As I sat down to write this column, it was the last day of Women’s History Month − a 31-day annual celebration that highlights the contributions which women have made to contemporary society. Despite it being the end of March, snow lay on the ground and temperatures still dipped below zero. With no tee times scheduled yet, my mind started to muse on women in golf, gender equity, diversity and inclusion. While it’s wonderful that we now have a month dedicated to the fairer sex, men should celebrate the women in our lives every day.
Growing up chasing a little white ball all summer at Westmount Golf & Country Club in Kitchener-Waterloo, I noticed something. Whenever there were junior golf clinics, there was only one girl signed up. As a teenage boy, just hitting puberty, what I really noticed was how good-looking this girl was. Reflecting back now, what stands out is that she was the only girl. Why? For far too long in our collective history, golf was a sport enjoyed predominantly by men. You’ve all read the stories of the so-called golf widow —the dutiful wife who stayed home minding the kids while her husband went off all day to golf with his buddies. It’s not as if women were not welcome on golf courses (well, at some they were, which I’ll touch on later) but, like so many societal “so-called norms,” things just evolved this way. There were sports apparently better suited for boys and sports better suited for girls. These optics, decades old, still linger.
As immediate past-president of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada (GJAC), one of the roles that I’ve assumed is chairing a brand-new Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. This is an area in which golf, like many industries, has lagged. As chair, one of my main goals is to encourage more women to join our association. Our most recent Virtual Summit focused on Gender Equity with a panel that included Mary DePaoli (RBC); Beth Ann Nichols (journalist for Golfweek and current Golf Writers Association of America President) and LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. GJAC member Leah Bethgate-Snethun (founder of the Alberta Golf Tour) moderated this enlightening discussion. This trio of trailblazers in the sport reflected on their experiences, shared the many challenges which they had faced throughout their career in a male-dominated sport, and also talked about the strides made to make changes in more recent years.
The good news, as Nobel Prize-winning Bob Dylan once wrote, “the times, they are a-changin’.” Sure, we still have a way to go, but the sport − and the industry − have taken many positive and progressive steps. Today, women occupy several power positions in Canadian golf: Liz Hoffman is Golf Canada’s current president and DePaoli, as mentioned above, is an executive vice-president at RBC; her major portfolio covers everything from the bank’s sponsorship of PGA Tour events and players, to other grassroots programs and events throughout the country. Also, the presidents of five of this country’s provincial golf associations are women. When girls see women in these leadership roles, it inspires them to not just take up the game, but possibly to pursue a career in the golf industry.
Can you imagine that Scotland’s famed Muirfield, founded in 1744, only allowed its first women members a mere three years ago? As an acknowledgement of these past transgressions and the need for the game to be more inclusive and equal, the R&A (the U.K.’s governing body of golf) recently introduced a Women in Golf Charter.
Meanwhile, in North America, Augusta National − the home of the green jacket, magnolias in bloom in spring and pimento cheese sandwiches − only allowed its first women members a decade ago… and it took years of criticism and activists demanding equal rights for them to change their policy. This April, the home of the Masters hosted the third annual Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
EQUITY: On and off the course
LPGA players still earn less money than their PGA Tour counterparts. Why? A BBC study published in 2021 revealed that golf ranks near the top of all professional sports when it comes to a gender pay gap between men and women. The study examined 48 sports and golf, football and basketball were the only three in which at least one of the top league’s major competitions did not have equal prize money. To illustrate how wide the gap still is – especially in golf’s four Majors – in 2021, the winner of the men’s U.S. Open earned 2.25 million versus the women’s champion, who pocketed 1 million. This gender pay gap needs to close.
Before I close, since Women’s History Month is not yet officially over, let me highlight a pair of trailblazers and two of this country’s greatest golfers ever: Ada Mackenzie and Marlene Stewart Streit (on a side note, both are Honorary Members of Westmount). Often called “the first lady of Canadian golf,” Mackenzie won the Canadian Open Championships and Closed Championships five times each between 1919 and 1931. Also an entrepreneur, in 1924, Mackenzie opened the Ladies’ Golf and Tennis Club of Toronto as the first in North America to offer membership to women only.
The octogenarian Streit, an Order of Canada member, still golfs regularly. She is the only Canadian in the World Golf Hall of Fame and is also a member of both the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She won the Lou Marsh Trophy (for Canada’s top athlete) not once, but twice. Her list of accomplishments in golf is long, but a few highlights include: 11 Canadian Women’s Amateur titles; 1 British Ladies Amateur; 1 U.S. Women’s Amateur and 1 Australian Women’s Amateur.
Current Canadians on the LPGA Tour such as Brooke Henderson and Maude-Aimee Leblanc lead a ew charge of trailblazing women in the professional golf ranks; they have already inspired many young girls to take up the game.
To all of the men reading this: stop with gender-based stereotypes and long-held notions of what you deem is a woman’s role. Park your prejudice permanently. Open your heart and your mind to the possibilities. If it helps, think of your granddaughter and the smile on her face the first time she sunk a long putt or hit the green in regulation as you shared a round together. Golf is for everyone.