July 5, 2017: Sarah Mulkerrins is a sports presenter with BBC World News. The show ‘Driving Change: Golf’s Battle for Equality’ will air on BBC World News on Saturday, 8th July at 6 pm; Sunday, 9th July at 6 am, 1 pm; Tuesday, 11th July at 1.30 pm and Friday 21st July at 1.30 pm. Golfing Indian caught up with Sarah about women in golf.
GI: Over the past few years, women’s golf has produced several heroines. Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko are just some examples of women who have given the game a new shape. Why is it that the game remains such a distant second to men’s golf and some clubs still have exclusion policies? And what do you think are the challenges that need to be addressed in the immediate future to make golf an equitable sport?
Sarah: The issue is obviously quite complex, but essentially women’s sport in general has had to fight for its right to exist within patriarchal societies for decades and indeed centuries. The shift in thinking takes time, patience and perseverance to continue the fight for equality. It can be slow going, but it is happening to varying degrees in all sports all over the world, with strong women in lots of sport advancing women’s rights. With golf, the private club set up in the sport has been a hindrance. Because of the power that the clubs wielded in the past, they were very slow to change their exclusionary policies on race and gender. Golf has also traditionally been a rich person’s sport and has suffered from feeling exclusive because of that. The cost to take part in the sport is still a major issue and I think the associations and federations need to do more to get the sport out into the real world. Golf is also an ageing sport and I would ask whether enough is being done to talk about the future of the sport – should we be worried about where the next players are going to come from and where the next set of fans will be? Will golf still be relevant to the world of professional sport in 20 or 30 years’ time if it does not change with the thinking of younger generations? Those are the big battles it faces and the issues they must address.
GI: Would you credit the Koreans for fueling the women’s game into a higher orbit in recent years?
Sarah: I think they have been brilliant for the game, it has shown how far the reach of the women’s game has grown. There is great support for investment in and sponsorship of the players as youngsters, so they have really honed their game to be able to compete at the top level from a young age. Anecdotally however, I have heard of concerns about longevity and burn out when the focus has been so intense. We will have to wait and see if those concerns play out. I think some traditional countries now have to look at how they can better support their young talented female golfers. I sense that there has been a little resentment over the success of less traditional nations, but I think instead of looking at new countries as a threat, they should be looked at to see what can be learned from them.
GI: What are you expecting from your current show – Driving Change?
Sarah: I simply want people to feel like they get to know some of the great women that were at the heart of changing the sport for the better. Women whose stories most will not know, who challenged the status quo and pushed for what was right, and women who loved the game yet struggled to be accepted. They are strong women, who have inspired the current generation of young players making their way as professionals in the sport. There’s also the struggle that remains for women competing on the tour. Although there is a massive amount of money in golf, it’s expensive to play and many females struggle to break even. Prize money is great if you are one of the top players but less so as you get down the field. On the PGA (Professional Golf Association) tour 110 players earned over $1 million dollars, yet only 15 women earned that on the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) tour.
GI: You met Renee Powell. She was such a path breaker, forcing her way up as an African American. How did that meeting go?
Sarah: It was really lovely. Renee is wonderfully warm and welcoming, and interested in knowing as much about you as you want to know about her. We spent a few days in her company at her golf course at Clearview, and to be at the course that her father built by hand in the 1940s was something very special. It was remarkable to see how the efforts of his labours opened up the sport and in turn gave his daughter the chance to make a career out of the game. Clearview is a living museum packed with hundreds of trophies, pictures and letters from the pair’s contribution to the game, everywhere you turn there is something new to discover. Renee was full of stories of her time on the tour and of the friendships that still endure to this day. But of course, the most powerful and really harrowing stories were her struggles to simply exist and play the game as a black female in that era. The racial abuse, taunts and letters that she had to endure, which she did with amazing dignity, is quite some feat. That is what I hope most people take from away from this documentary.