No-one would want to push the male golfing fraternity into acknowledging that their treatment of women across the past couple of centuries has been pretty shabby. Yet how a meaningful “Sorry!” would make for a welcome gesture at a time when golf overall is having to think about the best way ahead.
Apart from anything else, such a move might encourage women to set aside their ongoing suspicions with reference to how some male golfers have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era.
For example, though each of the clubs on the Open Championship rota now takes women members, in how many instances was that down to a genuine desire to do the right thing by women as opposed to a determination to stay put on that prestigious rota? Again, how many of the mixed clubs would have gone along with the demands of the 2010 Equality Act had they not been forced into meeting guidelines established in the relevant legislation?
Some instances of discrimination – both in the US as well as the UK – are so outrageous as to make us laugh. However, the recent revelations from England’s now 30-year-old Rachel Drummond tell their own story of why equality in sport is so important (READ MORE). After opening up about the sexual abuse she suffered in childhood, this current LET player went on to say that golf’s “men first” traditions had not exactly helped to bolster her battered confidence: “Things are turning the page now but, as I was growing up, I just accepted that that’s how it was.”
Jamil Qureshi, the golf psychologist who worked with Ian Woosnam’s winning Ryder Cup side of 2006, has given his own views on the damage done to a woman’s psyche. “When women are treated in a second-class way, it is easy for them to doubt their own worth,” Qureshi said. “Consistency of play needs consistency of mind – and that’s always going to be tricky when you’re a victim of inequality.”
To give an example of where things have improved, the R&A have handed over any amount of money towards worthwhile projects on the distaff side of the game, while they, like the European Tour, have contributed substantially towards the new LPGA-LET liaison. There are tournament sponsors, too, who have added a women’s professional event to their portfolio, simply because they feel it is what they should be doing in this day and age. Less good news has to do with how, simultaneously, there has been a proliferating amount of “box-ticking” going on. For myself, I am thinking of the new-fangled forums where assorted women from outside golf are wheeled in to tell us how they have broken through the proverbial glass ceiling in their lines of business.
They are taking us nowhere. In fact, people are heartily sick of hearing the same old things. What we need, at this point, is a roadmap detailing “where now” in the wake of a magnificent 2019 Solheim Cup. The crowds that week were 90,000-plus, and there were plenty to say they enjoyed it as much as any Ryder Cup.
Equal prize-money for the women’s majors is not about to happen, especially when golf is getting ready for an all-round cost-cutting exercise that could result in the men’s tournaments hogging most of what little limelight there is likely to be in this foreshortened season.
Perhaps it is the nourishing of golf’s grass roots which could do more than anything to help the women’s cause at this stage. Here, the sad fact is that despite the grand efforts of Sport England, with their Girls Golf Rocks campaign, along with the progress being made by the other home countries, the number of girls playing golf in the UK continues to disappoint. The aforementioned Drummond, to give just one illustration, was the only girl at Beaconsfield Golf Club in her junior years whilein 2018 the average number of girls per club in the UK was two. How bad is that compared to the US where, in that same summer, Heather Daly-Donofrio, the chief communications and tour operations officer of the LPGA, reported at the HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore on how girls represented the fastest-growing segment of US golf.
It was a prominent official who maybe came up with the best explanation for the paucity of girls on this side of the Atlantic as she told of a day when a representative from the Under-16 age group was called upon to speak the truth and the whole truth about what she liked and what she did not like about the game.
She forged ahead.
Yes, there was plenty that she loved but, on the other side of the coin, she felt that too much of her time was spent “playing with ladies who look like my granny.” What she left unsaid was that had she been brought up playing alongside boys, she would have stretched her game almost without knowing it whilst simultaneously finding golf a more sociable pastime which, for the moment, it manifestly is not. (She could also, incidentally, have mentioned those not-so-nice women who fuss overmuch about what the girls wear and would sooner they were not allowed to make off with the prizes when they are not paying a full subscription.)
Clubs should consider making their junior sections mixed, with mixed matches followed by the kind of social gatherings which, of course, are not allowed at the moment. Half a team’s worth of girls are hardly going to arrive all at once but there has to be a way. Such matches would detonate interest at club level and beyond and, little by little, they could lead to a situation in which the BBC – and Sky for that matter – might be prepared to divvy up the time and resources spent on their golf coverage rather more equitably. (Just look at how the men’s Open is given two hours of prime-time highlights to the Women’s British Open’s one, often late at night.)
Charley Hull has been a case apart on the women’s scene.
First at Kettering and then at Woburn, she was never short of boys who wanted to show that they had defeated her, and who mostly came to accept that it hardly was the worst thing in the world to finish on the losing side against such a rare talent. Hull has been lucky, as have all those women – Joyce Wethered, Dame Laura Davies and Lexi Thompson to name but three – who benefited from having an older brother by way of a readily available rival.
Back in the 1920s, Bobby Jones said of Wethered that she had the best swing, men’s or women’s, that he had ever seen. Yet even she knew what it was to be made to feel like a second-class citizen.
It was one afternoon at Deal that this winner of five successive English championships and four British Women’s championships was left to warm her hands on the engine of someone’s Rolls-Royce as her brother, Roger, and his Oxford friends were allowed into the clubhouse for a drink.
“When women are treated in a second-class way, it is easy for them to doubt their own worth. Consistency of play needs consistency of mind – and that’s always going to be tricky when you’re a victim of inequality.”
Henry Cotton was a great champion for women, his finest hour occurring at the 1946 News of the World championship at Royal Liverpool. On learning that his wife, Toots, would not be allowed in the clubhouse, this three-time Open champion refused to enter the building himself and instead used his hotel as his base. As the week wore on, the golf writers of the day demanded a news conference at which the club secretary advised, “No woman ever has entered the clubhouse and, praise God, no woman ever will.” Praise God, it did happen – and a whole lot quicker at that club than at many another of our all-male bastions. Cotton, meanwhile, won the tournament and the prize-giving had to take place in the pouring rain.
It is when you remember how Muirfield needed two separate votes to agree to take women members (the women in question arrived as recently as 2018), that you realise how misogynists are far from extinct.
Boxes continue to be ticked but, beyond that, things are at a bit of a standstill. Which is why an apology – from whatever segment of golfing society that feels
the need to acknowledge guilt – might serve as a piquant milestone on our journey towards equality.