The Masculine Hegemony in Sports: Is Golf For Aladies@?

ABSTRACT - While gender gaps have narrowed in various areas including business and education, gaps in other domains, such as golf, have been maintained. In this study, we generate themes from interviews we conducted with golf professionals in the Midwest and West to determine how gender gaps are maintained, what the effects are, and why, at the institutional level of analysis, they are maintained. We find that gender differences are reinforced through such elements as marketing practices and strategies, as well as personal communication. Such elements can result in women becoming hypersensitive and overly reliant upon other women.


Lee McGinnis and James W. Gentry (2002) ,"The Masculine Hegemony in Sports: Is Golf For Aladies@?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 19-24.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 19-24


Lee McGinnis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


While gender gaps have narrowed in various areas including business and education, gaps in other domains, such as golf, have been maintained. In this study, we generate themes from interviews we conducted with golf professionals in the Midwest and West to determine how gender gaps are maintained, what the effects are, and why, at the institutional level of analysis, they are maintained. We find that gender differences are reinforced through such elements as marketing practices and strategies, as well as personal communication. Such elements can result in women becoming hypersensitive and overly reliant upon other women.


Gender in consumer behavior studies has been explored in such contexts as advertising (Martin and Kennedy 1994; Stern 1993, 1999), eating behaviors (Grunert 1994), information processing strategies (Meyers-Levy and Maheswaran 1991), quality of life (Hill and Dhanda 1999), and the postmodern (Firat 1994). Bristor and Fischer (1993) explored how consumer research is gendered in ways that are not always recognizable using three different feminist perspectives. Hirschman (1993) explored gender in consumer research to demonstrate how women have been excluded from giving voice or representation. Fischer and Gainer (1994) explored gender in organized sports.

Gender has also been widely studied in the leisure sciences, where results often indicate that women compared to men have more constraints, have less time for leisure, and often feel less entitled to leisure (Henderson 1994; Shaw 1994). The world appears to be changing, however. In the United States, one-third of all households have a woman as the chief wage earner. More than 60 percent of American adult women are in the paid labor force at least part-time (Meyers 1996). Women are now occupying more executive positions than ever before; women 25 to 35 are more educated than men in the same age group; women comprise nearly half of new law class entries; and women start twice as many businesses as men (Farrell 1999). Overall, women are making advancements in the paid job market in nearly every contemporary society (Fisher 1999).

Some increases in female participation have also been made in sports. Before Title IX was passed in 1972, one in 27 women participated in sports (Title IX is a federal statute that generally forbids federally funded educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of gender.). Now, approximately one in three women participate in organized sports (Sabo and Jansen 1998). The number of young girls interested in sports appears to be increasing as well. A recent study indicates that three-fourths of girls nine to 18 say they love or like sports a lot (Gardyn 2001).

Despite the promising signs, gender inequality in many sports and leisure activities still exists for women due to the notion of the "double day." Research suggests that career advancements by women have created less time than ever for leisure because women are still largely responsible for household duties (Firestone and Shelton 1994; Henderson 1996). One such sport or leisure pursuit that continues to be male-dominated is golf. This is irrespective of the fact that women are heavily interested in golf (National Golf Foundation 1998) and are even encouraged and trained to play in order to form business relationships (Meyers 1996; Meyerson and Fletcher 2000).

Currently, male golfers comprise approximately 80 percent of the golfer population, a proportion that has not changed substantially over the last decade (National Golf Foundation 1998). In addition, the percentage of women working in the industry as golf professionals is far less than the percentage for men. Of the over 26,000 members and apprentices in the Professional Golfer’s Association of America, roughly three percent are women ( 2000).

The purpose of this paper is to explore a historically male-dominated sport, golf, and look at the constraints and barriers preventing women from fully embracing or wanting to participate in it. McGinnis and Gentry (2001) have looked at this phenomenon from the consumer perspective and noted the existence of institutional level barriers. Using a dramaturgical framework, these authors noted such potential constraints as performance roles expectations, impression management, course design and layout, gender specific equipment, and the perceived sacredness of the golf setting. We are looking at the issue here primarily from the institutional level, through the eyes of the providers, the golf professionals. In general, our institutional level research questions are as follows: How is the gender gap in golf perpetuated, what are the effects of the gap on women, and why does it exist?


