I have mixed feelings about golf, and mostly mixed negative feelings at that. My father never played it, but as a young workingwoman, I really used to resent the exclusion of my own gender as the “guys” would go off on a summer afternoon and “work” on the course. Sure, it was fun for them, and I’m sure it got deals done, but I was disgusted by the culture that excluded me. And that was before I learned that golf stands for “Gentleman Only, Ladies Forbidden.”
Plus, the local country club only admitted my parents in the 1980s because my dad had become so important in the community that they could finally overlook the fact that his father was Jewish. (They even lived right across the street from the club!)
So as a young woman, I went with my parents and my young daughter to the country club for dinner and witnessed the pastel-shorted, red-faced men with their hearty laughs and slaps on the back as they drank their drinks after a long round of golf. It wasn’t an image I aspired to, and although I was tempted to try and become the first single woman admitted to the club, that still wasn’t allowed.
And all this was before I learned about the enormous amount of toxic chemicals used on golf courses around the world to make them look perfect. Was there anything good about golf? I was hard-pressed to find it. After all, if I wanted to spend an afternoon in nature, I could go for a hike, or a bike ride or something.
Now that I’m getting older, it has become more and more apparent that I need to be more physically active. But here’s the real secret of my Rodale childhood: We only had one family sport, and it was reading. My father, even though he bought and published Runner’s World and Bicycling magazines among others, and would go off on long bike rides by himself, really didn’t have spare time to bring us into his sporting pleasure. At most, we could tag along to events he was a part of (races, gun clubs, etc.). So I never grew up feeling comfortable with any kind of sport. And if I showed any kind of talent at anything, my little brother would seethe with resentment. After all, I was a girl.
So on our most recent vacation, since my husband likes to play golf and my girls are showing some interest, off we go to the driving range to hit some balls. I asked my husband how far I would have to hit a ball in order to be allowed to go golfing; he said it’d have to go at least to a flag that was far out. So I asked the “golf pro” for a little bit of help—as in which of these dang clubs do I use…and it was fun. I hit some good balls. I made it to the flag my husband pointed out. Twice.
As I headed back in, the pro said “Are you sure you have never played golf before?” And I said “No, why?” He replied, “You hit some really good balls out there and you have good form, natural talent!”
A second, full lesson with a different golf pro confirmed my earlier discovery—I do have “natural talent.” And frankly, it’s deeply satisfying to whack a ball as hard as you can and see it fly!
But here’s the sad truth: Instead of allowing myself to feel happy about that wonderful compliment (that is really what I feel deep in my soul), I remembered what my husband said after a particularly good shot I made: “Don’t get a hole-in-one before I do.” It’s not cool that I could be good. I might diminish the pleasure the guys around me take in the game (and this was confirmed to me later by a male coworker’s response!)
I am convinced that men have repressed women for thousands of years because they can’t stand when women are better than them at anything—so they played this elaborate mind game, partnered with physical dominance, preventing women from even believing they could be better at anything. After all, if a woman isn’t even allowed access to education (as women were for thousands of years and still are in some countries), how can she ever prove that she’s intelligent and capable?
As we women unshackle ourselves, we hit different barriers—the emotional ones. Do I really want my husband to resent me if I happen to get better than him at golf? He’s a good man and he’d get over it. And truly, it would be nice to have an activity we could all enjoy as a family (because honestly, I draw the line at watching baseball—that will never happen).
I think it’s a sign from the universe that I should start playing golf; because another male coworker just sent me a link to a story in the New York Times about an organic golf course in Martha’s Vineyard. Obama is going to play golf there this summer (and has apparently played there twice already). If it’s good enough for our first black president to play on, then maybe it’s good enough for a woman.