A new era ‘fore’ female golfers

Female golfers are making strides in the sport
As the modern world evolves to appreciate diversity, participation in golf, especially for women, has dramatically increased in recent years, bringing impactful changes to the sport and its players.
As the modern world evolves to appreciate diversity, participation in golf, especially for women, has dramatically increased in recent years, bringing impactful changes to the sport and its players.
Kara Kim

What image is associated with the word “golfer?” Likely a figure of a rich, older white man. For those more familiar with golf, possibly Tiger Woods. 

However, the rise in global engagement in the sport due to the pandemic has given way to an emerging diversity of participating groups.

One particular group, which constitutes almost half of the world population and has participated since the sport’s founding, experienced a significant increase in interest in the sport within the past few years.

Women. 

Now, as women are striving to have equal representation in all sports, female golfers are paving their own way to a larger impact. In 2022, there were 6.4 million female on-course golfers in the United States, constituting 25% of total on-course golfers.

Though golf is still male-dominated, the rise of tournaments for women, such as the LPGA Tour, reflects the growth of female golfers in recent years—an increase of 14% from pre-pandemic levels, leading them to constitute around 41% of all beginners and off-course participants last year—which can be traced to younger generations.

A beginning

Sophia Chu, a senior at San Mateo High School, plays for the San Mateo Girls Varsity Golf Team.  

Chu recently started her third year of golf and looks forward to playing in the future—either for a college team or just as a recreational activity—as she enjoys meeting new people on the course. 

The perception of golfers by the general public prevents most from appreciating the sport as Chu does. 

Chu said she notices stigmas characterizing golfers as elitist white males. But simultaneously, during the last few years that she played golf, Chu observed significant changes regarding participation from the female audience.

One big change is our school team has 16 girls this year, while last year we only had eight. I’ve also seen more women at the driving range and trying out the sport for the first time. This is amazing, especially since golf is made out to be so male-centric, pretentious, and intimidating.

— Sophia Chu

“One big change is our school team has 16 girls this year, while last year we only had eight. I’ve also seen more women at the driving range and trying out the sport for the first time. This is amazing, especially since golf is made out to be so male-centric, pretentious, and intimidating,” Chu said.

According to Chu, these stereotypes hurt golf. 

“This cycle limits the diversity of golf since the very people who are needed to create diversity don’t think that it’s a safe space for them. The good news is that while stereotypes are based on some degree of truth, as the sport evolves and takes into account the different perspectives and criticisms that new players have, we stray further from that stereotype,” Chu said.

Chu recognizes that golf is not the most accessible activity. Between the costs of buying clubs, balls, and access to play on the course, the median startup cost is about $850. In addition, the sheer amount of time needed for a round is generally around the four-hour mark for 18 holes.

Still, Chu and many other high school golfers find their way back.

“I encourage everyone to try golf because it’s so fun. It takes a lot of discipline and is more challenging than it looks, but it’s a rewarding way to meet people and it’s constantly striving for more diversity in its community,” Chu said. 

Chu’s next step is to pursue golf in college—where rigor can both exacerbate the same struggles and strengthen the benefits.

A continuing commitment

Viveka Kurup, Carlmont alumnus and former member of the Carlmont Varsity Girls Golf Team is a junior at Bucknell University and going through the next stage of her golf career as a Division I golfer.

Kurup began her golf journey at the age of 10. However, the sport has been a large part of her life ever since she learned to love the game playing high school golf. 

“It made me realize how much I value being on a team of girls who all are going through the same things as I am,” Kurup said. 

Golf allowed Kurup to follow her passion and open up to other aspects of life, such as pursuing computer science in college. 

“Golf made me much more well-rounded—I learned time management skills, worked on my patience, and recognized the importance of mental health since golf can be anxiety-inducing in terms of the performance aspect,” Kurup said.

When she first started, Kurup noticed the same things as Chu: general sentiments were that golf was male-dominated and popular with an older crowd. But now, she sees many younger kids of all genders and races on the course; in fact, this increased participation of a variety of crowds is also reflected at Carlmont.

Carlmont’s Girls Golf Team was established in 2018, Kurup’s freshman year. She played for Carlmont for three years, unable to participate during her senior year due to the pandemic.

“Seeing all the different players makes me smile. Golf truly is a wonderful game and it’s so nice to see it spread to everyone,” Kurup said.