The gender literature suggests that gendr is reinforced in society through gendered social structures. In essence, gender is viewed as a social force or structure that organizes the way people live, in ways that usually support the status quo (Risman 1998). These structures occur at the individual, interactional, and institutional levels. The gender perspective essentially suggests that the "conception of what is natural and what natural differences consist of, is itself a cultural context, part of our specific way of thinking about gender" (Connell 1987, p. 76). Some gender scholars agree that all three levels should be incorporated into analysis (Connell 1987; Risman 1998), even though it is also noted that the lived reality is often difficult to separate.

Gender as structure is related to the concept of postructuralism, which views assorted realities as social constructions, including distinctions between male and female, as embedded in such things as interpersonal relationships, power relationships, and cultural institutions (Thompson and Hirschman 1995). As asserted by some researchers (Fischer and Gainer 1994; Messner 1992), sports, particularly organized sports, constitute an institution where class, gender, and social relations are played out. Golf at the participatory level appears to be no exception (McGinnis and Gentry 2001).

The constraints and barriers imposed by gender in leisure and sports, however, show signs of loosening. As mentioned in the introduction, women are now participating more than ever in sports. Also, women appear to be establishing gender equality in leisure, both in terms of participation and number of hours spent (Robinson and Godbey 1997). Shaw (1994) notes that increased participation by women in leisure activities can be viewed as having the potential of resistance, or as a way to establish agentic power against oppressive gender relations or against institutionalized power. In essence, Shaw views leisure as a way to exercise personal power and eliminate the feeling of deterministic oppression. Therefore, it appears that closing the gap in leisure and sports has the potential to serve multiple functions for women, thereby giving women exceptional motivation to close gaps. Why the gender gap has not significantly narrowed in golf is somewhat a mystery, especially since golf is often viewed as a viable vehicle for women to pursue business relations (Meyerson and Fletcher 2000).




The people we interviewed consisted of one female and seven male golf professionals currently working in the golf industry. They represent various years of experience and different types of golf facilities including public and private courses and a golf school. At this stage of the research process, we did not want to purposely obtain an equal number of male and female professionals, as our interests at this point were not in making gender comparisons among professionals. The professionals interviewed were located in either the Midwest or West, with professional experience ranging from five years to nearly 30 years. We conducted five of the interviews in person and three by phone. Each interview lasted anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half (see Table 1 for specific information).

Since our goal for this study was to examine the potential reasons at the institutional level as to why women do not participate in golf in equal numbers as men, we entered a basic categorization process, similar to the open coding process described by Strauss and Corbin (1998). We used a mid-rage analysis approach through which we analyzed sentences and paragraphs rather than individual lines. We sorted the information from the verbatim transcripts into approximately 45 concepts. We then went through a broad categorization scheme in which we collapsed most of the 45 concepts to fit into the three major pre-selected categories. Strauss and Corbin suggest that these categories should answer the question "What is going on here?" (1998, p. 114). Our major categories included the how and the why gender differences are maintained and the effects of maintaining gender. Further categories or subcategories were then created to help us explain each category.

Even though the number of golf professionals we interviewed was small, convergence (see Creswell 1998) was noted in several areas including ideas of what women want in golf and the notion that women are more group-oriented than independent. Convergence to a lesser degree was also noted in the concept that women are less competitive than men and pay more attention to etiquette and rules. We made interpretations of the data based upon personal insights, intuition, and ideas as well as concepts gathered from the literature (Creswell 1998).


Three levels of findings emerged from this study. The first section or level includes how gender differences are maintained or made distinct in golf. The second level of findings includes the potential effects of maintaining gender distinction in golf. The third level includes some explanations why gender distinctions are perhaps maintained in golf. Each level or category is divided into additional subcategories. We begin with how the gender differences are maintained and reinforced in golf.


The subcategories used here explain the ways gender is perpetuated in the golf industry as described or abstracted from the interviews. These subcategories include gender specific artifacts, the mass media, and interpersonal communication. For each category, we attempt to offer some additional insight from the literature.

