I felt like a ghost on the golf course the other day.
The charity tournament I was playing in raised good money for a good cause, but the event transported me back to an era where “golfer” was synonymous with “male”.
Let me begin with the positives so I’m not uncharitable to my well-meaning hosts. Participants got access to a meticulously-groomed, private course that people usually can’t play on without a connection. The organizers ran our day smoothly, provided us with delicious food and scramble team play. The sponsors were generous and the prizes where appropriately stingy, so we knew most of our money was landing in the non-profit’s coffers.
I won’t reveal the tournament’s purpose or location, because my experience at this event was more a representation of an antiquated golf culture that is still alive and well in some class of plush charity tournaments frequented by businessmen and the professionals who serve them.
Ours was the only all-woman team; maybe a half-dozen women were sprinkled among 20 other teams. It felt like Saturday morning at a mid-century country club—ironic, in that our female foursome was among a minority of players old enough to remember the 1950s.
Most of the guys there were too young. That’s what disheartens me—the Gen X-ers and Millenials inheriting the business world are also inheriting the chunk of business-golf culture stuck in a decades-old rut.
What was wrong, aside from the gender imbalance? The competitive format related to it.
Teams vied on the basis of gross scores only; no handicapping. Women were assigned to a set of non-forward tees from which we saw senior men floundering. Our foursome essentially played one ball, which belonged to a glorious Amazon on our team with a single-digit index. The rest of us made enough decent shots—mostly putts—to bring our score down to a 70.
Woohoo! Two under par! Then we handed in our card and learned the other teams shot around the low 60s.
So how could this charity event have been better? Remember the ladies (as Abigail Adams said) when setting up the competitive format. Abigail was talking about setting up the national code of laws, and that’s a relevant analogy. What we want is equality of opportunity; achieving the outcome is up to us.
If all you have to do to win is assemble a bunch of scratch golfers, where’s the challenge in that unless you’re competing only against other scratch golfers? There are pro and high-end amateur tours for gross scoring. We’re duffers here; give us a net fighting chance.
In this realm, this feminist accepts gender separation. I still prefer the utter objectivity of data-based equalization, and a batch of flights based on it, but at least give me a women’s division.
Don’t make female mid-handicappers like me play a 5,600-yard course when you could offer a 4,900-yard alternative. And if you don’t have one, shame on you; set one up.
Or consider this, tournament organizers . . . Don’t make it a competitive event at all.
Most of us don’t win anything anyway. Charge us the same fees just for access to a great course, excellent food and amenities, alluring raffles, and pleasant business-social interaction.
Let us choose the format we prefer, either our own ball or scramble—the rounds will take about the same amount of time. Most experienced players want to gauge how they do against their real competitor, the course, while scrambling provides a lower-stress way to involve inexperienced golfers while maintaining the pace of play.
So make it an outing, not a tournament. Encourage women and newcomers to play, while giving more advanced golfers what they want.
That way, everyone wins.