Women, men and the Rules of Golf

He says ‘That’s good.’ She says ‘Oh really?’ A bit of perspective — and, truth be told, psychoanalysis — on why men give each other those short putts but women don’t.

Image of couple on putting green

“LADIES, THIS IS NOT THE MEN’S CLUB. YOU MUST CONTINUE PUTTING UNTIL YOUR BALL IS IN THE HOLE.” — Women’s club bulletin board sign

Ever noticed how competitive women are — with each other?  Especially in the arena of fairways and greens?

Ladies don’t like to “give” each other those 2-foot putts; yet guys give any putt inside the length of a driver, sometimes taking offense if they aren’t given those 4- to 5-foot putts that reside within what you and I affectionately refer to as the “throw-up zone.”

But is it also true that women golfers are more competitive than their testosterone-wielding counterparts? This subject was recently brought up for the umpteenth time while I was enjoying a round of golf in mixed company. A male caddie accompanied us, so men outnumbered women three to two.

Typically, the topic of hard-nosed female golfers and their lack of generosity on the golf course is brought up by a man. In listening to men discuss the matter, you’d think a group of women couldn’t come together for anything without a good-old-fashioned “catfight” thrown in. But this time the issue of female rivalry was posed to me by the other woman in our foursome.

On this particular day, my friend and I were playing a round of golf with our husbands, who were more than eager to give us testy putts. But when my female companion insisted on “putting out,” her husband retorted that women are tougher on each other than men are, rarely conceding putts that guys readily concede.

As we left the green, my friend, a relatively new golfer, asked for my opinion on the matter. Being the diplomat that I try to be in mixed company, I offered the following response to this gender-based question:

Perhaps women appear more competitive with each other than do men because history has shown us that women’s presence on the golf course was shunned by men. In an effort to be accepted, women found it necessary to learn and abide by the rules of golf, written or otherwise, which meant playing in a timely fashion and doing whatever it took to avoid the ire of male golfers. Somehow this play-by-the-rules mentality morphed into a pervasive attitude of competitiveness toward other women golfers.

I know—my theory sounded weak even to me. But it’s not that farfetched given the encounters I’ve had with a rules diva or two along the way. You know the type—Nurse Ratched, who stands ready to whip out the USGA’s Rules of Golf at the slightest hint of an infraction. Or the cranky Miss Know-It-All who insists that your practice swing was a whiff.

Thankfully these scenarios are exceptions. Nevertheless, I followed up my play-by-the-rules theory with what I believe might be the truth: I think not so much that women are hard-nosed with each other; rather, I find men have bigger egos than we have.

I know … hard to believe. But for some men, male vanity means “taking” those 3-footers that might otherwise be missed in the presence of their manly friends. By conceding similar putts to their compatriots, they hope to receive the same favor in return.

Immediately upon tendering this theory, I received a wink and a nod from our caddie, who then volunteered (on the “down-low”) that he wholeheartedly agreed about male ego. Given that caddies spend quite a bit of time with all manner of golfer and overhear more than their fair share of private conversations, I give much credence to their opinions about sex-based trends on the golf course. Even the husbands in our group acknowledged that male pride figures into their giving or not giving putts much more than the cat-fight stereotype applies to women golfers.

The truth is, I no longer blindly subscribe to the opinion that we’re more competitive with each other than are men. In fact, I think golf serves to unify women who appreciate the challenge and camaraderie it fosters.

While some ladies prefer the “hit-and-giggle” method of playing golf followed by a delightful glass of Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, others are fervent competitors who have familiarized themselves with the rules and who enjoy a little friendly competition—not the “my club-head covers are cuter than hers” cattiness some would have you believe permeates the community of women golfers.

This essay first appeared in the October 2011 edition of GottaGoGolf Magazine.

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