Photo from Cylex Signs.Dr. Heather Hundley seems to think so. Well not the golf courses themselves, but the people who create them. I came across Dr. Hundley’s article, Keeping the Score: The hegemonic everyday practices in golf, a little while ago and thought that it provides a interesting topic for discussion. Dr. Hundley is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at California State University, San Bernadino. She writes in her 2004 article, “Because of the taken-for-granted, common sense position, it is often difficult to examine what is naturalized in our culture.” The main premise of her article is how:
the tee box nomenclatures stated on the scorecards traditionally designate a location from which women should tee off; however, for men, this designation is determined by ability. Thus, men are offered more semantic choices, while women are instructed to tee off from the same location as junior golfers (the red or forward tees) regardless of their abilities.
The main question she poses is: “how do people in positions of power (owners, country club board of directors, course designers) reinforce or reproduce sexist discourse in golf?” She argues that language contributes significantly to the way that inequality can be reinforced and recreated, while also limiting our possibilities for self-definition. In other words, a word such as tomboy is needed to explain a girl who doesn’t behave the way a ‘normal’ girl would (i.e. active, preferring to dress in shorts and pants rather than dresses). The connotations given to the word girl are as limiting as the connotations of boy. Hundley argues that golf scorecards “reveal how gender is represented and reproduced in the golfing community in a way that further naturalizes dichotomous and oppressive gender differences.” In order to do her study, Hundley collected scorecards from 85 different golf clubs in 12 different states. The names of the tee boxes (designation of “men’s” or “women’s” tees) and the indication of course rating and slope were examined.
What did she find?
Initially it may appear that the golfing community constructs scorecards and tee box locations indexically. That is, a new golfer could easily infer that the forward tee boxes, creating the shortest distance from tee to green is provided for those who have not yet mastered the skill of consistently striking the ball…Conversely, skilled golfers who have mastered the golf swing are challenged with a greater distance from the tee to green. Thus, one may believe tee box locations…indicate skill level. In the golfing community, nontheless, tee boxes are not merely related to skill level; they are also imbued with gender codes.
These tee box names, which are designated merely by gender rather than ability, perpetuate gender inequities. For example, at Polo Park in Florida the tee boxes are simply called “Men’s Tees” and “Ladies’ Tees.” At the Village Greens in Kansas [and Burke Lake Golf Golf Center in Virginia, Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania, Walnut Creek Golf Course in California, and The Bay Course in Hawaii] the tee boxes are labeled “Championship,” “Regular,” and “Ladies.” Indeed, while men are naturalized within the sport by implying that they are “regular” or “champions” women are “Othered,” paradigmatically defined as “ladies” which, in the golf culture, are irregular and not champions…In addition, experienced, talented women often demonstrate golfing abilities that suggest they play from the middle or back tees. Similarly, beginner male golfers and many senior males ought to play from the most forward tee boxes; however, with scorecards stating “ladies” tees, such men are semantically discouraged. In many ways, symbolically designating the forward tees as women’s “territory” demasculinizes this space and discourages men from playing at that position.
Photo from Tale of Two Cities Blog.I think the most important part of Hundley’s article is when she talks about the naturalization of these designations. How natural is it for us to separate men and women thinking that the differences between sexes and genders is far too significant for us to play together? When in reality, much sociological AND biological research has proven that discrepancies within sexes is far more varied than it is between sexes. We have moved past the notion that women being active will make our uteruses explode, yet everywhere we look we are told that our bodies cannot compete the way men’s can and that our skill level will never be good enough. Examples for you to ponder:
– the women’s 3 point line is closer to the basket than men’s in basketball
– women play with a smaller sized basketball than men
– women play fewer sets in tennis
– women are not allowed body checking in hockey
It is so prevalent and pervasive that many of us absorb these facts as truth. Women are not strong enough to play with a men’s ball. Women lack the endurance to play 5 sets. Women’s bodies are too fragile to withstand body checking. As someone who has always teed off from the “men’s tees”, I can tell you it’s neither truth, nor am I an exception. My mother and her golf friends almost always tee off from the “men’s” tees and are generally better golfers than any men they are paired with. How many times have you played with a man who should definitely use any advantage the course provides? How many times have you seen a man tee off from the red/ladies tees? I have golfed for 23 years and have never once seen a man tee off from the forward tees. If you want to make things awkward next time you golf with a novice male, suggest to him in front of the group to tee off from the “ladies” tee; see how well that suggestion goes over.
To echo Hundley’s argument, I think that as unassuming as a golf tee box may seem it:
a.) limits the ability of many women to reach their potential as golfers, athletes and as women; and,
b.) further reinforces the tiny box that men are currently allowed to operate within.
The world of sports makes life miserable for novice male athletes. They are constantly left out of the equation. Women who suck at sports have met expectations, whereas women who excel at sports have exceeded expectations. Men who excel at sports have met expectations, whereas men who suck at sports have their identity challenged. It’s the little things like golf tee boxes that seem as natural as why men wear pants and not dresses. If you’ve never thought about that before, take a second. If you think back to any Academy Awards red carpet women are allowed to wear dresses, skirts and pants. No questions asked. What do men wear? The same thing – a tux. Maybe a different colour if they choose to be so bold but the (tee) box for men is significantly smaller for men than it is for women. So despite the fact that Hundley states in her conclusion that “Scorecards tell players where women “belong,” while men have more freedom of choice”, I would argue that it is the lack of choice for men that should be more fervently questioned. Are golf courses sexist? Yes, but not just to women.
Hundley, H. (2004). Keeping the Score: The hegemonic everyday practices in golf. Communication Reports, 17(1), pp.39-48.