persistence of gender barriers in the sport’s history.

In the 1800s, women were criticized and were often the brunt of jokes and gossip for wanting to play golf. This sport was considered to be a “gentlemen’s game” so women were not welcome.

Victorian clothing, which included multiple petticoats, bustles, and corsets also made the game just plain difficult for women.

By 1900, however, things began to change. Women were allowed to play the game and looser clothing restrictions made playing easier.

Long bicycle skirts, which showed the ankle, and a lack of bustles and corsets, meant that women were nearly as free as men to play the game.

It was in the roaring 20s that women finally found clothing that worked well with the game. Pleated skirts with sweaters allowed for more freedom of movement.

vintage female golfer

It wasn’t until 1933, during Gloria Minoprio’s participation in the British Ladies Championship that her attire left an indelible impression on the spectators.

Her choice of a smart and elegant outfit was nothing short of astonishing for the time. In a groundbreaking move, she became the first woman to don loose trousers and a mock turtleneck while playing golf.

Today, her iconic outfit is proudly housed in the British Golf Museum in the historic town of St. Andrews, serving as a symbol of both her trailblazing spirit and the evolving fashion trends in the world of golf.

Who Was The Fairway Flapper?

Edith Cummings Munson, affectionately known as the “Fairway Flapper,” was a charismatic and trailblazing figure in the world of golf during the dynamic Jazz Age.

Edith Cummings Time Cover the fairway flapper

Born on March 26, 1899, in New York City, Munson made her indelible mark on the sport with her unique blend of skill, style, and panache. Her nickname, the “Fairway Flapper,” encapsulated her era’s zeitgeist, embodying the spirit of the liberated and fashion-forward women of the 1920s.

Edith Munson’s golfing prowess was unquestionable. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in 1922, showcasing her talent and determination on the fairways and golf tournaments.

Beyond her accomplishments in competitive golf, Munson was celebrated for her fashion-forward approach to the game. She embraced the trends of the Roaring Twenties, with her bobbed hair, fashionable attire, short skirts, and other daring outfits that defied traditional golfing attire.

Munson’s influence extended beyond the golf course. She became an icon for women’s empowerment during an era of social change and progress. Her unapologetic embrace of personal style and her competitive spirit challenged societal norms, inspiring countless women to pursue their passions and break free from conventional constraints.

In many ways, Edith Cummings Munson personified the exuberance and spirit of the Jazz Age, leaving an enduring legacy in the world of golf and as a symbol of the evolving role of women in society.

Her nickname the “Fairway Flapper” celebrated not only her fashion-forward approach to the game but also her status as a trailblazing figure who defied expectations and blazed a unique path in the history of golf.

Before You Leave

image of 1920s woman playing golf

In conclusion, the 1920s were a transformative era for the sport of golf, witnessing remarkable advancements in equipment, an explosion in popularity, and the emergence of iconic golfing figures.

From the transition to steel shafts and innovative clubhead designs to the rubber-wound Haskell golf ball that revolutionized play, golfers experienced a dynamic shift in their game.

The Jazz Age, with its societal changes and newfound prosperity, propelled golf into the mainstream, creating a fervent following of enthusiasts and inspiring a generation of players.

Legendary golfers like Bobby Jones and the captivating rise of “Fairway Flapper” Edith Munson added both glamour and excitement to the sport.

The 1920s set the stage for golf’s enduring appeal and continued evolution, leaving an indelible mark on its history and paving the way for the modern game that so many people cherish today.

Golf In The 1920s: Swing Into The History Of This Sport
Golf In The 1920s: Swing Into The History Of This Sport
Let's take a step back in time to the roaring 20s with a captivating look at golf's golden era. Explore legends, fashion, and game-changing moments!
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