As famed author and avid golfer, Jim Bishop, put it, “golf is played by twenty million mature American men whose wives think they are out having fun”! The difference today is that the number of wives out there having fun on the course themselves is rapidly rising and is an encouraging sign for the world of golf, AND it’s not just in America. On the back of an extremely popular $400,000 (yes, $400,000) Hero Women’s Indian Open, I thought it was an opportune time to look into this long and rich heritage that women and golf actually have.
The late 90’s and early 00’s saw a tremendous surge in play and the transition of newer women golfers off the range and onto the course was a far smoother one.
From Mary, Queen of Scots coining the word “caddy” way back in the 16th Century to the LPGA Tour in fact being older than the currently constituted PGA Tour (which only came together in 1968), golf & women have had a fairly good relationship for a while. The proportion of female players barely budged in the 1980s, with several studies revealing that thousands of women wanted to take up the sport but didn’t feel welcome or “invited” to the “male dominated atmosphere” of a course. The late 90’s and early 00’s saw a tremendous surge in play and the transition of newer women golfers off the range and onto the course was a far smoother one. India too benefited, as filmmaker, daughter of the legendary Rajinikanth & avid golfer, Soundarya Rajinikanth recalls, “It was about 15 years ago actually, when everyone around me still called it a slow or old man’s game. I wouldn’t say it wasn’t popular at all then though. When I did go into coaching in Chennai, there were many my age there and we had regular tournaments that the clubs arranged which encouraged people to better their game and play more as well”.
While structural strength differences might influence the way the game is played, the fundamentals are the same and perhaps even lean towards women in many ways. I mean, whom are we kidding here? Golf requires the body to perform a peculiar set of movements that are ultimately supposed to produce a graceful result, and women do possess a lot more grace in general. The sport quite often entails finesse instead of brute strength; it’s social; it’s played with some of the most beautiful backdrops on the globe; its coed; the fashion is fantastic; and there are long chats and cocktails at the end of a game. A golf research firm, Golf Datatech, LLC, in it’s first ever Women’s Golf Market Study in 2014, revealed that among the three biggest positive attributes for playing the game, 90% cited general well-being (outdoors, exercise), 80% cited the challenge and competition of golf, and nearly 70% cited the social interactions of playing the game with family and friends. There are other compelling reasons as well, as Shilpa Ranjit, among India’s new crop of avid golfing mom’s points out with a smile, “I’ve been playing for under a year now, but am a fairly competitive person so I really enjoy the challenge of learning the game. Importantly also though, I think the insane test of patience on the course can only help when you’re raising two girls under the age of five”.
The misconception that it is a slow game has to & will go only by trying it. Now with my full time mommy job it is more difficult, but I do intend on being back on the course and getting in some regular good golf action
The game is a hard sell sometimes but once hooked, even additions of little ones can’t kill the itch, as Soundarya reveals, “The misconception that it is a slow game has to & will go only by trying it. Now with my full time mommy job it is more difficult, but I do intend on being back on the course and getting in some regular good golf action”. Women understand that the game can still be part of a busy lifestyle & as every man has to grudgingly accept, the fairer sex are (in general) better able to balance work, family and social life, so fitting in a 9-hole round instead of 18 could well meet their needs too.
The Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) of America launched an industry-wide initiative in 2013 to bring more women into the game and India fits well within those plans. Just as Jeev, Jyoti, Shiv & Anirban paved the way for India’s men, the recent success of the Hero Women’s Indian Open could only enhance the fact that the fun in the sun for India’s women could well be just over the horizon!
Suhail Chandhok is a sport commentator and can be followed on twitter as @suhailchandhok