Mickey Walker: There’s still a long way to go for gender parity
As someone who gets to visit a lot of golf clubs across the UK and indeed the world, I speak with lots of amateur and professional golfers, both women and Men. It is interesting to hear and see how women are treated differently depending on which country I’m in and how long the game has been played there.
Like millions of sports fans, I loved watching this year’s Olympics from Rio and cheered every British and Irish success. One sport in which we excel is cycling, whether it’s women’s or men’s. It seems to me that both men’s and women’s cycling is given equal importance.
I think that it really helps when women’s and men’s sport takes place at the same venue as cycling does, and as tennis does, and where events take place alongside each other. When you look at the women’s game in the UK, Charley Hull apart, the top two and best known golfers – Catriona Matthew and Dame Laura Davies – are 46 and 52 respectively.
I am in no way being detrimental to Catriona or Laura, but we are definitely short of girls and young women vying to become the next potential Major champions. Whatever aspect of golf you look at in the UK, we are nowhere near parity in numbers or how women and men are treated.
A huge part of the reason is that we have played golf for longer than any other nation on earth, and the rules, regulations and many clubs were formed by men up to 600 years ago. That is a lot of history, tradition and outdated rules to eliminate in order for girls and women to be treated in the same way as boys and men.
When I visit other European countries where the game of golf is so much younger, girls and boys and women and men are treated as equals. Whereas discrimination still happens here in the UK on occasions. One area of contention at lots of private golf clubs is the dress code.
Things are slowly improving in the UK, but when I go to countries such as Sweden, there is a much more welcoming
feel when I go to a golf club. Girls and women are welcomed and have the same rights as male golfers. There are no stuffy dress rules, which so often put young people off taking up the game.
Last year I can remember teaching golf to a mixed group of 20-somethings being introduced to golf, who, as you would expect, turned up dressed in casual sports gear as opposed to specific golf clothing. To my mind they all looked smart, but some of the members at the golf club where we were complained about how they were dressed and the fact that they seemed to be having fun!
Since historically in the UK golf has been played by men and run by men, for a lot of male golfers it is unthinkable that they might seek advice from a female professional. Contrast this to the European countries who are newer to golf.
In the 1990s I went to Denmark every year to Himmerland, one of the foremost golf clubs in that country to conduct a women’s golf week of tuition and competition. During my time there I was constantly being asked by some of the lower handicap male members if I had time to give them lessons.
I am happy to say that change is happening in the UK. St Andrews admitted female members for the first time in its 600-year history and Muirfield was struck off the Open rota for it’s decision not to allow female members. Still, we all need to be more welcoming to girls and women, and create an environment where women feel comfortable rather than unwelcome intruders.
Any scheme, whether reaching just a few girls locally or the #ThisGirlGolfs campaign launched by Lady Golfer, are
vital if the UK is to increase the number of female participants.
Lady Golfer’s consulting editor captained Europe in the first four Solheim Cups. She regularly appears on Sky Sports as an expert summariser.