Gender Specific Artifacts

The first area whereby gender may be reinforced in the golf industry is through the merchandise. Several golf professionals interviewed indicated that the percentage of women’s clothing they carry represents roughly the same percentage of female rounds played at their courses and in some cases a little less than that percentage, especially in the cae of golf club sets. One pro mentioned that the despite the fact that women comprise approximately one-fifth of the golf rounds played, only one in seven golf club sets in the on-course golf shop are sold to women, and their stocking proportions often reflect this ratio. Another pro mentioned that women compared to men tend to buy fewer sets of golf clubs because they appear to be more price-conscious. Yet another pro remarked that women are "too good of shoppers," which he said drives margins below the level usually attained for men’s equipment. This pro also commented that the female equipment and clothing they carry are essentially viewed as "providing a service."

Even though most of the professionals reasoned that they stocked women’s merchandise to reflect business proportions, we argue that these actions reinforce the gender gap because they send a signal to women that golf is indeed a male-dominated domain. Many of the skewed proportions are intensified by how the pros said they position women’s merchandise. In many cases, women’s merchandise is placed in areas where foot traffic is the least due to the perceived need to place faster moving merchandise in more visible locations. However, a couple of the pros interviewed mentioned that they are quite cognizant of the discrepancy in male and female merchandise and make attempts to even the playing field by placing the merchandise in more select areas. Despite such efforts, one assistant golf professional at a private club commented that the women at his club still complain about the unequal selection.

Another professional aired frustration in regard to selling women’s merchandise by claiming that nothing seems to work. In this case, he proactively attempted to increase sales of women’s clothing by involving members of the women’s league in the merchandise selection process.

Every year we try something different to see what we can do to make women buy more. We included them in our purchasing We tried to get a few of them involved so they can pick it and promote it, and that hasn’t worked. We tried everything to try to get them more involved, but you don’t tend to buy that much lady’s clothing. Even shoes we don’t buy that much.

--male golf professional, mid 30s, semi-private club

Most of the professionals interviewed in this study acknowledged that club-fitting practices and how they positioned their golf club sets reinforced gender distinction. Many of the pros said that they continue to sell, display, or specifically suggest women clubs that are designated for women because they felt that such clubs were not only designed for women, but it was also what they felt women requested and demanded. This is despite the fact that several prominent manufacturers now offer gender-neutral club selections that are based upon skill level.

However, all the informants did not share the practice of maintaining and fitting a line of "female-only" clubs. The female golf professional, who owns and operates her own golf school, said she only deals with manufacturers who sell according to precise swing specifications. She does not like to use gender specifications because oftentimes a woman can fit into a "typical" man’s club while some men should often use what is typified asa female club. The notion of using gender-specific merchandise mirrors Goffman’s (1977) idea of institutional reflexivity, whereby the use of gender-specific artifacts and other institutional arrangements and practices help to confirm gender stereotypes and the prevailing relationships between men and women. Different clubs, in this case, are presented as a consequence of biological differences, when in actuality these differences just honor, produce, and even exaggerate differences.

Mass Media

Another theme that emerged from the interviews, from almost all the informants, was the sense that the media help sustain more than narrow the gender gap in golf. For example, several informants claimed that the lopsidedness found in the coverage of women and men’s golf creates an aura that women’s golf is less valuable to corporate America. How golf is positioned in women’s golf publications also appears to send a gender distinct message. The women professional interviewed for this study said she once criticized women’s golf publications for showing too much "fluff." In her opinion, a focus on fashion, beauty, and travel perpetuates a gender stereotype, indicating that women are not necessarily serious golfers. However, despite such personal reactions, she also feels that such messages have their place in that some women respond to those messages without feeling offended.

Some of the other golf professionals also indicated that traditional notions of femininity have their place in golf. Many of the professionals mentioned that in order to increase the number of women entering the game, female tour professionals need to be more feminine. One of the golf professionals for our study argued that in order to draw more junior girls into the game, the media representations, in fact, had to demonstrate that women could be both good golfers and "beautiful" at the same time. Evidence from the literature suggests that other golf industry experts have made similar requests. The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) is often criticized for having participants that are too masculine or too competitive (Chambers 1995: Crosset 1995). Fashion consultants advise players how to project a more feminine, thus marketable, image.


