Women at par on courses: Golfing for women nearer equality than ever before
Margaret Reese is free to focus on the technical aspects of her game, the weather or the jokes of her fellow club members as she squints into the sun at Tahoe Donner.
Her gender is not even a fleeting thought as she plays through hole 18, though that has not always been the case.
When Reese applied for country club membership in Sacramento several years ago, the form only inquired into her husband’s occupation, salary, education and hobbies. She does not remember the exact questions or format of the “entrance exam” except the very last line – that was the only place where her name was added.
As treasurer of the Tahoe Donner Women’s Golf Group, today Reese enjoys autonomous acceptance and equal playing time at her home course, Tahoe Donner, and other courses in the Tahoe-Truckee area.
While Reese began playing golf at the late age of 53, she has witnessed inequities throughout her golf career because of her gender and has seen immense improvement in the status of women golfers in a relatively short period of time.
“I would play down in Sacramento with women on the days when it was officially ‘ladies time’ and the men would stand around asking how many more holes we had to play,” said Reese. “While the misconception that women play slower than men continues to be held by some men, we are now showing them that the opposite is often the case.”
When 40-year golf veteran Betty Marr joined Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento with her husband in the 1960s, only married women could be members and women’s playing days and times were severely restricted.
“Women could play on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays after 12:30,” remembers Marr. “Of course that is changing now, but it [Del Paso] is still basically a men’s club.”
At many private courses both nationwide and locally, these restrictions are being removed as the number of female golfers continues to multiply. Newer clubs are embracing single female members and have as many ‘women only’ hours as they do mens’.
To some veteran players like Marr, the older clubs still have lingering chauvinism.
“They [men] think they own the course and they cannot accept the fact that women can play just as well. That makes many women not even want to be there on men’s days,” added Marr.
In golfing regions like the South and Northeast, the number of men-only clubs is beginning to wane, yet more covert inequities linger amidst the coed atmosphere.
As private entities, country clubs are more immune to sexual discrimination laws and do not have to comply with the same gender equity statutes that public courses do.
As a result, numerous clubs continue to restrict ladies’ green times and have all-male boards of directors that fail to acknowledge the needs of female members.
For Reese, Marr and their golfing partners, the public and semi-private atmosphere of courses in the Tahoe-Truckee area allow for ease in play and tournament opportunities.
Marr serves as the Tournament Chairwoman for the Teesters, a ladies’ group of over 175 golfers that play on Incline Village’s Championship and Mountain courses. She dubs the Reno-Tahoe area “women golf-friendly” after playing a considerable number of courses in both Nevada and California.
Reese belonged to Sierra View Country Club in Roseville with her husband until a few years ago when she moved to Tahoe Donner permanently. While Sierra View has liberalized its policies regarding women’s tee times since Reese’s departure, the club continues to boast an all-male board.
“As the treasurer of Tahoe Donner Women’s Group, I know how important it is for women to be part of the board and the decision making process,” said Reese.
Experiences with public and private courses vary considerably for female golfers, as the public courses cannot discriminate based on gender. With only one fully private golf club locally – Lahontan – ladies can play virtually anywhere, any day and anytime they wish.
“The membership of Lahontan is 95 percent couples, and we also have several single female members,” Lahontan’s Head Golf Professional Eric Peterson noted. “We do not discriminate based on gender and never have.”
Since its inception approximately six years ago, Lahontan has offered an equal number of ladies’ and men’s clinics and does not restrict tee times based on sex.
In Reno, where private courses are more numerous, there is not a single male-only club and most courses offer days when only women can tee up. Hidden Valley Country Club in Reno has 435 members, of which many are women and a few are female proprietary members.
Northstar-at-Tahoe resident Peggy Downing is a member of the Washoe Women’s Golf Club in Reno, a group which is comprised of several hundred active lady golfers. Having played everywhere from Georgia to Hawaii, Downing has found the sport very available to women – increasingly so over her 10 years of play.
“I used to play with my husband and we would be paired with two men who would instantly think that I was going to slow up the game, but once they saw me drive the ball farther than they did, they had no problem with playing with a woman,” laughed Downing.
For Reese, Marr and Downing, golf was not a sporting option for young women in high school or collegiate sports. In 1972, the signing of Title IX by President Gerald Ford changed this dramatically, prohibiting sexual discrimination in athletics in schools that were receiving federal funding.
While houses of academia took several years to comply, the necessity of new girls and women’s sports teams launched female athletes out onto the basketball court and onto the greens.
Varsity girls’ golf Coach Mike Merriman has been coaching the Wolverines since the team began in 1994, when his own daughter was out on the course for TTHS.
“Even just in the last six or seven years, the opportunities for young golfers have grown considerably,” noted Merriman. “There are an awful lot of colleges that are just starting to form teams.”
San Diego State was one of the first California schools to develop a strong tradition of women’s golf, and their maiden season was merely ten years ago. The 2002 season will be the first for a women’s team at Chico State – a trend that is encouraging for this year’s Nevada 3A State Champion, Truckee’s Renee Trudeau.
Trudeau is an example of young golfers to come, learning to play and love the sport at an early age under the tutelage of her father. While the number of women’s collegiate teams continues to be less than their male counterparts, their mere existence is progress for women of future generations.
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The Truckee girls’ soccer team remains undefeated, picking up a 5-0 win at home Saturday against Churchill County.