2005: Don’t get teed off – tee it up!

One picture-perfect Friday afternoon this fall I did something I hadn’t done in years – showed up at the first tee as a single.

A foursome of men was warming up when I handed the starter my ticket. Seconds later, another foursome of men pulled into the queue. “You play fast?” the starter asked. “I’ll let you go out in front of these guys.”

I hadn’t so much as opened a sleeve of balls yet, let alone taken a swing. I stepped onto the tee box, took two practice swipes and picked a target. I could feel nine sets of eyes on me as I settled my driver behind the ball. I’ve got to show them I’m worthy of playing in front of them, that I won’t hold them up all day, I thought to myself. Rubbish, my internal dialogue continued, just hit the ball.

It wasn’t my best effort, but the ball flew high and straight. I scrambled for par and gave the group behind me a nod and a wave for letting me play through. “The second hole is that way,” one man shouted as I headed in the wrong direction.

Sadly, most women won’t venture out to their local muni alone. In fact, many women feel men don’t exactly lay down the welcome mat when they show up at the first tee. That belief has sparked the game’s female leadership, a vastly outnumbered group of mostly baby boomers who took up the game later in life, to write tomes on why golf’s demographics are so lopsided (75 percent men).

Their list of inequalities – from messy bathrooms and a lack of women-only clinics and social events to the fact that the vast majority of starters, instructors and pro shop attendants are male – runs longer than a skulled bunker shot. And they demand change.

Their actions may be well intended, but they often are misguided.

Friends in the academic world tell me I’m a postfeminist: I appreciate the groundwork generations before me have laid, but don’t feel as though I bang my head against the glass ceiling. My sneaking suspicion is that women who spent most of their lives fighting corporate discrimination carry that mentality into their recreational lives.

Of course, golf facilities and manufacturers could find better ways to serve the female contingent. But the truth is, women are – and forever will be – a minority on the links. They simply aren’t as passionate about sports as men. There’s no such thing as a quick 18. Golf isn’t cheap. And it certainly isn’t easy.

Because of these hurdles, women’s services always will be limited, therefore making accusations of industry chauvinism largely unwarranted. Those men standing on the first tee clutching clubs aren’t cavemen marking their territory. The truth is there really is no excuse for women to restrict themselves to lunch in the clubhouse. Get out and play!

Maybe it’s because I’m a product of Title IX. Maybe it’s because I started playing in a pee wee golf league at age 9. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had to fight for equality in my workplace. Whatever the reason, I don’t judge a course on whether it’s women-friendly. I really don’t even know what that means beyond well-maintained tee boxes.

As a teenager, I spent most every day at a 27-hole public course in Florida where I played the game almost exclusively with boys my age and men I would join. One thing I quickly learned was to scope out the first tee before marching down. If the twosome laughing heartily with beer in hand looked like they were in for an afternoon of male bonding, I slowed my gait.

I learned not to be offended. Ladies, how would you feel if a friend’s husband crashed a coveted afternoon of shopping with the girls?

Don’t let one unfriendly face hold you back. Rest assured, there are plenty of men who don’t get lock-jaw at the sight of a skort. I wouldn’t have lasted 16 years in the game if that were the case. The only female who looked remotely close to my age (25) on that recent fall afternoon drove the beverage cart. Yet oddly enough, I didn’t feel out of place.

As for untidy bathrooms, it’s probably best I don’t catch a glimpse of my natural curls midway through a muggy round. I’ve never black-listed a course for having cobwebs in the corner, a mirror-less wall or chipped paint.

I always assumed the men’s facilities were just as bad (or worse), and got in and out quickly to avoid holding up play.

Because my dad chopped down an old set of Pings for me when I was in third grade, I don’t know what it’s like to take up the game as an adult. I studied the break in the carpet of the pro shop more than how the merchandise was displayed. I made friends with the retirees who worked behind the counter, controlled the tee sheets and marshaled the fairways (all men).

I never pitied myself for standing out as a girl among men. I stretched my comfort zone as well as self-confidence and picked up a lifetime passion.

Oh sure, my palms still get sweaty in front of strangers. Swank, single-digit handicappers still intimidate me when I play through. But that’s all part of golf adrenaline – that juiced-up feeling players get when they hit it pure, even when no one is looking.

Golf is a game of relationships. Man vs. man. Man vs. course. Women needn’t be afraid of booking a solo tee time. It’s about fresh air, escaping the cubicle community for one tech-free afternoon, dropping another ball to see if the third time’s the charm and burning a few calories while grooving a pancake-flat swing. Keep at it, and the playing partners will come.

Until then, going through life as a single isn’t all that bad.

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