Other areas in which gender is perpetuated are through the various forms of communication found in interpersonal communication with women golfers, promotional activities, and male-bonding behaviors. In terms of interpersonal communication, we found that several of the golf professionals perpetuate gender distinction through how they conduct golf lessons. One common belief that prevailed was the understanding that men and women have different learning styles. A couple professionals mentioned that men appear to be more outcome-oriented, essentially stressing function over form. Women, on the other hand, appear to be more process-oriented, or more concerned with golf swing mechanics and form.

Despite the process-orientation attributed to women, a general theme that also emerged from the pros in regard to lessons was the response that women compared to men appear to e more concerned with distance. From several of the informants, we sensed that female golf instruction was laced with a patronizing tone whereby the professionals encouraged female patrons to worry less about distance and more about accuracy. In such cases, the women would complain about lack of distance in their overall game or the fact that they could not keep up with male golfers. Coincidentally, several pros also mentioned that one of the main reasons they felt women discontinue golf was due to distance.

The female golf professional, however, claimed she took a different approach to this problem. Her approach appeared to be less patronizing, focusing instead on achieving the most from a person given his or her parameters. In regard to giving women lessons, she stated the following:

The guys can get away with more because they’re built differently, and I just give them a two or three sentence reminder that we’re built differently. We have to utilize all parts of the body in order to generate power.

--female professional, early 30s, golf school

Another form of interpersonal communication that appeared to be prevalent among the male professionals was the common usage of the word "lady" or "ladies" in describing female patrons. While used prevalently in the industry to describe the women’s golf tour, the term "lady" is often seen in other areas of society as being archaic, patronizing, derogatory, or demeaning to women, conjuring up images of women confined by dresses and norms of proper social behavior. It is also a term used in gender marking and infantilization, whereby the distaff side of sports is relegated to a secondary position, and women within the sport are made to appear childlike (Duncan and Messner 1998). Despite this association, the golf professionals appeared to use the word frequently, but as a way to signify respect; however, unwittingly they may be setting and reinforcing expectations upon women that perpetuate gender distinction and help maintain masculine hegemony (Connell 1987).

We argue that a second way gender is perpetuated in communication was the way in which most of the professionals promoted their various women’s programs. A common focus appeared to key on the social aspects of golf, whereby promotions were geared around meeting other women, wine-tastings, and themed events. Less focus was placed on the competitive aspects of golf, whether warranted or not, because most of the professionals indicated that women do not like to compete. When asked how to get more women involved in golf, one professional at a 18-hole semi-private facility responded that women are more interested in the landscaping of the golf course, the atmosphere, and the quiet setting.

Those kinds of things are honestly what they are looking for more so than the true competitive spirit of the golf course.

--head professional, late 40s, public golf course

Another way gender is perpetuated is through male-bonding behaviors. Golf is considered by some to be one of the last bastions for male exclusivity (Chambers 1995) and the ultimate male-bonding turf (Meyers 1996). In this regard, males attempt to further male-domination by exhibiting behaviors that are offensive to women or send signals to women that the golf course is for men only. Several of the professionals commented that they were either unaware of such behavior at their courses or rarely played with people who had the propensity to demonstrate such behavior. However, some of the other pros were quite descriptive with their anecdotes, citing such behaviors as excessive drinking, cigar smoking, and cussing as typical ways that the males exhibited territorial rights. One informant alluded to the notion that for a woman to engage in the same behavior was not "ladylike."

You know, I have seen gals smoking cigars. They can swear if they want to swear, but by and large, a female is still a lady.

--head professional, late 40s, public golf course


In this section, we will examine the potential effects and consequences that performing or "doing gender" (West and Zimmerman 1987) may have on women participating in golf. We argue that doing gender may potentially cause the gender gap to regenerate itself continuously or at least keep the gender distinctions alive, thereby re-establishing accepted gender norms. Two prevalent themes that emerged from the interviews include the themes of "female cohesion" and "hypersensitivity."

