The Invisible Golfer

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The Invisible Golfer

The charity tournament I played in raised good money for a good cause, but the event transported me back to an era where "golfer" was synonymous with "male". 

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, FRANCE - JULY 25: Maria Verchenova of Russia plays a shot during the third round of the Evian Masters at the Evian Masters Golf Club on July 25, 2009 in Evian-les-Bains, France. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)


Written By:

Stephanie Brown

Stephanie has been a golf contributor since 2014 for the Albany Times Union golf blog and has also appeared on the Capital Area Golf website with numerous other appearances in print and online publications as part of multi-decade journalism and marketing career.

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.


Apply handicaps

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.


Set up flights

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.


Assign the correct tees

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.

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Susan Lundberg

So right!!! Most who play fundraisers are not there to win but to support the charity and enjoy the day.

Cheri Brennan

Good column, good suggestions! I play in an annual “worthy cause” tournament with 3 other women. We’ve lobbied for years to have a women’s flight and this year we were accommodated. Another all-female foursome also played, plus some women sprinkled among other foursomes. To their credit, they’ve had KP & long drive and a few other competitions for women as well as men. To add to your suggestions: if offering apparel: include women’s sizes. (Better yet, avoid offering shirts as a tee gift. Most golfers I know have favorite brands and styles, and don’t need more shirts. Unless underwritten by… Read more »

Jeannie Cross

And if there is a hole-in-one contest, let the ladies play from their regular tee box. Surprisingly, given that the Rules of Golf opine on just about everything else, there is no requirement that there be a minimum distance between the tee box and the hole for a hole-in-one to “count.” So give us an equal shot at that lovely Lexus!

William Tucker

Most hole-in-one competitions are underwritten by insurance and require a minimum distance to ensure they w-minimize their exposure. You make a good point though- I’ve never seen separate tees for men and women for ace prizes.

teresa ackerman

good points stephanie – make it enjoyabe and fair for all participants

William Tucker

The forward tees have traditionally been an afterthought of course architects. There should be a 27% difference between the mid and forward tees to reflect the average distance discrepancy of the male and female tee shots. As an example of the general disregard shown for this discrepancy, only two courses locally meet this standard, McGregor Links and Brookhaven in Greenfield (I may have missed one, it’s been a long time since I did the research). As far as not having net prizes, why would anyone subsidize ringer teams assembled with the sole purpose of winning low gross, by entering the… Read more »