Sexism in Golf in 2017?

By Greg Reed
Published on November 07, 2017

“No dogs or women allowed.” Can you believe Augusta National Golf Club had this sign plastered on the entrance of their building for years? Can you imagine a golf club in 2017 that still doesn’t allow women on the premises for any reason, period?

Buckle up, because this blog will enlighten you. While golf is a sport that has grown immensely from what it used to be, there are some clubs that have failed to hop on board the moving train that is today’s society. It used to be just the wealthy, white males that were going to country clubs and playing golf. Fast-forward to present day, and we see boys and girls of all colors learning and enjoying the sport of golf.

Is this the way it should be? Is the new trend catching on everywhere? You would think this answer is a quick and easy yes with a capital Y.

Not so fast. Believe it or not, there are some clubs and organizations out there that have a different view of women and their role in the game of golf.

My goal with this blog is not to tell you what to think. I am not here to preach to you what is right or what is wrong. My intention is to deliver you the facts about what is going on today in women’s golf. Sure, the financial purses and media exposure have grown regarding the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour. However, there are, without a doubt, roadblocks that still need to be hurdled for female golfers to feel equal to their male counterparts.

Despite its growing nature, the LPGA Tour and women’s golf are still trying to get up to speed. There has been an ongoing discussion concerning women’s rights when it comes to golf course memberships. This bleeds into the debate about female golfers’ abilities as it pertains to them being allowed to compete in golf tournaments.

Augusta National, the home of the historic Masters tournament, has been the focal point of the ongoing dispute.

Augusta National Golf Club – Can Women Be Members?

Up until 2012, this question had a simple answer. It was an astounding “No.” The site of the Masters tournament, since its inception in 1934, had a firm rule on allowing female members into their club. That all changed at the end of the summer of 2012, when Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore were granted memberships by then-chairman Billy Payne. This came just a couple months after Payne had vehemently denied any positive movement towards a decision to allow any women to become members of the club. that it was a private matter, one that was to be discussed in-house.

Payne stated, “Well, as has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have historically been subject to the private deliberation of members… That statement remains accurate; it remains my statement.”

It was more than obvious that Billy Payne wanted nothing to do with being at the center of this debate. It was an argument that had already reached grand proportions 10 years earlier when women’s rights activist Martha Burk had placed Augusta National under the microscope for not admitting women. Her feud with the former chairman of the club, William “Hootie” Johnson, was at the center of a heated debate.

Johnson would argue that his club was for men only, just like some other clubs and organizations across the country are designated for one gender or the other. His golf club was a private one, entitled to make rules as they go. While he may have had a legal point, that didn’t mean the backlash wouldn’t ensue.

Communication between Burk and Johnson took place; however, it was not productive. Her efforts aimed at the discrimination of not allowing female members were met by simple “no’s” from the chairman and his board members.

Essentially, what Hootie Johnson was saying was, “Look, maybe you have a point here, and you can be upset about it. But there isn’t a thing you can do about it.” The back-and-forth banter would go on for months, eventually leading to Burk taking action.
This image shows the gathering of protestors that marched up to the entrance gates of Augusta National during Masters Week in 2003.

Burk led an assembly of protestors in an attempt to not only raise the awareness of the issue but to flat-out cause a distraction. Unfortunately, Burk’s “revolution of sorts” did little more than make her look desperate. She used an inflatable pig, and even went as far as a having drag queen, whom she named Georgina Z Bush, prance around.

The former chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations :

“Augusta is all about Applebee’s and boredom, so we certainly livened up the place.”

Clearly, her intentions were to stir the already-bubbling pot. While her labors at raising the issue of not allowing female members may not have paid off right away, it would all change in 2012.

Golf IconFirst Female Members Allowed

It was August 20th of 2012 when Augusta National “finally cracked” and gave full club memberships to two women. The pressure of making this move had been mounting for over a decade, but a situation from earlier in 2012 may have been the news that broke the camel’s back.

Golf IconIBM’s Role in Female Memberships

Well folks, here was the dilemma. In 2012, IBM was a huge sponsor of the Masters tournament. That was the same year that IBM promoted Virginia Rometty to chairwoman of the company, making her the first female in the corporation’s history to hold this leadership role.

