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He Said: What men think of women on the links

Kiel ChristiansonBy Kiel Christianson,
Senior Writer

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part She Said/He Said series examining the way men and women co-exist – or fail to – on the links. In the first installment, Katharine Dyson uncovered machismo as the major gripe among women about men. Here, Kiel Christianson examines why it is that so many men seem to want to keep their golf as free of women as they do of double-bogeys.

On Father’s Day my brother-in-law and I headed out for 18 holes at Tattersall Golf Club, outside Philly. The sky was blue, the Rees Jones layout was green, and most importantly, our wives were perfectly happy to allow us a guilt-free round on this, our special day.

At the first tee, the starter informed us that we’d be paired up with another twosome…of women.

Now, my brother-in-law is a reasonable man, but as the VP of a national retail chain, he’s grown accustomed to having things his way. Without even casting a glance in his direction, I could sense his hackles rising, as he said, “Women, huh?”

I must admit that as a golf writer that, although I’m not proud of it, I found the same fears creeping into my mind that I was sure were roiling about in my brother-in-law’s head: Slow play! No fun! Don’t look foolish in front of women!

The big mystery was, why did we – and why do so many men – immediately assume the worst about these playing partners? Is it simple chauvinism, or something more complex?

The obvious answer: Chauvinism

Ask Martha Burk, and it’s a sure bet she’ll tell you that men don’t want to golf with women because we men are all chauvinists. Rancorous tales of boys acting like boys – spoiled-rotten, hateful little boys – abound to lend credence to this simplistic viewpoint.

Chip Thomson, instructor to PGA touring pros and author of several articles on the psychology of golf, shares the following, possibly apocryphal story:

The president of Bob O’Link CC in Highland Park, Ill., a prestigious men-only club with just 235 members (including Mike Ditka) and no tee times, received a letter from a group of very good, very wealthy female golfers. They had played every golf course in the Chicago area except Bob O’Link. The cordial letter went on to say that they understood it was an all men's club, but they would play first thing in the morning, late in the evening, or even on Monday when the course is closed. In return, the group of women would donate $100,000 to the National Cancer Society in the name of the club.

The reply to their request was a letter that read something like this:

Dear Madame, we're in receipt of your letter to play Bob O’Link Country Club and your very kind offer to donate $100,000 to the Cancer Society in our name, and I have presented your request to our board. After carefully reviewing your request, we have come to this final decision: The men of Bob O’Link Country Club would rather have cancer than let a woman play our course. We thank you for your interest.

A more complex issue

Whether the Bob O’Link story is true or an urban legend is in a way beside the point. In either case, it is certainly how some women view men on the course: We have clubs and rocks, and if there were caves around, we’d be clubbing girls and dragging them off by the hair.

Honestly, though, I think it’s more complex than that. “I think the biggest fallacy about this issue is that men who don't want to play golf with women are chauvinists,” says Thomson. “Most guys enjoy the camaraderie of being with guys, whether it be on the golf course or in the card room afterwards and golf is a way to do that. Most men prefer to hunt and fish with their guy friends, too.”

Some reasons might be more mundane. Years ago, my landlord, a 60-something retired part-time course ranger surprised me by declaring, “I’m sorry, but golf won’t be a women’s game until they put a Port-o-Potty on every hole.”

The comment might be chauvinist, but it’s also instructive: men don’t want their games to be slowed down by having to cater to the opposite sex. Despite those few women who do play “hit-n-giggle golf” – likely encouraged at some early point in life by a boyfriend hoping to get lucky as a reward for his saintly patience – Thomson believes that fears of slow play are unfounded “I've found the opposite to be true,” he says, “I think, as a rule, women play just as fast as men, or faster.”

TravelGolf.com's Dave Berner has written about the all-male Black Sheep Golf Club outside Chicago. Berner spent eight hours there and, “never heard any talk about women – girlfriends [or] wives. Nothing about ‘how nice it is that the girls aren't here.’”

Says Berner of the Black Sheep members, “The men simply wanted ‘their place’ – a place that was full of male camaraderie. They likened it to card-clubs for woman and ‘girls’ night out.’ [It’s as] simple as that.”

