[This is a course in Whistler, British Columbia]
First of all, I'm not trying to argue that golf is problem free or that anyone should be enamored of golf. For many, watching golf on tv is about as stimulating as watching paint dry. For others, going out once on the fairways and having the most frustrating time hitting a tiny ball with a thin stick was an exercise in pointlessness that they never want to repeat. And for the socially conscientious among us, how can we sanction a game (and for many, this is a game and not a sport--begging questions of athleticism and physical prowess) that has all sorts of "-isms" associated with it? Elitism, sexism, racism, anti-environmentalism, and homophobia (OK, last one didn't end in "-ism" but I think you get my point).
I was reminded of all these issues when I read this entry in Poplicks' blog titled "Equality at any cost?" The post was about the recent flap at Phoenix Country Club over the inequitable status of their female members--recently The New York Times reported on this case of gender discrimination at elite golf clubs (click here).
[By the way, if the topic of gender discrimination and elite golf courses rings any bells in your subconscious, it's because around 2002-2003 there was a BIG FLAP about Augusta National, host of the annual Masters tournament (what some in golf circles believes is THE premiere golf major of the four majors--U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship). Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, organized a boycott of Augusta National due to their discriminatory practices--specifically, they do not allow women to join the club. If you want a thorough and fairly unbiased account of this issue read Alan Shipnuck's The Battle for Augusta National: Hootie, Martha, and the Masters of the Universe. What I can tell you as a golfer and as someone who just finished the book, is that the Masters continues to be held every April; Augusta National continues to bar women from its club; and most people seem to have forgotten about all of this...except maybe we shouldn't have.]
"Is equality always worth striving and fighting for in principle even when one struggle for equality still reifies or leaves untouched other structures of inequality?"
And my answer is yes.
Because if you don't think your life is touched by what goes on at a golf course, particularly an elite golf course, think again. Most major business deals happen on golf courses. Most executives in Fortune 500 companies golf. Corporate sponsors of golf tournaments proliferate on the PGA and LPGA. Unless you are living totally off the grid in the U.S., your life is touched and impacted by corporate America in a fairly significant way. Where you bank, where you shop, the car you drive, the bank that holds the mortgage on your home (or the home you rent), the television you watch--this is all corporate America. And the people who sit on the boards of these companies, who make decisions about finances and environmental issues and who to hire and more importantly promote within the upper ranks of their businesses--these people golf.
We want, we NEED the people at the top levels of corporate America to be conscientious of women, people of color, working-class and poor people, queer people, the environment and so many other issues that impact the lives of people who are not in a position of power and influence. If corporate America continues to discriminate, on and off the golf course, this is NOT good for any of us, regardless of whether you identify with a disenfranchised group,, because we are ALL impacted by discrimination and at bare minimum, how could you perpetuate sexism when all of us must have at least one kick-ass woman (hopefully a mother/grandmother/sister/daughter/niece/aunt) in your life that you would never want to see discriminated against.
I'm not trying to overstate the case--like golf is a means of mind control for the elite (like the Borg in Star Trek--they are trying to assimilate you one fairway at a time) but I am trying to demonstrate that the culture of Corporate America is tied up into golf -- that golf functions more like an institution than a mere game. And so as an institution with power--especially a diffuse and nebulous power (which makes it all the more tricky to pin down) the kinds of discrimination that continue in elite clubs and on golf courses is something we need to combat.
Putting aside issues of race (although there are HUGE inequities of race going on at elite courses) and looking at gender discrimination, there are some telling quotes by academics who study the link between that damn glass ceiling that women bump their head into in Corporate America:
"In the course of our study of issues confronting top executive women, we would ask women what, if anything, they saw as a barrier to further advancemet in senior management, in rainmaking success, in gaining membership in The Club. Over and over again, we heard variations on the same theme: golf" (162).
"'I finally learned how to play. Golf's not so hard, but thd problem is the country clubs. They are the most sexist, and don't allow women to play at the times the men are playing. One day I had three male clients from Detroit flying in to play golf with me. They arrived at ten A.M. and we had to sit around until we were allowed to tee off at one-thirty'" (162).
"Jane Blalock [former pro-golfer and president of a sports marketing firm] is well aware of the final reason many women have not yet caught the golf fever: the discriminatory attitude of many country clubs toward women players" (166).
[Above quotes taken from Members of the Club: The Coming of Age in Executive Women by Dawn-Marie Driscoll and Carol R. Goldberg, New York: The Free Press, 1993]
"In a study of executives who manage 'corporate-government affairs,' Denise Benoit Scott found that the women in such positions 'share meals with staff members and other government relations officials but never play golf.' In contrast, men in such positions 'play golf with a broad range of peole in business and government, including legislators and top corporate executives.' As one of the women she interviewed put it: 'I wish I played golf. I think golf is the key. If you want to make it, you have to play golf.'" (52-53).
"A few months before Bill Clinton was elected president, his future secretary of energy had some pertinent comments about the importance of fitting into corporate culture and the relevance of playing golf. 'Without losing your own personality, said Hazel O'Leary, then an executive vice president at Northern States Power in Minnesota, 'it's important to be part of the prevailing corporate culture. At this company, it's golf. I've resisted learning to play golf all my life, but I finally had to admit I was missing something that way.' She took up golf" (53-54).
[Above quotes taken from Diversity in the Power Elite: Have Women and Minorities Reached the Top? by Richard L. Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998]
I'm not suggesting that everyone run out and learn to play golf (although I do enjoy it myself) but I do think that we should care about whether or not Phoenix and Augusta and Burning Tree and other clubs are excluding women. And just as you can't pull apart race and gender, I guarantee that clubs that act in a discriminatory fashion towards women are not exactly rolling out the welcome mat for non-white players.