Editor's note: Women golfers represent one of the only growing groups of golfers over the last few years. With Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie playing in men's PGA Tour events, and a new generation of athletic, stylish, long-bombing women winning on the LPGA Tour, the game has never before been so influenced by women players. One would think that courses would welcome women players with open arms.
The fact is that often neither course management nor male golfers seem particularly thrilled to share the links with women. And, to be honest, women are often not thrilled to be paired up with men, either.
In the first of a two-part She Said/He Said series examining the way men and women co-exist - or fail to - on the links, Senior Writer Rebecca Larsen appears to have uncovered the major gripe among women about men: Machismo.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with two women riding from the ninth to the 10th holes at one of Scottsdale's priciest courses. This is a course, the marketing director told me, where 90 percent of the players are men, 10 percent are women.
I asked what the women thought about playing with men, in hopes of getting some answers that would help explain why golf seems to be a sport that draws more men than women, and also why golf might just be the most frequent cause for divorce after money problems and adultery.
Neither of the women wanted to be named because both of them work at the course. But the older one, in her 40s, said, "I always have to play faster when I play with men. I have to rush to keep up the pace of play because men are so slow."
Her companion, a 20-something beverage cart girl, agreed: "You have to stay totally silent while they take all those practice swings, and then they have to go out there and hunt for every ball they lose."
That's right guys. We know what you think of us. You think we can only bloop our balls out there 100 yards or so and that we are inclined to keep you waiting to putt while we chat about our neighbors, our kids and the color of our hair.
But when we talk about you behind your back, we chuckle about all the balls you slice and hook OB. It might be a 300-yard drive, but it's out there on the freeway. And frankly, I've never seen a woman take a cell call on the course, but men do it all the time.
Of the women I talked to who would go on the record about what it was like to play with men, their pet peeves usually centered around the fact that men often underestimate women's skills on the fairways and overestimate their own.
"I think the problem for me is the guys who think they're better than they are," said Elizabeth Phimister, 28, a Woodland, Calif., resident who carries a handicap of about 18 and can beat her husband, Andrew. "I'm not always better than they are, but sometimes I am, and I'm just about always as good."
Mary Long, 50, executive director of the Arizona Women's Golf Association and a 13 handicap, likes to play with men. "I play better golf when I play with men," she said. "I'm very competitive and I like to show off for men. I'm inspired by men instead of women." But she does note that "a lot of men make the assumption that women can't play golf, and that's annoying."
Also irritating for her, she says, is when a group of men on a green will wave up a foursome behind them and then proceed to putt while the woman in the back foursome is still hitting.
Are those guys assuming that the woman can't reach the green?
Well, we don't want to be underestimated. And although Mary Long wouldn't say it, I will: We're happy to hit you if you keep getting in our way.
Speaking of being underestimated, Debbie Waitkus, a Phoenix resident and owner of golf-event consulting firm Golf for Cause, tells the story of a charity event she recently participated in at Troon Golf and Country Club. At the last minute she was booked into a foursome as the only woman. "You should have seen their faces," she said. "I know they were thinking, 'Oh my God, she'sgoing to be slow and drag us down.' One of them actually said to me, 'You can be a help to us on the par-3s."
Then Waitkus, an 11 handicap, hit her drive. "I wish you could have seen their eyes then," she said. "It's all about expectations. Women can participate, and they're not slow."
It's basically ditto, ditto, ditto from Tiffany Nelson, 31, an executive at the Westin Kierland Hotel in Phoenix, who is also one of the co-hosts of a Saturday morning golf-talk show in the Valley of the Sun. Her pet peeve, she said, is "when a guy is on the course playing the tips or even the blues, when everyone else knows he should be playing from the whites."
"The biggest difference between men's and women's games is that women are aware of the pace of play and keeping up with the group in front," she said. "Men on the other hand, never pay attention to that and think they own the course, so everyone should wait for them."
"And what about men who make their tee shots, forget that women have to hit, too, and drive right by the forward tees?" adds Cori Kenicer, a Scottsdale golf writer.
OK, so we could go on and on about what we don't like about what men do. So now you're probably wondering (if you're a man) why we play golf in the first place. Actually, it's for the same reasons that you do.
"What do I enjoy most about golf? It would have to be being outside and in the fresh air," said Nelson. "Also being with a group of friends who have the same passion for the game as I do."
Kenicer enjoys "the feeling of mastery when I hit a good shot; being outdoors in beautiful surroundings and the camaraderie."
Phimister said she enjoys "doing well and beating myself."
Not all women are playing for fresh air, though. In fact, Debbie Waitkus contends that many women have taken up golf as a way to be more competitive in business. A 2002 Starwood Hotels survey, for example, found that 63 percent of women executives who golf said that some of their biggest business and sales deals were made on a golf course.
Not every woman we talked to had giant gripes about the guys. Pat Kassul, a Scottsdale retiree, who plays almost every week, often twice a week, said she'd never had any bad experiences playing with men. "I know I can never hit the ball as far as they do, and they're always very supportive."
But she did acknowledge, "The male marshals always assume that women are holding things up, but a lot of the guys we're paired up with hit the ball all over the place."
So watch out, men. Next time, you get in the tee box, limit yourself to one mulligan, please.
August 25, 2004
Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.