At some point in the last year, I made a new photo album on my phone. Probably not one of my better decisions and I’m still not sure why I haven’t deleted it, but it was to put all the screenshots of social media backlash I’ve had or seen in response to gender equality statements I (or my friends) have made.
It’s not a particularly pleasant place.
I keep it there in part for an unnecessary motivation; to prove one day to people who will have an argument against women’s sport forever that they are wrong. To prove that it is not and has never been “simple economics”, because “literally nobody watches women’s golf and nobody cares” (see also: “nobody wants to watch it and it’s shite love”), because women are “not marketable” (even though “some of these golfing ladies are fit”) or because I want to “play the entitlement card”, or believe women have “an absolute right to equal prize money”.
I keep it there to remind myself how far there still is to go; for however much progress women’s sport, and golf, is making, a wealth of informed journalists and a healthier tournament schedule are from enough to change perceptions of comparable athletes across the gender divide. Golf is a strange sport because it tries to keep up with the modern world while both reinforcing and refusing to accept its existence in its own self. Golf is not a game for the masses, and I think it is a mistake if it tries to make itself so. It is too demanding, too time-consuming, too frustrating, too technical. As a professional, too emotionally draining.
But trying to change any of those things lessens its beauty. In an age where golf is questioning its identity, wondering how and who should protect it while money tries to come in from dangerous places, its beauty remains prevalent if you keep from drowning in social media dissent. And its beauty can be utilised to address some of its deficiencies. Its beauty can be utilised to make people fall in love with it, both more deeply and for the first time. Its beauty can be utilised to educate the casually sexist commenters on a world beyond their misinformed notions of athleticism and talent and skill, without saying a word.
Its beauty can be utilised in showcases like the Vic Open.
At 13th Beach in Barwon Heads, Australia, stand behind the 7th green – or perhaps in the middle of it – and watch as men and women alike, capable of 350 yard drives and 10 shot margins of victory, of Solheim Cup brilliance and major wins, stand on the tee 105 yards away and wonder how the hell they are going to find the green.
Watch and admire players piece together seven 65s and a 63 in the first round alone – five from men, three from women – in entirely different ways. Watch a brother and sister, separated by just one tee time, go into a final round of a tournament, both with genuine chances of winning. Enjoy not having to be confronted by conditions that saw the final group in round 3 for each the men’s draw and the women’s draw collectively play in 22 over par.
On a course like this, every possible skill is being tested to the extreme. It will not be the player that hits it the furthest who wins, although it may play a part. Power is an essential skill in golf, and it is becoming more so with each year that passes. But it remains far from the only skill required to be successful. Watching players hit drives 350 yards plus is not the only element of enjoyment in watching golf. If it was, there would only be money in long drive contests.
Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan drew crowds and sponsors and fans to the game for a multitude of reasons, not least being they were two of the greatest golfers to ever play the game. As did, and as were, Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb. Not because any of them hit the ball 350 yards.
People come to watch golf. People pay to watch golf. To watch skill and theatre, athleticism and passion, imagination and patience, weaving through the unpredictable predictability of the rise and fall of each character; each actor; each golfer. Each woman, each man.
My ‘argument’ for so long has not been that women simply deserve equal pay as golfers, the end. My argument is simply that in a supply and demand marketplace, if the supplies were given equal treatment, the demand would be much closer together than some people are willing to accept. Equal treatment is where all the questions lie, where all those with stakes in this game must look at themselves and ask if they can do better. Ask themselves what they would say when their daughter asks why playing golf may not be a viable career path when her brother didn’t have to wonder. Ask why it is ok to report on a male losing in the final of a tournament but not a woman winning in the final of the corresponding tournament on the same course at the same time. Ask why it is ok to have 190 pictures of golfers in a magazine and not one of them be of a woman. Ask if you’re really ok with why the winner of a men’s tournament receives a cheque 57 times the amount of the female winner of the corresponding tournament (yes, 57).
Or don’t ask. Don’t ask yourself if you really think that is what we are worth.
Watch a tournament that has already figured out how the world could really work. Should really work.
Find a way to watch the final round of the Vic Open, and pay attention to where the crowds of people are.
That’s why it’s offering equal prize money. Not because the sponsors or organisers feel some moral pressure to have it so.
It’s because the demand says it should be so.
The man and his dog will be there watching. But it won’t just be them.