As a college Division I golfer, Kurup deals with many hours of practice and classwork at the same time. Yet her ability to deal with the mental and organizational aspects of the sport can be attributed to her improved mindset as a result of many years of playing.

“Golf is so difficult. It weighs on you both physically and mentally. Not only do you have to be sharp when you’re playing so you don’t give up if things are going south, but collegiate tournaments are 36 holes in one day and 18 the next, which is about 13 hours of straight walking per weekend,” Kurup said.

Kurup is motivated to continue because of the valuable bond she has formed with her team at Bucknell. 

“I love, love, love my team. They are some of my closest friends, even though we’re all so different. As soon as I joined freshman year, I felt as if I had a family,” Kurup said. 

Kurup hopes the trend of increased participation from different groups of golfers continues to grow the sport as a whole—not only for spectators or non-golfers but for those who already play the game.

A developing role

Melaine Hinse is from the small town of Val-des-Sources in Québec, Canada. 

From a very young age, she was on the golf course, following her brother and father.  

“I started practicing to become better and keep up with the other girls. I was hooked. You feel so good when you hit a great shot or putt for birdie,” Hinse said. 

As a mother, Hinse has been able to observe the changes in female participation in golf over a longer period of time. Golf was not popular with girls when she was a kid, and some tournaments had never seen girls qualify.  

“In one of the tournaments I participated in, I was the first girl to ever play with all boys. That was intimidating,” Hinse said. 

She is happy there are events now just for girls, like the Corena Green event hosted by the Women’s Nine Hole Golf Association (WNHGA) or others provided by the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA)

“As of three years ago, women were only allowed in some events like the NCGA South Bay Zone Championship, which used to be for men only. This year, for the first time, women’s teams qualify for the final Championship,” Hinse said. 

Earlier in September, the Carlmont team played at Baylands Golf Links in Palo Alto with schools from different leagues. The Gunn High School coach, whose team also participated in the tournament, organized the Baylands Fall Preview tournament, and Hinse helped to run it.

While Hinse is glad female involvement in golf is on the upclimb, she disagrees with how girls and women—like the high school teams at Baylands—are impacted by the Ladies Tee, the idea that women are only supposed to play on designated shorter tees.

Paying from shorter tees means a golfer starts each hole closer to the pin, and such tees are associated with women because of a general inability to hit as far as men.

“It has got to change. You should play from a tee that corresponds to your level of play. For example, you can’t have a beginner play from the tip because they will hate golf due to the added difficulty. But if a ‘lady’ has a 250-yard drive, she can play from any tee she likes,” Hinse said. 

In spite of restrictions imposed by the Ladies Tee, many trailblazers in golf bring in more female participants and keep interest in golf strong.

A closer relationship

Eva Monisteri is the Director of Tournaments and Director of Women’s Golf at the NCGA. 

The NCGA started in 1901 to help golfers enjoy the game. According to their website, they “offer NorCal golfers of all ages and abilities hundreds of events, tournaments and outings, oversee the Rules of Golf and administer official United States Golf Association (USGA) handicaps, sponsor exclusive golf discounts and operate two courses – Poppy Ridge and Poppy Hills.”

For Monisteri, her golf journey began as a caddie—the person who carries a golfer’s clubs and helps them with their game. 

“Not until age 13 did I become more serious about golf. I grew up playing in Sweden where I met my husband, a golf professional, who helped me improve my golf game,” Monisteri said.

She has seen the impact of the three golf booms in the last 70 years—when Arnold Palmer was televised, when Tiger Woods became famous in the late 1990s, and in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Golf used to be an elitist sport where only the rich could play. It’s still an expensive sport, but the gap has narrowed. The equipment has also evolved the game. We used to play with balls that curved a lot, making it hard to hit the ball straight. Newer golf clubs also hit it farther,” Monisteri said.

Golf used to be an elitist sport where only the rich could play. It’s still an expensive sport, but the gap has narrowed. The equipment has also evolved the game.

— Eva Monisteri

According to Monisteri, while there has been a big gain in girls and women golfers, the hardest part is keeping the “mid-amateur” players, like Hinse, engaged.

“The women that have finished college, started working, and started a family have less time for golf,” Monisteri said.