And herein lies the kernel of wisdom, I think. Men, rightly or (most likely) wrongly spend most of their lives trying to look good for women. We work out, we watch what we say, and above all else, we try not to look stupid. Any above-scratch golfer can tell you that during any given round of golf, you’re bound to look stupid plenty of times. Between the flubbed chips, banana-slices, and Tourette-like outbursts of profanity, stupidity abounds on the links. The nice clothes and ingrained golf etiquette are all that keep some rounds from dissolving into battle scenes from Braveheart.

Quite frankly, many men don’t feel they can be completely free to be themselves on the course when women are around.

The solution

So what happened that day with my brother-in-law and me?

By the end of the day, we admitted that we couldn’t recall a more pleasant, relaxing round. Absolutely none of the worries we’d shared on the first tee had come to fruition. We played our game, they played theirs, and we all maintained a comfortable level of humor, slight intoxication, and mutual respect throughout.

One of the women was a very fine player; the other wasn’t. She apologized for picking up her ball half-way down the fairway of the third hole. “I’m just out here for fun,” she explained. We couldn’t have cared less, however. Hey, we’ve all picked up before. The difference was, she was still having fun; I would have been sulking in the cart.

That feminine attitude of mutual support was, we discovered, a great palliative for our own frustrations. It dawned on us that not only did we not care how they played (as long as they didn’t slow us down – which was never an issue), they didn’t care how we played, as long as we were considerate of them. They did, however, keep involved. They ribbed us just a little when we chunked the occasional approach. They offered up a delicate golf-clap when we hit big drives. And they clued us in to the exceptional quality of the Tattersall Bloody Marys.

Most importantly, they let us be boys, and we let them be girls, and we allowed the course to serve as our common ground, somewhere between Mars and Venus.

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Women in a foursome

    J. Rogerson wrote on: Jan 30, 2005

    As my wife was teeing up her ball on #1 at Tour 18 in Houston, a new group drove up. One of the young men in the foursome said quite loudly, "Damn, there's a women in the group ahead of us." He didn't notice that we were on the back tees and she was with us. My wife gave him "That Look", and then drilled a perfect draw down the middle that rolled out at about 250 yards. One of the guys in the second cart then said, "And it's a damn good thing she's not behind us."
    They spent their day in the rough, we were two holes ahead at the end. A friend that is in his 70's and often shoots his age has told me many times, that three good 150 yard shots will beat any 300 yard drive into the rough, every time.


  • mixed gender golf

    tgbrown wrote on: Nov 9, 2004

    I'm a fifty-something male who generally enjoys playing golf with women, whether they are clients or friends. But I really, really, really hate playing with couples.
    In my experience, couples bring a lot more baggage to the course than they carry their golf clubs in. I have often wound up playing with couples who simply create a poisonous atmoshere (tough to do on a beautiful place like a golf course).
    Whether it is an undercurrent of a fight not finished, or exasperation over advice that is not taken, or stress and discomfort because one member of the couple is slowing play -- whatever it is, it makes me uncomfortable and that, in turn, makes me cranky, because golf is supposed to be pleasant and relaxing, not a movable war zone...
    On very rare occasions I have played with fun couples. Most often it has not been fun. One game on a beautiful Scottish links course was marred by a wife (scratch handicapper from California)who was having a bad day in the wind and just viciously screamed and swore all day at her husband (a long-suffering 12) because he had apparently somehow caused her to hit shots that ended up in bunkers, gorse and the North Sea. I have never seen or heard non-couple golfers treat each other that way. It's supposed to be fun, remember?
    Long-term golf buddies have intense relationships as well, but they generally seem to be a source of positive energy, and are on a different emotional plane. I also have a couple of female golfing pals whom I play with 2 or 3 times a year when work takes me to their city, and playing with them is tremendously enjoyable. (The same is probably true of female-female golfing buddies, but I have no personal database on this.)
    Anyway, there are lots of opportunities for couples to be together, and there are lots of folks to play pleasant golf with, so my suggestion is this:
    Otherwise -- for the benefit of all -- we should all please play with friends who are not our significant others.
    Thanks, and I look forward to meeting you all -- male or female -- on the course!!!


  • Comment on male golfers.

    Agien van 't Hoog wrote on: Nov 9, 2004

    Boy, i do live n yhe planet of the apes. The backward idiotic american way of male chauvinist life. Oh my god you wanted Bush you got him. An european male often beaten at golf by woman.