There’s never been a better time to join a club, but it’s been a long road
There’s never been a better time to jump into the game, but there’s still a lot of work to do. It’s been a long and frustrating road, writes Hannah Holden
The best female players in the world are playing at Muirfield this week. An occasion that highlights how much women in golf have changed, but also reminds us of how bad things have gone for so long. All talk in the build-up to the tournament has been about a club that only admitted women in 2019.
There has never been a better time for girls to get into the game. Much like the positive impact the European Champion Lionesses have had, women on the golf course will become the norm rather than the exception.
But when you’re immersed in golf, it’s easy to see that it’s still not the same for men and women. To understand this, you need to recognize the background of the game.
The first single-sex women’s golf club was opened in 1867. The St Andrews Ladies Putting Club, now known as the Himalayas. At the time, it was considered inappropriate for women to raise their arms above shoulder height, so the putt was the only proper form of golf for them.
Scottish judge Lord Moncrieff suggested that women should drive the ball no farther than 70 or 80 yards, stating that “the posture and gestures required for a full swing are not particularly graceful when the player is dressed in a feminine attire.
A year after the establishment of the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club, women played for the first time on the links at Westward Ho! – but only if accompanied by gentlemen caddies.
Almost all prestigious golf courses have not allowed women at some point in their history.
The club secretary of Royal Liverpool, in 1946, wrote: “No woman has ever entered the clubhouse and, thank God, no woman ever will.”
You may think this story is irrelevant. Indeed, this is all so outdated that it would never affect today’s golfers.
But, as a woman in golf, I can tell you it is.
I played golf for my county before I could represent my club. The local union had banned girls from playing in junior interclub teams. Challenged, the president of the union rose to speak. “Michelle Wie has proven that women aren’t good enough to compete with men.” Wie is supposedly proof? She had shot 68. At the age of 14. In a PGA Tour event.
Complaints were filed and ultimately the decision was overturned. Kind of. Girls could not represent more than 50% of a team. They didn’t want to deprive the boys of opportunities.
He was also considered “dangerous” for them. After all, I could accuse them of anything. One hundred and forty-four years after the notion in North Devon, I had to be chaperoned on the course to compete with the boys.
I quickly realized how strong the perceptions were that women couldn’t play golf. Maybe it should be an add-on when people praise my swing. Perhaps men shouldn’t be so surprised that women can excel in sports.
Boys on other teams were ridiculed for being beaten by a girl – although that stopped once I started beating them all.
How bad is the stigma of losing to a girl? Bad enough that the boys made the effort to walk the whole course before games to put the red tees behind the white ones.
As you age, the challenges are different. Why are people so surprised that women want to play golf on weekends? If I want to play in a big board competition, I have to run to the course from an eight-hour workday because Tuesday and Thursday are women’s competition days. Will I finish before it gets dark? Am I playing my best golf? Of course not. Would you? And I certainly don’t feel part of an inclusive club.
I should note here that women can participate in some Saturday competitions at my club, but not the weeks when the men’s competitions are held. Women’s board competitions are also never played on weekends as it suits the generation of women currently playing. Some accommodations have been made for “working women” – a tiny percentage of society, officials say – but more needs to be done.
I have developed thick skin over the years, although it has been tested extensively. There’s only so many times I can sit and listen to men tell me I’m only a good golfer because I play the front tees, telling me I should be home in the kitchen or coaching me on the course regardless of their lack of ability.
Women pay like any other member, but there are always different rules for when we can play and how we are treated. No wonder women want to join women only clubs, these are some of the few places where they actually get what they pay for. They have unlimited access to the course without the stigma and sexism you get at other clubs.
Things are changing, but far from the pace they should be. So I apologize if I’m not as happy with the improvements as you think I should be.