Mrs. S. was a New Englander, a millionaire with an aging white poodle, a country club membership and a knack for showing newcomers the sites around Manhattan.

She'd taken me under her wing that summer, showing me everything from the office water cooler to a place in town where you could buy knock-off Chanel purses for $300. We journeyed to the top of the Empire State Building back down to the Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue. Then we gazed at a stunning El Greco painting in The Metropolitan Museum until the guards got antsy.

I was a college junior, interning at a golf magazine in Connecticut, writing stories on PGA, LPGA and Senior PGA tour events. Mrs. S. was on the editorial staff doing the same.

The company had a corporate golf membership at a public course in Hartford, and it was not unusual for a few of us writers to cut out a little early on Fridays to hit the links. But one day, Mrs. S. and I opted to tee it up not on a public course but at her private course near upscale White Plains, N.Y.

Mrs. S' ties to golf were mainly social. Her face lit up as she talked about various dinners and black-tie events scheduled at the club and who was on the invite list. It nearly bored me to tears.

My ties to golf were purely athletic. I didn't drink, I already had friends and the only thing I wanted to do at the golf course was golf. I had no interest in hearing about club parties. All I wanted to hear about was how fast the greens were, how long the course was and whether there were many water hazards.

But somehow our worlds crossed. Somehow we became the best of friends. Somehow between our fun day trips, between our girlish giggles I forgot she was 30 years my senior. And I forgot she was white. And I forgot I was black.

So there we were, two silly female golfers, pulling up to this ritzy club peppered with old men with pull carts.

She coerced me into a light lunch. After eating our overpriced meal, we walked up to the club's entrance. There were several doors and I pulled the handle to one of them. Mrs. S. gasped, grabbed my arm and said 'Women aren't allowed in there.'

I asked if it were the mens' locker room. 'No. But women can't go in through that door. And it's not a color thing," Mrs. S. said. "It's a gender thing."

n

My life has been a series of wake-up calls.

One of the earliest was when I was 8-years-old playing in a tournament on an Atlanta-area golf course.

We'd hit our tee shots, myself and the little blond girl I was playing against, and were strolling up the fairway talking presumably about whatever 8-year-olds talk about. Then the roar of an engine interrupted our conversation. We simultaneously turned to see a man in a pickup truck screaming, 'Get off the golf course," followed by a racial slur.

If memory serves me correctly, I won that tournament. Winning over ignorant minds, however, would prove a far more difficult feat.

n

It's been a decade since Mrs. S. uttered the words "It's a gender thing." Her words echoed in my ears this week as Augusta National chairman William 'Hootie' Johnson stood his ground in declaring that the club won't admit women members anytime soon.

Like boys who treasure their tree houses, Hootie clings to the club's all-male tradition, terrified a woman will poke her nose into members' conversations on putting, politics and prostates.

While it would be my chief joy to see all golf courses drop gender and race restrictions, I do understand that a private club is free to admit whomever it wishes.

Augusta National's pockets are deep. Even after dropping the Masters' three TV sponsors, the club is financially viable enough to keep afloat "indefinitely." It appears nothing short of a boycott from top PGA professionals will win this gender war. I'm not holding my breath.

All we can do in the meantime is put the pressure on and wait for Hootie to step off of the 18th green into the 21st century.



Katrina Parker is copy desk chief at The Valdosta Daily Times.



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