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BUSINESS Playing Through the Gender Handicap

Executive women chip away at exclusive golf clubs’ access rules.
By Blanche Evans |

Patricia Dixon entered (he clubhouse still glowing from her well-played round. “Congratulations again on thai eagle!” exclaimed one of the men who had played with her. Within earshot was an older man seated at another table. Tilting his head back, he looked down his nose at Patricia. “Oh, which hole?” he asked. “One,” she replied. He nodded with recognition-apar-5, about 443 yards from the red tees. “And what did you hit for your third shot?” A fraction of a second passed. She understood his condescending meaning-a woman couldn’t possibly land a ball on a par-5 green in two, not even from the red tees. She turned to answer. With a level gaze, she drew out the syllables, “A put-ter.” The man retreated in silence. The other-men guffawed, the heartiness of their laughter contagious.

Building the trust that makes a Business relationship takes time. And many in business have found that the average four-hour round of golf affords plenty of opportunity to entertain clients, strengthen business relationships, establish esprit de corps among business associates, make new business contacts-and have fun doing it.

In a recent survey, one male executive out of eight considered golf to be more important than sex. Corporations regard employees who play golf as networking assets and reward them with company-sponsored tournaments, club memberships, resort vacations and other golf-relat-ed perks. This phenomenon-as well as the fact that a good amount of business gets done on the fairways-has not been lost on today’s ambitious female executive.

Women in golf have lagged behind women in the boardroom, but their numbers are quickly catching up. Close to 40 percent of all new golfers are women. And women executives in particular are Mocking to the sport, Half of all adult women golfers hold college degrees and occupy managerial, professional and administrative positions.

Who is the executive woman golfer? According to statistics compiled by the Businesswomen’s Golf Council, she is 43 years old and has a household income of $90,000 per year or more, $42,000 more per year than the average female golfer. She took up the game at about age 37 and has honed her game to a handicap of 26, only 10 strokes more per round than the average male player.

But executive women golfers face an even bigger handicap-old-fashioned attitudes about this male-dominated game that can be inhospitable to women. The variety of hazards faced by executive women golfers ranges from being fitted incorrectly for equipment to having limited access to tee times.

BARBARA PUETT, AUTHOR OF GOLF ETI-quette, owner and director of Barbara Puett Golf Schools at Lake Austin, and a former student of the late Harvey Penick, relates, “I was teaching a new student the other day, a woman of about 5 feet, 10 inches who I knew to be a crack tennis player. She came in with brand-new clubs and then could not hit the ball. I knew immediately what was wrong….She had been fitted in women”s clubs that were about an inch and a half too short. She had been told that she needed shorter clubs because she was new to the game! I asked her, ’When you were new to tennis, did they cut off your racquet?’ These were golf professionals that did this. What were they thinking?”

Patricia Dixon, owner of Empowered Women’s Golf, agrees. Her business gives women a place of their own to shop for golf clothing and equipment.

“At our store, we educate our customers instead of telling them what they ought to do,” she says. “We offer a practice area where the customer can see for herself which clubs feel the best to her. If she is a beginner, we show her how to swing a club. We put tape on each club and look at where the ball is being struck most often, and we carefully consider her athletic ability and enthusiasm,” says Dixon.

Puett adds, “Women are joining the sport in record numbers, but they are also dropping out quickly. Equipment that doesn’t fit properly will naturally make it much more difficult to strike the ball. Women need to be welcomed into the sport to spend their money there.”

AFTER LEARNING TO PLAY, THEN INVEST-ing in equipment and a golf membership in a private club, many women are surprised to rind they are restricted from playing during some of the most desirable playing times-weekends and holidays.

Under the rules of private clubs, the membership, or the board of directors, can vote on the rules of play-including restricted tee times for women. Offered to women instead are “ladies’ days,” usually Tuesdays or Thursdays before noon, a time during which men are restricted from play.

So the executive woman golfer is caught between the sand and the water. She can’t play on weekdays when she is working, and as a woman, she can’t play on weekend mornings, before the hot Texas afternoon sun. If she wants to entertain a client or participate in a company golf outing, she can’t get a tee time to play until the afternoon, when most clients are ready to be finished.

“The most often-cited reason women should be restricted from playing certain days or times is that women are slow players,” says Puett.

On the golf course, colored tees placed so many yards apart post starting points for each player: the golds, furthest from the green, are for championship play; blues for expert; whites for the average strong player; and reds for the higher handicappers. Most men play from the blues and the whites, while most women, seniors and juniors play from the reds. Many women players also play from the whites.

In addition to the colored tees, golf’s handicap system enables players of widely varying abilities to play together and enjoy the game. A handicap is the average number of strokes-and thus time-it takes a player to finish the course over par. On the average, men’s handicaps are 14 and higher, while women’s are about 28. This difference lies at the root of misconceptions about women’s playing abilities. But the difference between the men s and women’s averages comes to less than one stroke per hole.