The previous chairmen had been given memberships at Augusta National Golf Club, so what would happen now? This was a now officially a gray area for the club and its board members. The pressure had already been escalating. It was now 2012, and the world was even more open-minded on gender issues than it was 10 years earlier during Martha Burks’ rebellious acts towards the club.

Ultimately, a few months later, Augusta National Golf Club caved in to the ongoing clash. It was former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business mogul Darla Moore that would be the first two women to receive club memberships.

In 2014, you guessed it. Head of IBM Virginia “Ginny” Rometty would become the third woman to be granted full access to the club.

Golf IconWhat It Looks Like Now

Augusta National does not like to openly discuss the status of who may or may not be current members, nor do they have to. It is important to note that their “old-fashioned” way of thinking finally hit a brick wall, and they are now open to having female members.

For all you women out there who hope to one day be a member at Augusta National, here’s a big tip:

Work on becoming an established businesswoman. Don’t focus your energy on perfecting your golf skills, as your talent level is not part of the membership interview. For example, Rometty sports a less-than-impressive 35.4 handicap index out of her home club in Armonk, New York, outside the headquarters of IBM.

What I am saying is that the cool $32.7-million-dollar salary that Rometty collected in 2016 didn’t hurt her chances of Augusta allowing her to gain full membership rights. Throw in the fact that IBM is involved with the Masters coverage on CBS, and I’d say Ginny was a “shoe-in.”

Whether or not more prominent females will be incorporated into the membership pool at Augusta National remains to be seen. Nowadays, things are pretty political. The money and sponsorship deals, combined with the pressure from outsiders, seems to take priority over what beliefs and rules may have previously been put in place.

In the meantime, I will keep you posted on if there are any more upheavals outside the gates of the club. If any more Elvis impersonators or Ku Klux Klan imitators surround the property like they did for Burk back in 2003, I will be sure to keep you updated.

With the issue of allowing female members into Augusta National Golf Club behind us, I thought it would be interesting to bring up a subject that I bet many of you had no idea was still being practiced today. Whether or not the following topic is indeed an issue or merely “just the way it is sometimes” will be up for you to debate at the kitchen table with your family, or in the classroom with your students or teachers.

Clubs That Don’t Allow Women in Any Capacity

male golfers
There is no need to wipe off the fog on your glasses. Your screen is not playing tricks on your eyes. Believe it or not, you read the title of this section correctly. As I found out through an article on, there are at least 25 courses littered across the country that abide by this practice. that are “men’s only” golf clubs.

Interestingly enough, the tail end of the video alludes to a “women-only golf club” in Toronto where men literally are not allowed to step foot on the premises. Don’t hold your breath if you were waiting to hear about that course. How come we don’t hear any men complaining about that?

As you can see, this is a highly-debated, exceptionally-heated issue amongst many people in today’s society. The key word to pay attention to is “private.” I can’t help but fall back on this single word.

There are plenty of private corporations out there that have certain rules in place. The fact is that “not allowing women on site” may not really be a discrimination after all. To put things into perspective and for conversation’s sake, let me play both sides of the argument.

If you start allowing women into these “men’s clubs,” then I could argue that the men are being discriminated against.

I belong to LVAC, a Las Vegas-based gym chain with seven locations across the city. The gym I go to has a men’s locker room for men and a women’s locker room for women. They have an upstairs and downstairs gym for anyone who wants to work out.

Then they have a “women only area.” It is a separate room on the first floor, with several machines and free-weights. Men are not allowed to go inside this protected room. The company’s thought process is that they want to provide an area designated for women only, so their female members don’t have to be “bothered by men.”

Funny enough, I have no problem whatsoever with this. The women pay a monthly fee, so why not give them a place to go where they can work out and talk with other females? Seems innocent enough, right?

I have the same argument for men’s only golf clubs. There are over 15,000 golf courses to play golf at in the United States. Why do we have to be so concerned with what 25 of the private ones do?

Why do we have to focus our attention on the minuscule percentage of courses? What about the 14,975+ courses that do allow both men and women to play?

I wanted to take some time to talk about one of these men-only clubs. Most of you have probably never heard of Burning Tree Club in Maryland. That’s exactly how the club located just 10 miles from the White House in Washington D.C. prefers it.

