(KMOX) – On the Monday following the Masters, Christine Brennan wrote a column for USA Today headlined “More changes needed to grow the game of golf.” She offered as an opening argument that the exodus from the game in recent years is in part because “It is too expensive. It takes too long. It’s too hard. It’s too elitist” She then proceeds to set aside any other considerations and tosses over the side the first three to hone in on the “elitist” tag.
To say Ms. Brennan hasn’t crusaded on this charge would be to ignore that she has beaten the drum in print more than once in the past. In fact she and I have had this conversation in person on two occasions, at the US Open at Congressional and at the Ryder Cup at Medinah. In that second encounter she suggested a bright line existed from the admission of Ron Townsend as the first African American member at Augusta National in 1991 to the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black President.
Reduced to its simplest logic Ms. Brennan suggests the attrition in the ranks of the golfing public would receive a significant reversal if the game was more inclusive, and adds she has little hope of seeing that change. “I don’t think these middle-aged white men have it in them to do this.”
I have always respected Ms. Brennan’s work and stature in the media. I have complimented her directly on some of her coverage of women athletes in the Olympics. She clearly rides in First Class and I board the plane in Zone 7 in coach. But I simply think she is wrong and even perhaps guilty of a little duplicity when it comes to analysis and solution.
On Sunday before at the start of Masters week Ms. Brennan was focused on the new “Drive Chip and Putt” competition created and conducted by Augusta National. On the same Sunday the LPGA completed their first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The final group on that day featured the most glamorous twosome since Anika Sorenstam and Kari Webb were battling for supremacy in women’s golf.
At the end of the day, 19 year Lexi Thompson picked up her first major win and fourth overall professional title beating Michelle Wie, the last American wunderkind to come along in women’s golf. Thompson promises to be a golf cover girl for years to come, (unless you include Golf Digest where female form is more important that talent). Wie has been resuscitated and followed her runner-up finish in California with a win this last week.
The writer who criticizes the game for its dismissive treatment of women failed to chronicle this LPGA moment in favor of a piece about eight and nine year olds romping around the practice range at the “middle-age white men’s elite club.” When do we get the piece on Lexi? Isn’t a star inside the ropes more motivating than a celebrity inside the membership roles?
She also took a shot at the Speaker of the House belonging to male only Burning Tree in the DC suburbs, claiming that the message sent is “men don’t want women around them when they are playing golf.” That may be a true surmise, but I would argue hardly impacts the total population of the game.
If you filled the ranks of every private club in this county with exactly a 50 percent female membership, I doubt you would erase the deficit of people who have left the game as regulars just last year. If the game is suffering, the solution doesn’t exist in the private enclaves. Golf may have an image of an elitist sport, but its populace resides at Berry Hill and Tower Tee and their locker is in the trunk of their cars.
What Ms. Brennan fails to see from her first class seat is the game I observe in the after school hours. Last week I watched three sophomore boys and one sophomore girl laugh and compete in the same foursome in a high school golf match. Earlier in the month two of my girls on my team took to the links with two male counterparts and asked for no special considerations. It never occurred to Tess and Kinzy that they were supposed to walk three steps behind. They were just there to play golf.
Ms.Brennan is probably right that guys on the course can be pretty much knuckle draggers when it comes to women on the links. And I am sure that message is an obstacle to women coming into the game and ultimately deciding to leave the game. But I would argue that those sexist attitudes are not the property of golf but rather our society.
Bringing women into the game will always be the Holy Grail of those who want to grow the game. But that dream will only be realized if the field of dreams where that takes place has a sign at the entrance that ends with “Golf Course” not “Country Club.”