When the topic of respect for women’s golf is raised, it inevitably draws a collective sigh from some sections of the male golf community who would be well served to think a little more deeply about, at the very least, what the involvement of women offers the game.
by Henry Peters
In the wake of the USA team’s win at last week’s Solheim Cup, American captain Juli Inkster was to the point.
“I just think, as women golfers, we always get short-changed and it irks me,” she said after the USA’s victory.
“Even from the PGA Tour down, I just don’t think we get really the respect we deserve. I just think hopefully it goes on and hopefully things start to change, especially in sponsorships.
“I just don’t understand how all these companies get away with supporting PGA Tour events and not supporting the LPGA. It makes me a little upset, because I think we’ve got a great product. I think we do a lot of things really good. And I think the golf is fantastic. We deserve our due.”
“If we play well, the courses are too short. If we don’t play well, we’re not good enough,” the seven-time major winner continued.
‘Women’s golfers are slow’ and ‘women can’t putt as well as men’ are just a couple of the gender stereotypes you hear from men who seldom bother to substantiate such claims and certainly aren’t clambering to enter their name on the Saturday four-ball timesheet alongside a group of women.
They remind me of the sort of ‘armchair experts’ you sit behind at a football match who spend much of the afternoon abusing their own team’s players and lamenting skill errors while professing they could have done better themselves.
At some golf clubs, the people who spread stereotypes about female inferiority on a golf course are the same people lamenting their club’s financial situation and difficulty in attracting new members.
Women in Australia make up about 20 per cent of the nation’s golfers – there’s no bigger growth market in the game domestically.
It doesn’t make much sense when men devalue women’s golf while whingeing about declining or plateauing membership.
Some men play at a snail’s pace and, last time I checked, the putting yips don’t discriminate based on gender.
I once played so slowly in a club championship final (I had a case of the Kevin Nas/Keegan Bradleys/Jason Days/Sergio Garcias circa early 2000s and couldn’t pull the trigger) that it was suggested I may have been engaging in gamesmanship.
A few male golf stereotypes could be listed here but that would be hypocritical to the point being made here.
Why do some men make it their mission to belittle women’s golfers?
It’s an issue at club level which can be found at all levels of the game.
You need only have seen the Solheim Cup singles match on Sunday between Anna Nordqvist and Lexi Thompson to recognise the remarkable standard of play that women’s pros are capable of.
As my colleague Rod Morri put it in his appraisal of the Solheim Cup, “the raw numbers, as is so often the case in golf, don’t do justice to what was one of the more compelling weeks in golf.”
In support of women’s pro golf, Inkster continued: “These ladies behind me, and even the European team, are amazing golfers. They play with power. They play with finesse. Their putting – these greens are tough.
“I hope people are starting to recognise how good they are.”
At the pro level, the lack of opportunity for women versus men – on most continents – is astounding.
Sure, the US Women’s Open this year was worth US$5 million in prizemoney but it’s only the tiny upper echelon of the game who have access to that sort of money.
The premier women’s circuit, the LPGA Tour, didn’t have TV coverage of its Lorena Ochoa Match Play in March and most LPGA Tour players have to fight extremely hard to receive even modest endorsement deals.
On Australia’s ALPG Tour, the 2016/17 schedule featured 12 events but only two were played over 72 holes: the Victorian Open and the Women’s Australian Open.
On Korea’s KLPGA, the 2017 schedule includes 33 events which are all a minimum of 54 holes while Japan’s LPGA Tour has 38.
Those figures suggest women’s golf is thriving at a grassroots level in both countries and isn’t being undermined by their male counterparts.
Inkster’s comments are far from groundbreaking.
In fact, two players who’ve had great success on the Ladies European Tour – which suffers from its own lack of commerical opportunity – offered similar sentiments while competing in Australia in February.
“No, too little media coverage,” said European Solheim Cup team member Florentyna Parker when asked if women’s golf gets the respect it deserves.
“I don’t think we get the respect we deserve at all because we do just as much practise as the guys,” said Norwegian tour pro Marianne Skarpnord.
“Obviously, we can’t hit the ball as far and we can’t spin it as much as they do but I think we do the same job and we do it as we can do.”
The consensus from the women was not echoed by men asked the same question.
“I think it does, especially at the Vic Open they play for the same prizemoney as we do so I think it does,” said this year’s Victorian PGA champion Damien Jordan.
PGA of Australia chairman Peter O’Malley added: “I think they’re getting a lot more recognition now than they used to and so, probably, maybe not as much as it deserves but it’s getting a lot better.”
What’s worth noting is that the Vic Open, which Jordan referenced, is the only event in the world offering equal prize money for men and women – a far cry from the world of professional tennis where women and men are presented on the same stage at all four Grand Slam events.
ALPG president Shani Waugh said there is a broad lack of respect across women’s sport generally.
“Do we stand back and wait for that to change? No, I think we have to do it ourselves. We have to put on great events, we have to play good golf and be a great product and I think we’ve got a great product.”
More commercial recognition for women’s pro golf is long overdue but not nearly as much as adequate respect for women’s golf at large.
Henry Peters writes for iseekgolf.com and is the Digital Content Leader for MPower Golf.