Golf IconBurning Tree Club

The story goes that, back in 1922, some men were tired of playing behind and being slowed down by a group of female golfers. That’s when renowned golf course architect Alister MacKenzie went to work on creating Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Maryland. Located less than 20 minutes from the nation’s Capitol Building and the White House, Burning Tree Club has hosted many U.S. Presidents and other high-ranking government officials to tee times over the years.

Forget about applying for a membership here. The $75,000 initiation fee is actually small compared to some other exclusive private clubs around the nation. The difference here is you must be invited to even consider coming up with the hefty amount it costs to join.

You will remember our segment on Augusta National Golf Club and their exclusion of women as members. Females were still permitted to attend the Masters and walk around the course. This is quite the opposite of what takes place at Burning Tree. Women are not allowed on the grounds under any circumstance.

I am talking not even women’s bathrooms. This was put to the test in the 1980s when Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to Justice of the Supreme Court. Prior to her being chosen for this role, all Supreme Court Justices had regularly played golf at Burning Tree Club. What would the club do now?

They held their ground firmly and waved their index finger, saying “no” to O’Connor. Other high-ranking female government officials, including Secret Service agents, have also been shunned away when they asked for permission to enter the property.

when a female member of the United States Secret Service staff was sent to the club to conduct an interview, which pertained to the Australian Prime Minister playing a round of golf there. “She was forced to stand in the parking lot and communicate with the male agents through radio.”

Call it old fashioned, call it misogynist, call it unfair, call it whatever you like. The Burning Tree Club is a private (see that word private come up again) club, and therefore they get to set their own rules. If you don’t like them, tough.

My goal isn’t to tell you what is right or what is wrong. My goal is to define the situation and offer explanations as to why and how things are the way they are. It’s up to you to be the judge of what is right and what is wrong.

Things are certainly getting better across the globe in terms of women fighting for equal rights. At least we are a far cry away from where we used to be. Like, for example, in the south, when signs like “No dogs or women allowed” were thought of as part of the norm.

We aren’t that immature in our thinking anymore, but examples like Burning Tree show us that discrimination against women is still being practiced.

How about sexism in the sport of golf? Does it still exist today? Let’s dive into that juicy subject matter right now.

Sexism in Golf Today

Golf Digest Cover
Check out this rad cover! Lexi Thompson is one of the best female golfers on the planet. Her talents with a club in her hand are off the charts. But how would you know that by glancing at the cover of this magazine?

This looks more like a photo from a women’s modeling shoot. So, let’s answer the “why” question. Why do women golfers have to use their bodies and physical appearances to sell and market their sport?

It is for one reason. Money. In today’s world, money rules all. Let me clarify my point. Let’s make this nice and easy and just use the magazine cover pictured above as an example.

Golf Digest is the largest and most popular golf magazine in the world. When they issue copies, they need to sell them. Their main target audience is males, as they are the gender who typically purchase and read golf magazines.

For this specific issue, they are trying to allude to the fact the women who work out and are in good shape can hit the ball far. Now you tell me which image would help sell more copies: the image above, showing Lexi’s bare skin? Or an image of Lexi in a turtleneck sweater launching a driver over a bunker?

You just answered the question of this article: does sexism still exist in the sport of golf in 2017? You bet your bottom dollar it does!

The fact of the matter is that the interest level for women’s golf is not quite there in all regions. Businesses survive by understanding supply and demand. In order to prosper, a magazine company like Golf Digest needs to provide what the readers want to read and look at.

In this case, they are fully aware that their predominantly male readers will be much more likely to pick up a copy of this issue if they portray Lexi in a sexual way. Women’s golf as a national brand and business, unfortunately, is not in a position to sustain itself with golf alone.

They are in need of not only young, bright stars. They need these women to be engaging with the media, for example, willing to do magazine cover photos like the one above. Being a great golfer just isn’t enough anymore. And that’s not me being unfair, it’s me being realistic.

This predicament places female golfers in a tough position. Do they go against the grain and just try and win over fans with their golf games? Or should women turn to wearing revealing outfits and showing skin in order to be appreciated?

Let’s just look at the evidence. Which direction are the young stars in the game of women’s golf heading in?

Golf IconGolfers or Models?

