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MORE WOMEN JOIN THE CLUB

Lore has it that "golf" is an acronym for "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden."

That attitude will have to change. More and more women are getting onto the links, enjoying a game that may have started in medieval times when shepherds hit pebbles with their crooks.

Today, of course, it's done with high-tech titanium.

And it has become accessible to anyone who cares to attempt it, women and children included.

At Springbrook Golf Pro Shops, for example, women made up 35 to 40 percent of the students last year. Nationally, women make up 21 percent of golfers and 32 percent of beginners, according to the National Golf Foundation.

"The game is becoming more women-friendly and more family-friendly," said Bruce Florine of the foundation, which is based in Jupiter, Fla. "The pros selfishly realize the economics of it, and that's being passed down to the typical golfer, the adult male."

Manufacturers have started realizing where the money is. In the past five years or so, they've started making clubs and grips that fit smaller hands and shorter statures. There's even a new glove with an opening that accommodates an engagement ring, Florine said.

Many women are taking up the game for business reasons. The Executive Women's Golf League, for example, was formed in Florida about five years ago and now has thousands of members across the country.

Margaret Phillips, 32, an attorney with Connors & Vilardo, said she wants to capitalize on Western New York summers and to tap into the many golf events that involve her colleagues.

She is scheduled for her first lesson this month.

"Actually, I know very little about the game," she said. "I know that Tiger Woods just won something big. But I've never had a club in my hand."

That shouldn't scare her, or any woman, says Jane Horn, author of the newly published "Golf Is a Woman's Game" and owner of a golf school in Pittsburgh.

"Many women say they have no coordination," said Ms. Horn. "They say, 'Just get me to hit the ball.' What they do not realize is that they swing the club twice as well as the men."

Other women say they want to get outdoors, to spend time with friends or their husbands. Or to learn a new sport.

Marie Coffey received the gift of golf lessons and clubs from her husband and children on the occasion of her recent graduation from college.

"Now I have time to do what I want to do for myself," said Mrs. Coffey, who is in her 50s.

After a couple of lessons and hitting a few buckets of balls, she's ready to try a par 3 course with a friend, she said.

"I'm a little apprehensive," she said. "I just don't want to embarrass myself. I'm sure most novice golfers feel the same way."

What about the rap that women slow the pace of play?

Expert players scoff and call it a myth.

"I think women are so fearful that they actually move very quickly," said Ms. Horn. "Actually, I've seen men who think they are playing the U.S. Open spend an hour on the green, studying each blade of grass. And it's just to determine who buys the beer.

"As long as you don't get in the way, there's no reason to feel intimidated," Ms. Horn said.

Teachers suggest that novice golfers take some lessons.

"You need a lesson because then you are giving yourself every chance to get it right," said golf teacher Marcia Maracle, "and not to pick up bad habits. That comes enough on its own."

She said that women have every chance to become good golfers, even though their drives are likely to be shorter because they don't have the same upper-body strength as men.

"Women think their body structure inhibits them, but that's not true at all," said Ms. Maracle. "Some of the Buffalo Bills come in, and they are so big they can't get around themselves.

"It's not necessary to have strength to hit ball far. It's the tempo and timing that are going to make all the difference. Tiger Woods isn't Hercules, but his tempo and timing are so good.

"I've played with men who hit 260 yards, in the woods. I'll hit 220 yards, but I'm on the fairway. I don't want to hit that far and hit into the trees."

When it comes to gender, golf makes no distinctions, experts say.

"Golf is a game of mistakes," said Ms. Maracle. "The one who makes the least will be the winner."

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