By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-in-Chief
It’s a common myth that “Golf” is an acronym for “Gentleman only ladies forbidden”—yet this mindset isn’t completely untrue to the culture of golf. In the world of golf, names like Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer dominate headlines. When you drive through the windy roads of Elmwood Park, you see carts of old men on the hills of Elmwood Golf course.
Women failing to receive equal time and recognition in sports is not a new phenomenon, but is it different in golf where courses themselves are so male-dominated that it’s a hindrance on female golfers?
“It’s changing a lot,” Men’s and Women’s Golf Head Coach Tim Nelson said. “When I first got in the golf business, women were not allowed to play until I think it was 2:00 on Saturdays and 1:00 on Sundays or something like that. In the late 70s, it started to change.”
Obviously over the years, many social issues have progressed to become more gender-equal; but has golf always had a predisposition against women? Sometimes, it feels that way for women golfers.
“Especially if I go ever to practice by myself, you can see the different looks that the guys are giving you,” junior Katie Kesti from Redwing, Minn. said. “But then they have a little bit different expression when they see you hitting.”
According to womens’ golf expert and President of Berkley Golf Consulting Nancy Berkley, in 2010, there were 23.6 million total adults golfers in the United States—of that number, only 4.7 million were women.
Golfing has been trending downward the last few years, but the proportion of men to women in the sport has always been the same.
Nelson, who has worked in the golf industry with men and women his entire life, cites several reasons as to why there are fewer female golfers. He believes the solo aspect of the sport contributes to it.
“Women like to do things together,” Nelson said. “That’s where you get camps for soccer, softball and volleyball. It’s a group situation today. Golf is pretty much an individual thing.”
Many women, including freshman Megan Vetrovsky, have had encounters at courses that might not otherwise occur if they were a male.
“When you’re behind a group of male golfers and you’re playing faster than them, you can kind of see [that] they don’t want to let you through because they think ‘Girl golfer, they can’t hit it,’” Vetrovsky said. “They don’t show respect and they don’t expect a female golfer to hit the ball well and hit it far.”
On a national scale, the gender divide is also noticeable.
“When you turn on golf channel, most likely, it’s a PGA event and not an LPGA event,” Vetrovsky said. “I don’t notice it as much, but I guess if you think about it, it’s a little more male-dominated.”
Even though such precepts exist, it’s the men playing on Sunday that many women, including Kesti, looked up to as role models.
“I actually look up to the guy golfers,” Kesti said. “I like Rory and I like Tiger. I watched [Woods] when I was young. But then once I started playing golf, I would watch major championships and I would go to the range and realize this is harder than I thought it’d be.”
The male-centric aspects of golf are all acknowledged by golfers like Kesti and Vetrovsky, but it’s not something that bothers them. It is the way it is, and it is usually nothing that a first impression can’t change.
“It’s kind of expected, the first impression thing,” Kesti said. “It’s a girl that’s going to go play, but when they realize I’m a girl that can play, I think that goes along with anyone that is in that level of competition.”
Such a notion is something that even fuels a bit of a competitive flame and adds some fun to the sport.
“I do get enjoyment out of that,” Vetrovsky said. “I love seeing the guys’ reaction watch me. I love going to a new course and hitting on the range and guys being shocked I can hit the ball probably further than them.”
If anything, the ladies wish more that the sport as a whole is more appreciated, rather than their gender.
“I would like to see more people appreciate it as a sport,” Vetrovsky said. “Some of the other athletes say, ‘I don’t get golf’ and ‘I don’t get the sport.’ [I would] like more people to get involved and understand it more and how much work goes into being successful at it.”
Kesti agrees the sport often isn’t appreciated.
“It’s not a typical sport,” Kesti said. “I hear a lot ‘Why do we work out for golf?’ It’s much more mental strength that is required. But there are physical techniques that need to be perfected in order to succeed in it.”
As those who dedicate their life to the sport will continue to make strides to grow it, increasing the involvement of women within the sport and their place within it will continue to be improved as well.
Golf will always be cherished by men, but there’s a place in the culture for women to enjoy the timeless game.