Girls and Golf: My Ultimate Sports Dilemma

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.




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21 Responses to Girls and Golf: My Ultimate Sports Dilemma

  1. Nikki August 20, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    “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.”

    Welcome to the real world, Maria. 🙂

  2. Stacy August 20, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    My husband signed me up for a golf outing in Atlantic City in two weeks. I have never played before. It should be interesting.

  3. meg wolff August 20, 2010 at 10:16 am #

    Loved, loved, loved this story. Could relate to reading was our sport, though we got plenty of sport just running around the neighborhood and swimming where ever we could find water (which is everywhere in Maine!).

    Did you think that maybe your husband’s remark may have just been said as a person (and not because he is a man?) and not necessarily meant to reinforce that it wasn’t cool for you as a women to outshine him? Maybe he’s just competative?

    I think we have to also look at our reaction … in that moment you might have noticed this and continued with I can either limiting belief, and accept that your natural ability, or shrink (take in this belief that you should be ‘nice’ and let him win).

    I think better to be honest and play the game as well as you possibly can!

    Have to check out that organic golf course site. Not that I’ll be going, but nice to know there’s a model!

  4. robin August 20, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    I love this story & reading is still my favorite sport ; ) As the Mom of a varsity golfer who once felt as you did about the G.O.L.F. game, I now see it differently. YOU GO GIRL-turn this into a WOLF game & then share it with the boys—because that is when women are really the champs—running with the trophy on the high road & sharing it & empowering men-whether they get it or not ; P

  5. robin August 20, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Can Rodale organic golf course supplies be far behind?
    I think not

  6. Beau Friedlander August 20, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    I would play again if it weren’t so bad for the environment. Another question here is: does the amt of food not grown = the amt of fun had? Is there a golf course out there that incorporates an organic farm?

  7. Beau Friedlander August 20, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    [I hit “send” accidentally]

    As for the sexist part of this: I think you should get that hole-in-one asap. My stepgrandmother was a farm girl. She grew up in Kinsley, Kansas. It was a big farm and she was the oldest; her dad was killed by the Spanish influenza epidemic. Anyway, she and her mom ran the place till she hit her twenties. Then she went to work for governor Landon as the state’s first female secretary of health. She married a business guy and before long they both moved to New Jersey because my grandfather got a job working for General Johnson at Johnson and Johnson. Everyone played golf, even the ladies. My grandmother was a very good player (she beat my stepdad regularly) and yes she got a hole in one in Scotland. My mom played too, but was not a natural. I always thought it was a woman’s game as much as a man’s. I identified with the Jewish part of your story, because I’ve been on the receiving end of that from time to time among the golfing set (my mom wasn’t Jewish). But I still think it would be cool if there were a farm/slash golf course!

  8. Susan B. August 20, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    I believe that the word “golf” was derived from the dutch term “kolf, ” which means “club.” The idea that the word “golf” is derived from “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden” is actually an urban legend.

    And I still don’t like golf.

  9. liz August 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    I grew up playing golf. My father was our high school golf coach. I, too, could hit the ball as well as and sometimes farther then the boys and my father would demure sheepishly, so he wouldn’t appear too proud or ‘boastful’ of his daughter in front of the other men at the club. I love to play and can hit a mean long ball off the tee with a driver. I hit a decent fairway wood, solid 7 iron, but my short game always needs work. Love, love the game and think all sports are good for women. They teach us so many powerful lessons.

    Can’t agree more with your summation of the gender bias. It’s actually a perfect recap of my experience at the elite level of cycling. Unfortunately, we’re so often taught to play second to men at home, it seems natural to assume those roles in school, in the office and on the playing field.

    It won’t be until more women take leadership roles in sport, complete with money (power) and voice to back up their fight for equality that we’ll achieve fair play.

  10. Jeff Horstman August 20, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    I would love to play golf with you and I am half jewish !! Whoever has the most fun wins…How about we go to the Vineyard and play organic golf sometime ?

    Cheers cousin.

  11. Donna in Delaware August 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    I love to watch golf, at least I used to, until this fiasco happened with a certain popular golfer that will remain unnamed. All of you watchers of golf must admit that he made the game exciting and interesting to watch. I wouldn’t mind trying to play just once. My husband hates it. We lived in a golfing community in FL and the only thing the members were interested in discussing morning, noon and night was golf, golf and more golf. Being that my husband is an intellectual, that made him irate to the point of disassociating himself from the club and it’s members. He said that the golfer’s in the club were “flat” because nothing else interested them. He also hates the idea that American businessmen conducts so much business on the golf course in order to broker deals. This seldom happens in Europe. He’s European. Never mention the word golf to him.

