THE clubs are a little lighter these days and the outfits are a little less frilly but what is widely believed to be the world's oldest ladies' golf club will be celebrating its 140th anniversary in style tomorrow (Thursday). At 8am, female members of

THE clubs are a little lighter these days - and the outfits are a little less frilly - but what is widely believed to be the world's oldest ladies' golf club will be celebrating its 140th anniversary in style tomorrow (Thursday).At 8am, female members of the Royal North Devon Westward Ho! Ladies' Golf Club will be teeing off at the annual Championship Day - and toasting the club's 1868 founders at a dinner being held in the Northam Burrows-hugging "19th" hole that evening.The historic 18-hole course - the oldest in England - was actually founded in 1864. But it was not until four years later that the then Vicar of Northam, the Rev. H M Gosset, proposed that a ladies' course be planned "in a quiet corner of the sand hills"."Mr Gosset had visited St Andrews in Scotland and had seen women playing on the putting green there," club press officer Sue Vicary told the Gazette."On June 8, a meeting was held in the former Bath Hotel - which stood on the site of the new Horizon View apartments - and a club was formed."We are now the oldest ladies' club in the world that is still going. A club had formed at St Andrews a year earlier but is no longer in existence."In the beginning, the new club had around 50 members, who played a subscription of 2/6d -twelve-and-a-half pence - to play on their own course to the right of Sandymere, often just with one club and a putter."It wasn't just a putting green - they were actually hitting shots," said current club captain Anna Wright."They were playing holes of various lengths - dressed in a bustle!"According to Our Ladies of the Green, the first book exclusively on ladies golf, written by Louie Mackern and M.Boys and published in 1899, the ladies' links consisted of nine holes, situated to the west of the Royal North Devon Links. It describes the holes as varying in length, from 130 to 377 yards, with hazards including ditches and large patches of short rushes, called "Fog" and pronounced "Fug". Today, female golfers at the club - which now boasts 114 lady members and 15 junior girls - still play for the original Ladies' Gold Challenge Medal, awarded every August since 1868.Over the years, Royal North Devon has produced a number of successful female players including one of the country's leading lady players, European Solheim Cup member, Trish Johnson.Among the latest crop of promising young female golfers is 17-year-old Georgina Snow, a member of the English Elite Girls' squad.Georgina, who plays off a three handicap, has just returned from a training session in Spain and hopes to win a scholarship to a golfing academy in Florida, America, next year."It's a thriving club - especially when you look at the number of young girls coming through," said club vice-captain Sue Ackland.The club - of which Prince Andrew is patron - made national headlines this month following concerns that the eighth hole could soon be lost to coastal erosion at Northam Burrows."We have such a heritage we are trying to safeguard the future of the club for future generations to come," added Miss Ackland.Tomorrow's anniversary celebrations will be joined by a number of the club's former lady captains."It's a happy coincidence that the Championship Day falls on the same day as our 140th anniversary - it'll be a great way to mark the day," said Mrs Wright.n ALTHOUGH members of the Royal North Devon Westward Ho! Ladies' Golf Club claim their club is the oldest still in existence, according to Gillian Kirkwood, Ladies' Golf Union councillor and chairman of the Trustees of the Women Golfers' Museum, the ladies' golf club in longest "continuous" existence was actually Carnoustie Ladies."The first ladies golf club that we know about was the St Andrews Ladies' Club, instituted in 1867, and I think Westward Ho! can claim to be the second," she told the Gazette."In the early days, the Royal North Devon Ladies Golf Club was known as the Westward Ho! Ladies' Golf Club."It was founded in 1868, and reconstituted in 1893 - which indicates that at some point in between it closed down."St Andrews Ladies' Club changed its name to the St Andrews Ladies' Putting Club in 1940."Hannah Fleming, exhibitions and research assistant at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, near Fife, also confirmed that the Royal North Devon Ladies' Club was one of the earliest ladies' clubs to form in Britain. "There is another club in our records that is also in Devon called Instow Ladies' Club which was formed in 1868, but I don't think it is still in existence as I have no further evidence for it," she added.