Thursday, July 21, 2011

Golf And Gender Evolution

In the old days, actually not so long ago, those tee boxes at the bottom of the picture were gender specific. 

Over at Open Tabernacle there's a somewhat testy conversation going on as to whether gender is a biological fact or influenced by culture.  It's actually both. Culture works to put serious restrictions on both sexes and this usually has very little to do with biological reality.  I used to see this play out all the time on golf courses. In golf, ideas of gender appropriateness really effected men as much as women, but men didn't see it.  Of course.

When I started playing golf back in the late seventies, there weren't very many women playing the game relative to the numbers of men.  Most women who did play only took up the game as another way to socialize with their husbands.  The first teaching pro I ever worked with absolutely forbid me to play with women, except on women's day, because he thought it would ruin my progress in the sport.  I thought it was kind of strange there was such a thing as 'women's day'.  I learned very fast how much sexism there was in golf.  I can remember being asked to join a local country club only to find out there were days and times women were not even allowed on the course, including Saturday.  It didn't make a great deal of sense to me to pay through the nose to join a club which discriminated against me simply for being a woman, not how I could or could not play the game.

Anyway, I played a lot with men and the first thing I learned was the various ways one could make or lose money playing golf.  It was called betting and there were seemingly an unlimited number of ways to do it and that handicap was critical in determining a fair competition.  It always kind of amazed me how a person's betting handicap was frequently lower than their tournament handicap.  I learned that was due to something called 'sandbagging'.  

Any way, being a woman, I started play from the 'women's tees', until I hit my first drive and then the haggling would begin.  I was told to move back to the men's tees otherwise I had an unfair advantage.  I would suggest to my partners they move up to the red tees and try playing the course from the red tees. In my thirty some years of playing golf I only ran into two men who took up that challenge, and both of them were working towards their PGA cards.  They understood that playing the course from different tees changed one's strategic approach to the game, not the level of their testosterone.  For these guys tee boxes were just different starting points that called for different shots to get to the same end.  For every other male they seemed to be a hardwired definition of gender.  Men did not play from the red tees and some went so far as to force their young sons to play from the white or blue tees just because they were boys.  I have no idea how many young boys quit the game because they didn't  have the necessary striking power to play from the whites.  The whole thing drove me crazy.

But just around the time that Tiger Woods started to hit the scene, the USGA started pushing a novel concept.  The various color of tee boxes had nothing to do with gender.  They had everything to do with striking power and ability---and the more difficult courses started enforcing handicap rules with regards to tee boxes.  One did not play the back tees if one did not have a sub five handicap.  Tiger brought such a huge influx of new golfers, that this became mandatory to keep speed of play reasonable.  

The old language dies hard.  Too many golfers still refer to the various tees as women's and men's instead of front, middle, back and really way back--or red, white, blue, and black tees.  It is slowly changing, and it's sort of gratifying to me to actually see not only good women golfers playing the white and blue tees, but men playing the reds.  When I see men play the reds that's when I know 'we've come along way baby'.

One last thought, golf didn't fall apart and cease to be golf because women play white and blue tees, and men occasionally play the red tees.  I think there's a lesson in there somewhere for the Roman Catholic Church.


  1. I am told that the word Golf originally was crafted from the phrase of it's founding fathers G O L F = 'Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden!'

  2. That is somewhat questionable since Mary Queen of Scotts was known to play, but I have heard it a lot.

  3. Sport has been a very important proving ground for all sorts of ideals like equality.

    Slavery: Tolerated by the church for centuries. Popes owned slaves. In 1859 the American bishops resisted Pope Gregory 16's "In Supremo Apostolatus" preferring to separate the condemnation of the slave trade from the actual practice of slavery. If you were a conservative then you would have been in favor of slavery.

    It would be almost a century before Jesse Owens would prove African Americans worthy in sport. But it would be another generation before the civil rights movement would make more progress. Note the black power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Conservatives were worried that those "Negroes" were going too fast and upsetting society. Fortunately Vatican 2 condemned the vestiges of slavery and stood with the oppressed, if only for a short time.

    In 1967 K. (Kathrine) Switzer entered the Boston marathon. It was an all male event by tradition. Her presence on the course was so upsetting that the officials disqualified her and attempted to remove her from the course by tackling her.

    Scroll down to see the photos of the tackle:

    Unfortunately, after working almost 30 years in the sports world, I have found male golfers most resistant to participation by women. It is ironic because 100 years ago only tennis and golf were considered to be proper sports for women and girls. And the Church? Ahem... crickets. What about equality before the law? In Canada my grandmother was born with no legal rights (but all the legal obligations) simply because she was a woman. She would be over 30 before the persons case would recognize the legal rights of women in 1929.

    This is a great analogy Colleen. The most socially conservative and resistant men in golf and religion are beginning to come around to the ability of women. Perhaps some day they will get over their reflexive abhorrence of feminism. (Watch how the orthodox almost spit that word out, as though it was Satan himself they cited.) Personally, I think Jesus was much more egalitarian than the Vatican.

    However, it may take a very long time. The PGA and most of the PGA golfers objected to a disabled person playing professional golf. The US Supreme Court decided in favor of Casey Martin.,_Inc._v._Martin

    You know I could probably go on for 3 credit hours on the topic, probably more.


  4. Errata:

    It was in 1839 that "In Supremo Apostolatus" was published.

    Not 1859. I regret the error.


  5. p2p, Don't feel bad, I could go on for over four hours on the golf analogies. I think I kind of know how priests feel in a parish from having been a teaching pro at community golf courses. One does get a great deal of respect without really having to do much to earn it except having pursued a personal goal to obsession.

    I also felt some tournaments really were ritual expressions,--can anyone say the Masters-- and of course they all ended with a communal meal and too much wine.