And, says Puett, statistics don’t support the claim that women play slower. Women actually tend to be faster players because they are sensitive to men’s perceptions that they are slow. Beginners of either gender are the slowest group of players, according to a top men’s golf magazine, says Puett.



MANY OLDER, RETIRED AND NON-WORK-ing female members do not share the concerns of the working woman golfer about gender discrimination. At clubs such as Lakewood Country Club and Stonebriar Country Club, the boards of governors have offered to suspend restricted women’s play, but the female membership voted it down. They did not want to give up their ladies’ day on Thursdays. But for a large majority of private clubs, there isn’t even a pretense at quid pro quo, there is only simple gender discrimination. And even more simple, if a woman has bought a country club membership for the same price a man would pay but is allowed less time on the golf course than a male club member, that’s economic discrimination.

One of the largest country club/dining club management corporations is Dallas-based ClubCorp. Robert Dedman, chairman of the board, revolutionized golf with the development of Brookhaven, one of the area’s first family-oriented country clubs.

“We have always considered the ladies an asset,” says Dedman. “We have always had ladies on our boards of governors. They weren’t just tolerated; they were welcome. The ladies were a part of the whole concept, and it has worked.”

Yet at Brookhaven, women were not allowed tee times on the long Masters course Friday afternoons and before noon on Saturdays or Sundays. In a trade-off, women were given restricted tee times on the President’s course on Tuesday mornings and on the middle course, the Championship, on Thursday mornings.

“The Masters course is too long for most men,” explains Dedman. “We don’t encourage anyone with a high handicap to play it.”

Kathryn Savers McGovern, an area attorney and Brookhaven member, was teed off anyway. She wrote to club manager Gary Proud in February protesting being denied a tee time on the Masters course one Saturday before noon. “The male-only policy deprives me and all other working women of the full benefit of our membership…as a result, the value of my membership is diminished,” McGovern wrote. “Effectively, I am charged more than similarly situated men to enjoy full golf membership privileges. This is neither fair nor consistent with the club’s obligations under the taw and pursuant to its contract with me and other women members.”

Proud met with McGovern on March 21 and told her that Brookhaven would end its restrictions on women as of April 21.

At least 10 states-although not Texas- have laws pending to make this kind of gender discrimination illegal. But as other states look into legislation to solve the problem and Brookhaven takes positive action to end gender-based discrimination, other area private clubs continue to dig in their cleats. Some of ClubCorp’s other clubs continue to restrict tee times for women, although the company would not divulge the number of their clubs that still have such policies.

Prestonwood Country Club operates two courses, the Creek and the Hills, but denies women tee times on both courses until noon on Saturdays and on one course until noon on Sundays. Ladies’ day is Thursdays mornings on the Creek course.

Clearly, two hours of restriction for men is nothing compared with 12 hours or more of restricted tee times for women per week, especially at prime playing times.

Gail King, a senior vice president of NationsBank, says, “When I joined Prestonwood, I used [my membership] to play golf as a business development tool. I mostly played on the weekdays, so the Saturday thing was not such an issue. Then I was promoted to an internal staff position and could only play golf on the weekends.

“It is frustrating to go to the club’s grill for breakfast on Saturdays and see these men who can’t even get off the teebox,” King says. “I have a lower handicap than many of them, so if the club is going to discriminate, why don’t they do it on that basis instead of sex?”

Freelance LPGAgolf professional Kathy Farrarteaches at Prestonwood. She defends the club but admits disappointment with the continuing policy of restricted tee times. “Club management allows me to teach non-members, so that provides an excellent opportunity to introduce prospective members to the club,’’ Farrar says. “But when my women students find out about the restrictions, they end up joining somewhere else. And a large number [of the members that I play golf with] would like to see the policy changed.”

According to female members, the decision to restrict women’s play at Prestonwood is reputed to be one man’s only-that of owner Vance Miller Sr. Club management declined to comment, but Terry Van Wilson, spokesman for Vance C. Miller Interests, explains. “Rules of play are presented to members prior to joining the club to make sure they understand,” says Van Wilson.

Former Prestonwood member Judy Bell disagrees. “When I joined the club, it did not occur to me that I would be restricted from playing. This is the ’90s! I was not told about the restrictions and did not find it out until later.”

The Dallas Country Club, Dallas’ oldest golf club, restricts its women members from playing on Fridays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., on Saturdays until 2 p.m., and on Sundays between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. There are no ladies’ days.

At Brookhollow Country Club, women are not allowed to play until after 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays and national holidays and on Wednesdays between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Men are never restricted from play, even on the ladies’ day. Royal Oaks Country Club denies women course access between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Fridays and before 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays, in exchange for a ladies’ day Thursdays before noon.

The newer private clubs north of LBJ Freeway are hardly more hospitable to women players. Gleneagles Country Club offers two courses to play. If a woman is the member of record, she may play with no restrictions at any time, but if she is the spouse of the member of record, she is restricted from playing one of the courses on Saturdays and national holidays until noon and is offered instead a ladies’ day on Thursdays until noon. Bent Tree Country Club’s board of directors has determined that women will not be allowed to play on Saturdays until 1 p.m. Northwood Club offers a ladies’ day on Tuesday until 11 a.m. but excludes women on Saturdays before noon.

