The first Women’s British Open, then named the Ladies’ British Open, was the flagship event of the Ladies’ Golf Union and was played at Fulford in Yorkshire. At a time when there were just a handful of British women professional golfers, the Championship was won by the Amateur Jenny Lee-Smith.
The following year Vivien Sauders became the first professional to win the Championship which was played at Lindrick. In 1978 an Amateur again took the honours with Janet Melville winning the title at Foxhills. Alison Sheard became the first overseas winner of the Championship in 1979 over the Southport & Ainsdale links taking the title by three strokes from Mickey Walker.
The fifth and sixth Championships were won by the United States golfer Debbie Massey, winning by a single stroke from Belle Robertson and Marta Figueras-Dotti at Wentworth in 1980 and again from Belle Robertson in 1981 at the Northumberland Club. Twenty-four year old Marta Figueras-Dotti from Spain won the title in 1982 as an Amateur at Royal Birkdale before turning professional later in the year.
There was no Championship in 1983, but when it returned in 1984 the Japanese golfer Ayako Okamoto won by a record eleven strokes from a very strong field at Woburn Golf & Country Club. In 1985 Betsy King from the United States won the Championship at Moor Park from Marta Figueras-Dotti. Over the Royal Birkdale links Laura Davies, in just her second year as a professional, won the Championship the following year in 1986.
In 1987 Weetabix Limited took over the sponsorship of the Women’s British Open for the next twenty years. The Championship was played over the new Jack Nicklaus’ designed St. Mellion Golf & Country Club in Cornwall. Defending champion Laura Davies came to St. Mellion having just won the United States Women’s Open thereby becoming the first player to hold the British and United States titles at the same time. By Sunday afternoon however it was Laura’s closest friend Alison Nicholas who had won the Championship with a courageous pitch and putt on the last hole for a birdie four to edge out Laura by one shot into a share of second place.
Lindrick Golf Club in Nottinghamshire hosted the 1988 Championship where Alison Nicholas put up a brave defence of her title finishing one shot behind Australian Corinne Dibnah and South Africa’s Sally Little. In a dramatic “sudden-death” play-off for the title it was Corinne’s eight-iron approach shot to six feet at the second extra hole which set up a birdie to become the first Australian to win the British Open title.
The 1989 Championship moved to the Ferndown Golf Club in Dorset, in keeping with the tradition of moving the Championship around the country. The tournament was dominated by Jane Geddes from the United States who opened with a five under par 67 to share the lead. Another 67 on the second day put her three strokes ahead of her nearest rivals and she was never caught winning by two shots after final rounds of 72 and 68.
The first of a succession of seven Championships at Woburn in 1990 was won by Helen Alfredsson from Sweden after an exciting four hole sudden-death play-off. Helen used her victory as a springboard and followed up with further victories in Europe, Australia, Japan and the United States including the 1993 Nabisco Dinah Shore. In 1991 Helen put up a strong defence of her title before being edged into a tie for second place by surprise winner from England, Penny Grice-Whittaker.
In 1992 America’s Patty Sheehan completed the unique double of winning the United States Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open in the same year. Patty, who had already won three Major titles in the United States (and was subsequently to win three more in the next four years), dressed immaculately all week in her signature plus-twos, finishing 12 under par. Her closing six-under par 67 broke the long standing course record 68 that she had equalled on the opening day.
Australian Karen Lunn had a record breaking victory in 1993. Her seventeen under par aggregate of 275 was the lowest recorded over the seven years the event was held at Woburn, and she had an eight shot margin of victory over Brandie Burton from the United States. Liselotte Neumann became the second Swedish player to win in 1994, going one better than her countryman Jesper Parnevik who had just lost out to Nick Price in The Open at Turnberry a few weeks before.
Karrie Webb, a rookie from Australia in her first full season as a professional, came to Woburn in 1995 relatively unknown. Not only did she outplay the strongest line-up ever assembled at the Championship winning by seven shots with a fourteen under par aggregate of 278, but she followed up to take the United States LPGA Tour by storm winning four 1996 events in America and topping the LPGA Money List with over $1 million, the first time the $1 million barrier had been passed.
Another young player came to the 1996 Championship having just achieved her maiden victory the previous week. 21-year old Emilee Klein from the United States was tied for the lead after a first round 68 and then drew away from the strong international field with a second round 66 to give her a five stroke halfway lead. Final rounds of 71 and 72 saw her comfortably home to take the title by seven shots.
As the Weetabix Women’s British Open moved into its second decade the Championship was once again moving with a decision to rotate around a series of high quality courses, starting with the Old Course at Sunningdale in 1997 where Karrie Webb won her second Championship smashing all previous records in her wake with a winning 19 under par aggregate of 269.
United States Solheim Cup player Sherri Steinhauer was to dominate the next two Women’s British Opens; in 1998 she won by one shot over the difficult Royal Lytham & St. Annes course which was battered by strong winds throughout the four days; then in 1999 she became the first player to successfully defend the title since 1981 at the Woburn Golf & Country Club winning by one shot from Annika Sorenstam.
The Millenium event was played over the famous links course at Royal Birkdale and Sophie Gustafson, who, after an eagle at the first hole of the final round which took her into a nine shot lead, came back to the field winning by just two shots. In 2001 the Women’s British Open returned to the Old Course at Sunningdale where, for the first time, the Championship had been nominated as one of the four world Major Championships alongside the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the US Women’s Open and the McDonald’s LPGA Championship which are all played in the United States. Se Ri Pak came from four strokes back with a final round 66 to take the title from her fellow Korean Mi Hyun Kim.
