Equality in Golf

Equality in Golf

Equality in Golf

Golf, as we know it today, is a sport played with a ball and a club.  The objective is to hit the ball into the hole with least possible number of shots.  Although many countries claim themselves as the creators of the game of golf, Scotland developed the game into what it is today.[i]  The game of golf has grown and expanded over the years, becoming increasingly popular in many countries across the globe.  Eventually, the leisurely game of golf made its way to the United States.   Although golf has evolved in many aspects, certain aspects of golf have not strayed from tradition.  In the past, golf was a very elitist sport, played by wealthy, white males, and royalty.  Through the years, progress has been made toward diversifying the game, but equality in the game of golf has been slow to change.  Everyone should be allowed equal opportunity to play golf regardless of race or sex.

George White, a golf historian, once said, “Since the beginning of time, man has preoccupied himself with a stick and a rock, making his drudgery into a game.[ii]   According to White, men could swing the stick at the rock in order to propel it toward some “predetermined destination”.  This idea is believed to be the beginning of the creation of golf.  Many countries had created other games involving a stick and a ball, so the true origin of golf is unknown.

The game of golf that we can currently watch on television Thursday through Sunday every week is believed to have originated in Scotland during the fifteenth century.[iii]  Scotland lays claim to the creation of golf as we know it today because somewhere in Scotland, a man developed the idea of a hole as the destination for the golf ball.  Golf increased in popularity very rapidly most likely because of the fact that it was promoted by English royalty.  Golf is said to have been played by men on the vast, coastal lands of the Kingdom of Fife, in Scotland.[iv]  The game of golf was originally played on rabbit runs, which were usually surrounded by a multitude of other terrain, including sand dunes, hills and high grass.  Eventually, the town of St. Andrews, in Scotland, would create an eighteen-hole golf course labeling the rabbit runs as fairways, the sand dunes as bunkers and the tall grass as rough.[v]  The St. Andrews Links course would become the standard by which other courses would be modeled after.

As a leisurely activity of the time in the fifteenth century, golf was comprised of mostly men, with the exception of royalty and their servants.[vi]  As golf came to be accepted by English and Scottish royalty, it began to be seen as a symbol of respectability, prestige, wealth.   Most golf clubs were private and membership to the club was open only to men.  These privileged men became known as “Gentlemen Golfers”.  The “Gentleman Golfers” had to be wealthy in order to play because golf required balls and clubs, both of which required money and because it was very time consuming.

Because of its popularity, golf quickly spread to the United States.  According to the Professional Caddies Association (PCA), there were eighty courses in the United States in 1896.[vii]  Over the next thirty-four years, almost 6,000 courses would be built.  Golf continued to grow in popularity to where it is today.

Currently, golf is considered a sport that anyone can play.  Unfortunately, there is a problem: golf tends to gravitate toward its old traditions and away from equality.  Everyone is allowed to play, but only in certain areas and only if they can afford to.  As of right now, there are two golf tours in the United States: The PGA Tour which consists of only men and the LPGA Tour which consists only of women.  These tours include thousands of golfers who have qualified to play among the best players in the world of there gender, in various tournaments throughout the year.  The PGA Tour (Professional Golf Association) was the only golf tour in the US until 1950, when the LPGA Tour was created.[viii]  The LPGA Tour (Ladies Professional Golf Association) was created in order to allow women to play golf against other women.  Some women were still not satisfied, and felt that the only way to be the best was to play against the best, which meant playing on the men’s tour.

Anika Sorenstam

Golf has always been a rich person’s game.  The clubs, balls and specific clothing required are all expensive.  That does not include the price of the ticket to play.  There are public courses for everyone and private courses for people who would like memberships. This allows them to play when they want, more often and play on well kept courses.  According to Ronald L. Mitchelson and Michael T. Lazaro, of the Southeastern Geographer, golf has always been a very exclusive sport because of its two largest constraints: income and time.[ix]  A national poll in 2001 showed that white Americans make up 90% of the golf population in the United States, while black Americans make up only 4%.  In 1939, there were over five thousand golf facilities in the United States with only twenty of them allowing black Americans in.  Both Maas and Hasbrook say, “If the popular media are at least partially responsible for creating the image of exactly who the American golfer is, then golf continues to be largely elitist, racist and sexist.”[x]  Lee Elder, a professional golfer and black American, broke down some of the racial barriers in golf when he won the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.[xi]  He was the breakthrough athlete for black Americans, and opened the door for one of the greatest players ever, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.