This image came from the front page of GOLF Magazine’s 2017 edition of the most beautiful women in golf. Good luck finding their spread on the most talented women in golf. You won’t have much success finding that, because frankly, that just isn’t the topic the public is interested in. Golf fans and readers have shown they are much more interested in looking at photos of the female golfers than reading about their sand save percentages or how many greens in regulation they hit per round. Remember — it all comes down to supply and demand.

Don’t roll your eyes and think that I am being biased. I am bringing warranted attention to a subject that people may not want to talk about, but they certainly know is at the forefront of the women’s game.

Let’s take a look at the popular show Big Break, which runs on The Golf Channel. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Big Break is basically a survivor-like show for golf. Golfers compete in mini-games each week, and one golfer is eliminated at the end of each show. The final episode will leave the viewers with one golfer left standing. This person will win money and a sponsorship deal to pursue their golf career.

In an article written on by a former professional golfer who competed on the show, :

“When filming began one thing was transparent: a couple of the women were not selected for their talents, but rather for their physical attributes. The women were asked to don bikinis and lie on their back and tummies: one young woman twirled around on a palm tree.”

This is not a secondhand story; this comes from an actual contestant on the show. She later revealed that the way the sexual connotation was forced onto the young women made her want to fight for more equal rights for women golfers.

Here is the big problem. Some of these women are “perfectly okay” with showing their skin if it means more money and more exposure.

I know that there are many women (and men, for that matter) that are fighting this issue. What doesn’t help their case is when these female golfers are lining up for the opportunity to strip down to a bikini if it means getting an extra sponsor or magazine cover.

It may be sad, but when you google the “top names in women’s golf,” you won’t come across photos of these players sinking winning putts and holding trophies. When I google one of the more well-known female golfers, I see bathing suits. I see women posing just like fashion models do. See what these magazines are selling?

If the “cultural problem” of sexism in golf is really as big of an issue as people think, the female golfers need to start taking some more ownership. If you don’t want people commenting on your body, then here’s an idea: don’t pose on a cover without wearing a shirt!

Unfortunately for these women golfers, this is when the situation becomes hairy. The golfers are now forced to choose between their morals or money and sponsors. If they don’t pose for these types of photos, they simply won’t get the attention or media coverage they so desperately want.

So, what is the solution? We hear people fighting for women’s rights in golf all the time. They say the LPGA needs more coverage. They say the female golfers deserve to be paid like the men do.

I hate to break the news, but you can’t have it both ways. Not in the world we live in. The proof is in the pudding. The best way the golf businesses can sway attention towards female golfers isn’t to flood the market with statistics about their putting and news about their golf equipment.

Revealing these women under a sexual light is their highway to the promise land.

Let’s face the music, everyone. This isn’t the PGA Tour. There is no Tiger Woods in women’s golf to win over fans. Selling tickets to events and selling copies of magazines comes down to one thing: giving the readers what they want, what they desire.

I think it is evident what kind of material the readers crave. All signs indicate that the golf world is still wrapped up in the appearance of the women golfers, not how good at the game they happen to be.

So, back to the age-old question. How do we, as a golfing audience, change this perception of women golfers?

Summary – What’s Next?

This concept of looking at female golfers not as the athletes they are but rather as sex symbols of sort can’t change overnight. The phenomenon that is social media nowadays is a tough platform to go to battle with. The women are sharing photos through these social media outlets, and their fans are eating it up.

The part that nobody sees is these girls are actually pretty dang good at golf. They genuinely know how to play, and can compete at a very high level.

Let’s try and give them a chance to let their clubs do the talking.

Let’s not all buy in and feed into the hoopla that constantly surrounds these women. Let’s be interested in their golf games and the tournaments they are playing in. Let’s stop focusing on what brand of bikini they are wearing.

You see, this is not a one-sided problem. It’s like a never-ending circle. The women pose for photos, and the media and public tell them how beautiful they look. In return, they continue to pose for photos because their fans and sponsors are telling them how much they like it. Oh yeah, and the girls get paid more to pose in a bathing suit then they do to hit good golf shots.

It’s just the world we live in these days. I’m not arguing that this perception is right or wrong. I’m simply trying to provide the facts that show that sexism in women’s golf exists. Making up your mind as to how you feel is left up to you. Just don’t shoot the messenger!

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