In addition to restricted tee times, clubs may pose additional restrictions that include The 19th Hole, a men’s-only card room/grill that is a tradition in country clubs, or locker room facilities for women that are less spacious or well-appointed than the men’s.

ClubCorp’s Dedman says, “We are retrofitting all of our clubs across the country to be more enjoyable for all our membership!-women, men, seniors, juniors….Our approach is to build a consensus. We don’t want our men members upset anymore than we want our lady members upset. So we have to do things a step at a time.”

Self-made billionaire Dedman sums up the reason change on the green is in the air: “1 have always been a champion for the ladies. For one thing it is the right thing to do. The other reason is avarice and greed!”

The latest statistics back Dedman’s greenback logic. Women spent more than $3 billion on golf in 1994, with membership and playing fees representing close to 75 percent of all spending by female golfers. But despite having the income to do so, women are not joining private clubs in record numbers. Only 33 percent of executive women belong to private clubs, but they spend 75 percent of their playing time at public, upscale fee-for-play courses.

The economic impact to private clubs is great when businesswomen are made to feel unwelcome. Instead of cultivating the revenue from these high-interest golfers, they are foregoing women’s dollars in greens fees, cart fees, balls, equipment, accessories, clothing, lessons and food.

Restricted tee times seem likely to continue until private club memberships feel the economic pinch of disapproval as well as the twinge of conscience.



IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS, TWO ORGANIZA-tions, the Dallas Women Executives’ Golf League and the Executive Women’s Golf Association of Fort Worth, were formed to help working women become more confident and welcome on the course. Hospitable places to play and ready-made playing partners across the country are just some benefits offerered by these leagues, which are springing up nationwide.

Through league-sponsored clinics, tournaments, guest speakers and fund-raisers, executive women golfers are learning golf skills and etiquette from the game’s leading experts and sharing what they know about networking and business play. Tournaments are arranged on women-friendly, public, upscale, fee-for-play and a few private club courses to give the members more playing exposure, an added benefit to those unaffiliated with a private club.

“As we raise the glass ceiling, we need to also raise the grass ceiling,” says Judy Bell, president of Dallas Executive Women’s Golf League. “Women have been accused of not mentoring other women when they reach positions of power. If we are joining the club for business opportunities, we need to also be willing to mentor other women players.”

The Executive Women’s Golf Association is an educational tool to gain individual acceptance of women in golf and not a political force for change, national spokeswoman and founder Nancy Oliver points out. “When corporations sponsor a charity event or company tournaments, they are beginning to realize that the female executives are just as viable participants as the men….Our organization focuses on developing those players properly, so that some of the other issues will take care of themselves.”

Golf is a complex sport of rules, etiquette, character-building and skill. It is also a time-intensive pursuit, and the learning curve is steep. But golf is also a sport that can be learned and played at any age and doesn’t require outstanding athletic ability, size or strength-or a particular gender. And today’s female executive is learning to hit from the “uphill lie” tradition has handed her.

WOMEN-FRIENDLY COUNTRY CLUBS



FORTUNATELY, THE LESS EXPENSIVE clubs are also often less exclusive than those that are older and more prestigious-which are, of course, the best clubs at which to mix bus-ienss and golf. So if it is not essential to a woman’s business image to entertain clients and golf at the most exclusive clubs, a better alternative might be less expensive clubs that offer more of a welcome to women.

The Sports Club at the Four SeasonsResort (4200 MacArthur Blvd.,Irving; 972-717-2526) opened in1983 with the most comprehensivesports facilities of any club in theregion-and no restrictions of anykind to women. Voted one of themost women-friendly golf coursesby Golf For Women magazine, theFour Seasons has a child-care centeron site for golfing mothers andfathers. Facilities for men andwomen are mirror images, with nodisparity in amenities for eithergender.

Other clubs that do not discriminate on tee times or facilities:

The Clubs at Stonebridge Ranch. 7003 Beacon Hill Rd., McKinney; 972-529-2582: two courses, one designed by Pete Dye (the only one in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and voted one of Texas* top 10 by Golfweek magazine), at Stonebridge Country Club; and two courses, one designed by Arthur Hill, at the Ranch Country Club.

Dallas Athletic Club (4111 LaPrada Rd., Dallas; 972-279-6517), which, says spokesman Trina Tueber, was the first Dallas club to lift tee-time restrictions on women.

EL Dorado Country Club, 2604 Country Club Dr., McKinney; 972-952-9762.

Oakridge Country Club. 2800 Diamond Oaks Dr., Garland; 972-530-8008.

Trophy Club Country Club

(two courses), 500 Trophy Club Dr., Trophy Club; 817-430-0444.

● Woodhaven Country Club, 913 CountryClub Ln., Fort Worth; 817-457-5150.