Tiger Woods

Referring to Tiger Woods, Jim Thorpe, an African American and professional golfer said, “He’ll make it I believe.  If he continues to do as well as an amateur, he’ll bring a lot of young black players with him.”[xii]  At the time, Thorpe was the only African American on the PGA Tour.  Today, there are only two men of color on the PGA tour, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.  Thorpe now plays on the Senior PGA Tour.  After the 2007 Master’s Tournament, around dusk on Sunday afternoon, Tiger Woods was invited to do a post-round interview.  There, he was asked about Sunday’s round and his play during the tournament.  He said that he did not play his best, explained what he needed to improve on, and then left.  In the newspaper on Monday morning, Woods was criticized for not speaking out on the gender issue at Augusta National Golf Club, which is for men only, and the apparent discrimination in golf which the media had just noticed after all of these years.  Speaking of Woods, Anna Quindlen said, “He has risen to the top of the game that for many years was the symbol of the supremacy of the white country-club culture, and so when there are inequities, it’s assumed he has some obligation to address them”.[xiii]  The fact that the press criticized Tiger Woods for not speaking out on issues it believes is important signifies that the media has finally noticed that there is discrimination in golf, but does not want to make an attempt to improve it.  The press would rather have Woods speak out on the issue, when it is not there decision whether or not he does.  Why should Tiger Woods have to be the catalyst for change?  Why can’t the media find other ways to influence the people as they have in the past?

African Americans are not the only people that have had trouble getting onto the golf course.  Golf, a predominantly male sport, started out in the United States with one professional tour, the Professional Golf Association.  Women wanted the ability to play as professionals too, so the Ladies Professional Golf Association was created.  Women could now play outside of school, but there were certain colleges with only men’s golf teams.  Through the use of Title IX, women were then allowed to play on the men’s teams or be on a women’s golf team.

In September of 1975 a new clause was added to Title IX saying this, “Elimination of Sex Discrimination in Athletic Programs.”[xiv]  This clause stated that that if there was a men’s athletic program in a scholarly setting, there had to be an equal women’s athletic program.

In July of 2005, Michelle Wie, a fifteen year old and a member the LPGA Tour, played in the John Deere Classic, a yearly, PGA Tour event.[xv]  Each tournament has a cut after two days of play to eliminate the players whose scores are not sufficient for continuing play in the tournament; she missed the cut by a few strokes.  After the tournament, many people complained, saying that she should stay on the LPGA Tour and should not be allowed on the PGA Tour.


[i] George White, “History of Golf- Part Two: The Early Years,” Golf Channel, http://www.thegolfchannel.com/30310/6932/

[ii] George White, “History of Golf- Part Two: The Early Years,” Golf Channel.

[iii] “A History of Golf since 1497,” GolfEurope, GolfPublisher Syndications.

[iv] George White, “History of Golf- Part Two: The Early Years,” Golf Channel.

[v] “A History of Golf since 1497,” GolfEurope, GolfPublisher Syndications.

[vi] “A History of Golf since 1497,” GolfEurope, GolfPublisher Syndications.

[vii] Dan Kilbank L.P.P.O, “The History of Golf”, PCA Worldwide, PCA Foundation.

[viii] “About the LPGA”, Ladies Professional Golf Association, http://www.lpga.com/content_1.aspx?mid=0&pid=52

[ix] Ronald L. Mitchelson and Michael T. Lazaro, “The Face of the Game: African Americans’ Spatial Accessibility to Golf”, Southeastern Geographer 44, no. 1 (2004): 48-74.

[x] Ronald L. Mitchelson and Michael T. Lazaro, “The Face of the Game: African Americans’ Spatial Accessibility to Golf”, Southeastern Geographer 44, no. 1 (2004): 48-74.

[xi] Ronald L. Mitchelson and Michael T. Lazaro, “The Face of the Game: African Americans’ Spatial Accessibility to Golf”, Southeastern Geographer 44, no. 1 (2004): 48-74.

[xii] Peter McDaniel, “The faces of diversity: Still a limited field,” Golf World, July 2, 1996, 2.

[xiii] Anna Quindlen, “THE SAND TRAP OF INEQUALITY,” Newsweek, December 2, 2002, 1.

[xiv] “Gender Equity/Title IX,” National College Athletic Association.

[xv] Jenkins, Sally, “Phenoms or Not, Kids Should Be Kids – Most of the Time,” Washington Post, July 9, 2005