Nevertheless, many are prompted to carry on by following the paths paved by previous golf legends.

Though their experiences were different, Kurup, Hinse, and Monisteri all share the same sentiment.

“Golf is a sport you can play for a long time and with anyone. The contacts you make on the course are priceless. You can learn a lot about a person when you play golf with them,” Monisteri said.

Facilitating journeys

Scott Hathaway is the head coach at Valley Christian High School and general manager at Los Lagos Golf Course

He has run the annual Helen Lengfeld tournament for the past two years. The Helen Lengfeld tournament, like the Baylands tournament, involves various high school teams from different California leagues. 

The 2023 ninth annual Helen Lengfeld tournament was held at Los Lagos Golf Course on Sep. 11, and the Carlmont team was among the teams that participated.

“My goal for the tournament was to get girls to play together in a more competitive environment than they would at the match level. We wanted to get 18 holes as compared to the nine holes that are normally played in high school matches. It gives a preview of what the Central Coast Section (CCS) is like,” Hathaway said. 

For Hathaway, girls golf is less about competition and more about being socialization between  players. Tournaments like Helen Lengfeld encourage those interactions and reflect the growth of female participation in golf.

“Last year, there were 1.2 million more golfers in the U.S., and most of them were women. That’s the biggest growth area right now in the golf industry, which was on its last legs before the pandemic. It’s given us an opportunity to get women more involved. They usually have less time because they’re taking care of kids or have a job,” Hathaway said. 

Hathway sees the same trend in high school girls golf. Over the course of the 11 seasons that he coached, Hathaway noticed an increase of 10 new teams—now, there are 73 girls high school golf teams in CCS.

“In high school, the hardest thing for kids is finding where they belong. Golf is very social and inviting and not super competitive to where you get intimidated. The girls are all very encouraging and positive and make it a really good environment to be a part of even if the game itself is hard,” Hathaway said.

However, while the culture for girls is changing, the overall game and attitudes towards different groups have been difficult to alter.

“Golf’s got a lot of tradition. A lot of times you get the old ‘Get off my lawn’ players when they see junior kids playing. We get complaints in the golf shop all the time, like ‘Why are the juniors out here?’ My reply is, ‘Oh, you mean those players that are out there? Why are those players out there? Because they’re learning to play golf,’” Hathaway said.

Groups such as juniors and girls also face the barrier of heavy clubs, in addition to the mental component of golf and the difficult expectations that all players face.

My satisfaction comes from seeing the teams get together and new friendships being made. I love the competition, but the interaction of players as I watch them deal with their scorecards, have ice cream afterward and socialize with not only their team but the players that they played with is the best thing.

— Scott Hathaway

“People think it’s the elite, obnoxious male’s sport, very prim and strictly regulated. They’ll think it’s boring until they first start. For athletes who try golf but can’t do it, if they’re halfway competitive, it will drive them nuts. They’ll either work hard to get better or quit because it’s too hard,” Hathaway said.

In spite of negative conventional beliefs surrounding golf, the sport allows for entire family participation because people of all ages can play.   

“My satisfaction comes from seeing the teams get together and new friendships being made. I love the competition, but the interaction of players as I watch them deal with their scorecards, have ice cream afterward and socialize with not only their team but the players that they played with is the best thing,” Hathaway said.

Redefining participation

Golf’s significant popularity growth, especially among women, is a result of the pandemic and the efforts of coaches and influential female players. 

While female professional golfers continue to pave the way for more participation by inspiring other women, smaller changes are happening at lower levels.

Both San Mateo and Carlmont’s Varsity Girls Golf Teams jumped from fewer than 10 players the previous season to 16 in the 2023 season. Tournaments like the Helen Lengfeld tournament allow high school girls to connect with one another and foster a community of positive energy that they carry on to the future.

“Golf is a reflection of life. It’s hard when things aren’t going right for you to encourage somebody else. But imagine if everyone in today’s critical society learned how to compliment each other. If we could take that positivity in tournaments and just apply that to life, it would be such a better place,” Hathaway said.

About the Contributor
Kara Kim, Staff Writer
Kara Kim is a junior at Carlmont High School and excited to be a Highlander editor this year. She enjoys talking to new people and is very interested in sustainability. In her free time, you'll find her doodling or looking to try a new restaurant. Check out her profile here!

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