In 2002 Karrie Webb became the first player to win the title three times when she came from three strokes behind to clinch victory with a flawless final round 66 over the Ailsa Course at Turnberry and become the first player to win the Super Career Grand Slam of victories in five different Major Championships. In 2003 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes the undisputed World No.1 Annika Sorenstam won the Women’s British Open for the first time to record her sixth Major title. In 2004 at Sunningdale Karen Stupples equalled Karrie Webb’s record 19 under par aggregate starting her final round with a remarkable eagle 3, albatross 2 at the first two holes and the 19 year-old Minea Blomqvist recorded the lowest score in a Major Championship with her third round 10 under par 62 and in 2005 Korean Jeong Jang had a wire to wire victory at Royal Birkdale with four sub-70 rounds.
The thirtieth Championship, and the twentieth under the sponsorship of Weetabix, was played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes where Sherri Steinhauer became the second player to win the title for a third time with a three shot margin over Cristie Kerr and Sophie Gustafson. This was to be the last year Weetabix’s last year as title sponsor, with Ricoh, the global leader in digital office solutions taking over in 2007. The Japanese based company that already sponsored The Ricoh Cup on the Japanese LPGA tour was a natural sponsor for the Women’s British Open because of the high profile of women’s golf in Asia.
The 2007 Ricoh Women’s British Open made history by becoming the first ever professional women’s tournament to be played at the ‘Home of Golf’. Mexico’s Lorena Ochoa was victorious at the Old Course at St Andrews, winning her first major title by four shots over joint runners up, Jee Young Lee of Korea and Sweden’s Maria Hjorth.
South Korea’s Ji Yai Shin became a household name when she arrived emulated her compatriot Se Ri Pak and won the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Sunningdale in 2008. It was a victory worth £160,000 to the diminutive 20 year-old having started the final round one shot behind Japan’s Yuri Fudoh. A composed performance that belied her relative lack of experience saw her card a flawless six under par 66 for an 18 under par total of 270 which was enough for her to finish three shots ahead of Taiwan’s Ya-Ni Tseng and four shots in front of compatriot Eun Hee Lee and the Japanese Fudoh.
The 2008 Championship also saw Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam play her final Major after 15 magnificent years on Tour including 10 Major victories. She finished in style holing from 20-feet across the final green for a birdie and a four under par round of 68 for a share of 24th place. “It was amazing walking up 18,” she said. “Everybody was cheering and I looked up at the scoreboard where I saw a sign that said ‘Annika you’ll be missed’ and I thought that was very special. “I’ve been out here 15 years,” she added. “I’ve experienced a lot of joy and a few setbacks but overall it has been great.”
In 2009, Catriona Matthew became the first Scottish woman to clinch a major title when she won the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes. The 39-year-old, who led by three overnight, won by three shots from Karrie Webb after birdies on 13, 14 and 15 gave her a one-over 73. Scotland’s Matthew, who only gave birth to her second child 11 weeks before the tournament is only the fourth Briton to win a major and the first since England’s Karen Stupples triumphed at the Women’s British Open at Sunningdale in 2004. “There have been times when I’ve wondered if I was ever going to win a major. I thought time was beginning to run out,” Matthew said.
In 2010, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng held off a resilient Katherine Hull of Australia to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open Championship at Royal Birkdale by a single stroke. Tseng carried a four shot advantage over Hull into the final round and she maintained that lead at the turn. But, when the Taiwanese player bogeyed the 10th and Hull birdied the 11th and 13th, the gap was reduced to just one. Down the stretch, both players failed to make the most of the birdie chances offered by the three par 5s – 15th, 17th and 18th. Hull had a putt to tie Tseng at the 17th but it narrowly missed. On the final hole, Tseng’s drive found a fairway bunker from where she could only blast out some 40 yards. Hull went for the green in two, firing in an excellent approach that ran just through the putting surface. Tseng failed to find the green with her third and it looked as though Hull would close the gap. But, the Australian fluffed her chip from the back of the green and it came up 20 feet short. Tseng putted up and left herself a six-foot putt for par. When Hull missed her birdie effort, Tseng had a putt to win the title. She checked the line – it was dead straight – she made a confident stroke and rolled the ball home. The win was Tseng’s third Major title and, at just 21-years-old, she became the youngest ever three-time Major champion.
In 2011, Yani Tseng consolidated her reputation as the world’s finest woman golfer when she closed with a three under par 69 to win the 2011 Ricoh Women’s British Open over the Championship course at Carnoustie. The World No. 1 from Taiwan put together rounds of 71, 66, 66 and 69 to finish four shots ahead of America’s Brittany Lang on 12 under par 272 and claim the £239,047 first prize. Sophie Gustafson, from Sweden, closed strongly with a fine four under par 68 to finish on 277 while Korea’s Amy Yang carded a battling five under par 67 to claim fourth place on ten under par 278. Yani Tseng is the third player to win consecutive Women’s British Open titles, joining Sherri Steinhaurer (1998, 1999) and Debbie Massey (1980, 1981). She also became the youngest player, male or female, to win 5 major titles.
Neither howling wind nor driving rain nor lengthy weather delays at the 2012 Ricoh Women’s British Open could delay Ji-Yai Shin from her appointment with history. Shin finished with rounds of 71-64-71-73 and a 9-stroke lead over Inbee Park, marking the largest margin of victory at the event to capture her 10th career LPGA victory and her 2nd major having won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2008.