Warning: this will be a bit different from the usual Fit2Finish post. Read at your own risk.
When I was a young athlete, a junior golfer specifically, I thought nothing of the rule declaring that ladies and juniors couldn’t play until after 2pm on weekends and that men’s day Wednesday was off limits. The course was fully available to us only on Tuesdays, “Ladies Day.” This was the rule. This was the way things were and the way things had always been done, and I was a rule follower. I simply took my shag bag of balls to the hill a short distance from the first tee and hit them – for several hours – until I was allowed to play.
There on that hillside, I taught myself how to hit the ball from every possible lie, with different clubs, using different grips and modifying my stance and swing to apply different trajectories and spins. I was in my own little world on shag hill learning to finesse the game. What I didn’t know was that I was also making a solo protest.
Though I had my back turned from the first tee where the men smacked their drives into the narrow shoot of the tree-lined first fairway, apparently they saw me and took notice. Me, the 12 year old with the good swing. Me, the 14 year old who could hit it further than most of them and straighter than nearly all. Me, the 16 year old who would play for the high school team. Me, the 18 year old headed off to play for the College of William and Mary. They noticed, but they didn’t say anything.
Today I wonder about that young woman who didn’t protest the way she was treated because she didn’t consider her treatment unfair or unreasonable or sexist or discriminatory. After all, those men didn’t have it in for me. Rules were just rules. Golf is a game with strict rules. I had to learn them and learn how to use them to play good golf.
I hadn’t yet learned to test or challenge the rules in order to make good progress.
After a hiatus of nearly 3 decades I have come back to the sport, and some things have changed. The clubs have bigger sweet spots so you can hit it further and more consistently. The putters have larger grips so you can be more accurate. But the holes are longer, the greens are larger and more undulating and the fairways are just as tight. Even with a swing that stands the test of time, am I making any progress here?
Today, I say, Yes and No.
Yes, when I can make a tee time any time. Yes, when I’m “allowed” to play with the men. Yes, when I can have a membership in my name. Yes, when they insist on calling me Dr. LeBolt “because I earned it.” Yes, when there are a plethora of women professionals working in the shop and on the course.
But no, when I find out that this is not true everywhere. No, when women can’t be members. No, when the membership is only in the husband’s name. No, when they don’t even know my name, only my member number so they know where to send the bill. No, when the women are in the golf shop selling clothing and the men give the lessons and play in the pro-Am events. And absolutely not when they don’t trust me to borrow a putter to take to the practice green, but no problem if my husband asks.
Whoa. What? Am I still hitting from that little hill to the right of the first tee?
Nope. Well then, that changes things. Because I am no longer that little girl. I am standing on the tee for every girl, every women, every female competitor that plays the game. And for that matter, any game. I earned the opportunity to play my sport in spite of antiquated rules. Those rules that were written years and years ago are for times long ago and not meant to be hard and fast for these days. But it takes someone to question them. To ask why do you do this? How do you do it? Whom do you employ? What do you pay? What facilities are available? To whom? We need to ask, what are the rules and why do you have each one?
I wasn’t blind or dumb as a child. I was just ignorant of the world around me. Naive to the way “the game is played.” Now I have 20-20 vision and 14 clubs in the bag. I’m noticing assumptions that are being made and the stereotypes that are in place in the places I live, work and play. I suspect that most of these are unintentional or simply unobserved, but they are there, none the less, and now I see them. It is up to me and my generation to point them out, round them up and level them off. No one is going to do this for us.
I do it in the name of that child of 12, that new teen of 14, that 16 year old adolescent and the young woman of 18 who became a national champion. I once was each of these girls and still they are every bit who I am.
Girls these days shouldn’t be fighting old battles. They’ve got plenty of new ones to engage.