Game Over

Sex on the links: What’s really at stake for women who insist on joining men in golf?

JOHN GORDON May 26 2003
Game Over

Sex on the links: What’s really at stake for women who insist on joining men in golf?

JOHN GORDON May 26 2003

Sex on the links: What’s really at stake for women who insist on joining men in golf?

Game Over


At the Rogers Sportsnet studio in Toronto where I hang out, there is not a separate washroom for white men and another for men of colour. Neither are there separate facilities for women of differing skin pigmentation.

That would be discrimination, and that would be wrong.

There is, however, one washroom for men and another for women. I suspect it is thus where you work.

That is not discrimination. It is an acknowledgement of the innate differences between men and women.

My wife, who plays in an allwomen hockey league in the winter and a similar golf league in the summer, prefers to be treated by the female half of the husband-and-wife physician team we use. During the golf season,

I live for my Wednesday men’s league and my Sunday maleonly skins game. I feel no shame in saying I, too, prefer a same-sex physician for certain procedures of a probing nature. We agree on few things, my bride and I, but we are of the same opinion on these matters: On occasion, we enjoy the company of our own kind. My wife and I do, however, enjoy our weekly golf games together and the fact that we’ve been together for 20 years and have three children reflects an ongoing agreement of a wholly different description.

As I write this, Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, continues to agitate for Augusta National to admit a woman member. As you read this, Annika Sorenstam, the world’s most dominant player - among her peers at least - is about to play on a sponsor’s exemption in the PGA Tour’s Colonial tournament between May 22 and 25

in Texas. (Her invitation was a ploy by the tournament’s title sponsor, whom I won’t identify, to sell more tickets.) Despite her much-ballyhooed (“60 Minutes,” even!) fitness and strength regimen, she lacks the overall distance, short game and putting abilities to survive the 36hole cut, much less finish in the top 10.

On the heels of Sorenstam’s folly will come the public humiliation of club pro Suzy Whaley, who will also fail to make the cut at the Greater Hartford Open, which begins on July 24. Whaley got her ticket by winning a regional qualifier at tees some 700 yards shorter than her male opponents. In April, she finished tied for 33rd in a 6,300-yard event on the Futures Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit, with such world-beaters as Kristin Dufour, Nisha Sadekar and Erika Wicoff. (Who she? Ed.) I would doubt that GHO defend-

ing champ Phil Mickelson is losing sleep over this news.

This is not a gloating sexist sneer. This is reality. It was ever thus, and so it should remain.

My friend David Owen writes a monthly column for Golf

Digest. In March, he wrote a 5,000-word essay titled “The Case for Men’s Clubs”. It commenced with a personal anecdote in which he presented a female friend with the following quotes: “While men’s golf clubs are diverse, their members have a common desire to create sustained bonds with other men.” “Men’s golfclubs offer a sense of rootedness, a common body of experience and knowledge, a sense of continuity.” “We are forever being told to give more energy, more time, to our marriage, our career, our children, our community. Men’s golf clubs tell us to spend more time with our male friends.”

U Hootie: immovable Burk: resistible

Only after a predictably infuriated response to the quotes did Owen reveal that he had lifted them, with minor modifications, from the introduction to a popular recent book called Girls’ Night Out: Celebrating Women ’s

Groups Across America, by Tamara Kreinin and Barbara Camens.

In response to his essay, the women at Owen’s golf club in Connecticut successfully had him removed as the club’s golf chairman.

On the day before the start of this year’s Masters, I asked Martha Burk about the womenonly membership policy of the Ladies’Golf Club of Toronto. Ada Mackenzie founded the Ladies’ GO 80 years ago to provide a place where women, who were widely discriminated against, could play without restriction. “Men should be admitted as members,” Burk said.

A day after this year’s Masters, Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said, “There will never be a female member, six months after The Masters, a year, 10 years or ever.” The club, he says, is prepared to continue with this revered tournament "indefinitely” without sponsorship. In this struggle with Augusta National’s immovable object, the headline-addicted Burk is increasingly becoming a resistible farce.

Do the tainted and unfair appearances of Sorenstam and Whaley in men’s tournaments strike a blow for what is perceived as sexual equality? Or will their inevitable failure reinforce, in a negative fashion, that there are undeniable physiological and social differences between the sexes?

Perhaps a clue lies in the words inscribed on a bumper sticker that once adorned LPGA star Patty Sheehan’s car: “Women who seek equality with men lack ambition.” ^

John Gordon is Rogers Sportsnet’s golf analyst.