    I should play at least one round with my brother, although I probably will beat him, beginner’s luck and all. It always happen that when I play a game for the first time, I usually win. That might embarass him, or maybe I’ll embarass myself by breaking a window and/or knocking someone in the head with a wayward ball. Either way, I think that it would be fun to get out in the open. On the other hand, I’m thinking about all of the chemicals used to keep the course in tip top form. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t. That’s life!

  12. Angie in Illinois August 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    I am an avid golfer. My friend and I have a weekly Wack and Yack play day, I am sure this has saved me countless dollars in therapy bills. Although I will never turn pro, I have outdriven a few gentlemen to their embarassment and have never been afraid to do so just to spare them. I have always said that the game of golf is moments of brilliance followed by complete manure. So wack em well girls!

  13. Marie August 20, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    Wow – you really feel that way? Maybe it’s just growing up in a different generation we have different views. I’m in my mid-30s. I don’t feel repressed. Guys are good at some things, girls are good at some things. And for the same “thing” there are guys/girls that are good at it and there are those that aren’t.

    As far as sports, I play in a co-ed Ultimate Frisbee league. Have for the last 10+ years. And yes, the (young) guys are generally taller or can run faster, but so what? Then you see how the older ones can’t, and so they refine their game in other ways (i.e. they can throw much better).

    To quote Nike, “Just do it!” Just play, whatever it is. Sounds like you are more worried about what people think of you (or your game).

    And I agree with Meg Wolff – was your husband’s comment really directed to you as a woman, or you as a rookie player?

  14. Vanessa August 21, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    Thanks so much for this post. I have been in two positions now where golf culture existed, and I must admit I just don’t get it. I am totally with you. And every time I think well, maybe I should give it a try, I think of the elitest nature of the places (one bathroom for members only etc.) and all those nasty chemicals on the field and I think nah.

    That said Justin Timberlake I heard was opening the first green golf course in the US. This may be the one you are referring to, but I’m not sure. Worth a google.

  15. Donna in Delaware August 21, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    Does miniature golf count? I’m pretty good at that! I’ll probably be good with regular golf too. I’ve always wondered how it felt to whack a ball long and hard, especially when you’re angry. Must be very therapeutic. I’ll give it a go.

  16. Kerri August 24, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this! I can absolutely relate. As a woman who grew up near the shore, boating and salt-water fishing, I’ve always had a hard time participating in this sport with men, especially those that I’ve been involved with. I remember one man I was dating who had never been fishing, but wanted to learn how. It turns out that as badly as he wanted to learn how to fish, he resented being taught by a woman, and after a couple tries, he stopped going to the water with me. To this day, I’ve had to leave my much-loved recreation behind because I am a mother now. When the opportunity arises for fishing, either on vacations or while visiting family, I am “expected” to stay behind and watch the kids while my husband is invited to go out (and he doesn’t even care about fishing… he just loves the feeling of camaraderie). It’s frustrating to be dis-included because of gender, even if unintentionally, and now who is the one who is resentful? Me.

  17. Megan August 25, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    When I worked a golf course, I observed the innerworkings of the “turf management” department’s efforts to create perfect fairways and weed-free greens, and daily mowing, hours of watering, then drainage designed to suck the water away. Is there any work being done to change this?

    I also saw and heard some of the most derogatory, hurtful comments. About women: how slow they are, how the best ones are on the beer cart, and how they couldn’t wait to get up for their 7 a.m. tee time and leave their b of a wife and annoying kids at home. About Asian golfers. About people who play golf at municipal golf courses. Anyone who wasn’t them was fair game. I’m not sure what inspires some men to behave this way at the golf course, or whether it’s the golf course that somehow brings it out in them, but it made me so angry that I left the job.

    I still love to play… mostly with women, on a few courses in the Lehigh Valley, “twilight” hours, which means there are likely fewer testy golfers behind us. 🙂

  18. robin August 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    My son came home from a varsity tournament with lime green & blue stains on his hand from ” picking up the balls & tees…”
    I wish we were in Martha’s Vineyard

  19. Lisa G August 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    When I beat my boyfriend at golf on a vacation in Hawaii, he was disgruntled and insisted that we go mountain biking later that day to show his dominance and physical prowess. Needless to say, I’m not with him any longer.

  20. Claude August 27, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    I never bought into the “boys can” idea. Neither did my Mom. I can remember Dad, sticking out his chest and telling my Mom that he could run faster than she could. “Really?’ she said, “Then catching me should not be a problem.” Off she ran. Dad gave up after about 10 min. We all cheered for Mom…we were also SHOCKED that she could run that fast…she was so far ahead that she was catching my father…lol..

  21. Eagle June 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    I can’t bleevie I’ve been going for years without knowing that.

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