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Golf's gender divide: All golfers are not created equal

By Jennifer Mario, Contributor

Not too long ago I was golfing with three gentlemen. Just for fun I threw out a question: what's the difference between male and female golfers? One of the men blurted, "Women are slow!"

Sure, that's the old saw, get some women on the golf course and watch the bottleneck build. If you're playing with rank beginners, you probably have a point. It takes anyone, male or female, longer to finish a hole in 10 strokes than it does in four, after all.

But I'm not talking about rank beginners. I'm talking about experienced, reasonably good golfers. Stay with me here: All else being equal, what's the real difference between men and women golfers?

No, it's not pace of play. It's not even the fact that men pee in the woods. It's something a little more subtle.

The men

Unless there's a tournament going on, guys tend to be a relaxed bunch. They laugh. They joke. They run over each other's ball with the cart. And while they're generally aware of the USGA rules of golf, they often play under a set of rules no USGA official would condone. With the exception of a few purists, men inhabit a world of breakfast balls, gimmes and mulligans.

Bad lie? Fluff it up. Lost ball? Having to buy a new ProV1 to replace it is punishment enough. Unsatisfied with your drive? Hit 'til you're happy!

Don't believe me? Ask our very own Tim McDonald, who's turned cheating into an art form, freely admitting, "I myself cheat all the time - and have won a lot of money and lowered my handicap as a result."

If there's money on the line, the outside-the-rules rules still apply, they're just distributed more fairly and evenly. Only one mulligan per nine, per player. No gimmes outside the leather. You can't save your breakfast ball and use it later.

Much discussion takes place on the first tee to determine what the rules shall be, because among men, it's not so much rule-breaking, it's rule-creating. Prime example: think former president and 12-handicapper Bill Clinton. During an outing with Don Van Natta Jr., author of "First Off the Tee," our ex-prez took two or three "Billigans" per hole and accepted numerous gimmes. At the end of the day, he signed his card for an 82. With a straight face.

Okay, okay, I know it depends on what your definition of the word "par" is. But still, you get my point.

To be fair, rules-relativism serves the useful purpose of speeding up play, although let's be honest - most just make the game a little less punishing to the ego. Fudge the rules and you end up with smaller scores and bigger fun. If all the players are agreed, who cares anyway?

But there's an ugly downside. In a tournament, where everyone is supposed to follow the "real" rules, the field turns a cynical eye toward the winners. "Oh sure," the losers grumble. "I'd win too, if I gave myself everything inside of three feet!"

The women

Women, on the other hand, play by the rules. The USGA rules, that is. In a women's tournament, you can bet that the winner's score was honest and true. Just like you can any day, any time, whether it was the U.S. Women's Open or just four friends out having fun.

Anything else would be, well, cheating, and very much frowned upon. Penalties range from raised eyebrows to out-and-out shunning. I once played in a threesome with two other ladies, and when one of them gave herself a par after a one-handed gimme putt that lipped out, the other one turned to me and hissed, "If I had known she would be here, I wouldn't have come!"

Following the 2005 Office Depot Championship, Paula Creamer discovered she'd put an extra club in her bag during an overnight rain delay. She'd finished the tournament tied for 23rd, but forfeited her $11,859 check after deciding to disqualify herself for that little slip-up. Her golfing sisters everywhere nodded their heads in approval. To the ladies, this made her even more of a hero than she already was.

I think women can learn something from men as far as golf goes - namely, chill out! If it's just a friendly round, be friendly. Forgive a friend's OB, knock in your partner's putt once in a while. Be willing to laugh at yourself. I'd hold off on driving over your partner's ball, though. And watch out for that McDonald character.

Men and women can learn a lot from each other. Men could stand to post an honest score every now and them. Women should relax and live a little. Somewhere in the middle lies a truly excellent golf experience.

Jennifer MarioJennifer Mario, Contributor

Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). A graduate of Duke University, she lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina with her family.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Gender divide?????

    CLM wrote on: Jun 28, 2006

    Come on, Jennifer, get real! Why just refer to Paula Creamer? What about all those other cases where male players have admitted on their own volition to having an extra club, or the ball having moved etc during tournaments, and accepted the penalties? Have you really forgotten about these cases or have you just chosen to ignore them because they do not fit into the theme for your article? Of course women cheat too! It's not about gender; it's simply about one's own ego and one's own ability to continue to abide by the rules notwithstanding the negative effect on one's ego. I have played with many women players who for some reason can't count when it comes to the number of strokes they have taken, and who absolutely beam when they are told they can have the putt. It's no coincidence that these are also the rather competitive women. I've also played with men who insist on putting out even in friendly tournaments where the rules include gimmes (yes, to speed up play). Women are more honest than men? Get real!!


  • Golfer Gender Divide

    Dave L wrote on: Jun 28, 2006

    I am surprised I read this and even more that I am commenting. The writer started to make some good points but then almost completely lost her credibility when she by implication compared Paula Creamer, a professional, to male golfers in general.
    Not credible and not professional writing.


  • comments on article

    dave wrote on: May 4, 2006

    though , i can understand that some discriminatory attitudes may exist against women golfers , yet , in your entry , don'yt you think , you have only shifted the focus of discriminationfrom women to men . don't you think , that instead of making gender comparisons , it is vital to remove gender disparities itself.


  • comments on article

    sam wrote on: May 4, 2006

    you can't say that men cheat in golf . just because they have adifferent approach to the game , it does'nt mean that they cheat . gender differences are located in the brain. you cannot impose cultural and behavioral stereotypes upon them.


  • Men & Women Golfers

    Kiel Christianson wrote on: May 1, 2006

    Did you ever read my take on this?
    There was a She-Said article, too, but I can't seem to find the link.


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