Female Cohesion

A general theme that emerged from the interviews was the notion that women constantly seek other women on the golf course. Whether it presents itself in the form of finding other women with whom to play, finding a female golf pro from whom o take lessons, or seeking a female presence in the golf shop, most of the professionals noted this phenomenon.

A common observation stressed was that women rarely play alone or choose to come to the golf course in search of a "pickup" game. In other words, the professionals cited rare incidents where a woman will ask to be placed in a group of other players whom she does not know. For men, however, the professionals indicated that seeking a pickup game or playing individually is quite common and even expected.

Women also have a tendency in golf to seek a female presence in either the pro shop or in taking lessons. Many of the professionals commented that the women at their courses constantly request a female golf professional from whom to take lessons, reasoning that the female instructor is better able to identify with their unique needs and learning styles. Some of the pros also mentioned that women are more inclined to buy golf merchandise if they have a woman from whom to make the purchase. This has spurred three of the pros interviewed to hire female merchandisers or, for many others, to actively seek female golf professionals.

While the increased demand placed upon female professionals may appear to be encouraging and a progressive step toward narrowing the gender gap, the roles in which women are placed, according to one informant, are often considered less than appealing because they limit how far women can advance. Such a notion is often referred to in the gender literature as a "glass ceiling" or what Reskin and Padavic (1994) call promotion and authority gaps. In these cases, women are often placed in positions where they are unable to gain the vital experience needed for advancement, which often results in women quitting in frustration, thereby further perpetuating the gap.


Another outcome or consequence of the continued performance of gender is what the female golf professional in this study terms hypersensitivity. In this case, several of the professionals agreed or mentioned that women must endure more pressure than men do to perform on the golf course. Women, another informant explained, enter the game predisposed to a gender stereotype that suggests women cannot excel in sports. In turn, they place more pressure on themselves to disprove their detractors. The female golf professional added that such pressure often results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even for women who are good golfers, such pressure, she said, can lead women to perform lower than expectations. This in turn, she mentioned, reinforces or confirms the notion that women are lesser golfers. In the gender literature, the pressure women place on themselves to succeed is often met with a "double bind" (Pierce 1995). To excel or be noticed, they have to try harder than men, and if they do succeed, they often have to suffer the consequences of not doing gender appropriately (West and Zimmerman 1987).


The golf professionals we interviewed acknowledge the existence of a gender gap. Our interpretations for some of the reasons why the gender gap exists in golf fall under three general themes. The first theme pertains to gender differences being justified because the professionals adhere to proper business sense in trying to maximize profit potential. A second theme adheres to what might be classified as traditional notions of politeness. A third reason gender can be attributed to sustaining the "good old boy" network.

Profit Maximization

Several of the informants in some form agreed or at least sensed that they were perpetuating the gender divide through their business practices. For example, it was quite common to acknowledge that the merchandise line and positioning of the merchandise did little to send signals to women that they are indeed welcome. However, the common justification for such practices simply alluded to the need to maximize profits. In other words, as one informant indicated, the golf professionals cannot increase the number and amount of women’s merchandise without examining the consequences. In addition, as a few the informants alluded to, women are considered "too good of shoppers." In their minds, the shrewdness of women in shopping, whether actually justified, driven by stereotype or some other causal agent, decreases profit margins down to a level where some golf pros are only willing to stock for women what they feel is absolutely necessary. We conclude that such business practices, even though presented as good business sense, continue to perpetuate a message that women are still on the fringes in golf.

Traditional Politeness

Another force that potentially explains why the gender gap continues to exist is the adherence to what we interpret as norms of traditional politeness. The golf professionals interviewed for this study commonly used the expression "lady" and mentioned several other terms or made suggestions that indicate their adherence to how a woman should be treated. In explaining golf lesson interaction, for example, the male professionals talked about the need to listen to the special needs of women.

For promotional ideas, some of the male professionals encouraged an atmosphere of gentleness. The professionals were doing what they saw as traditionally polite and sincere, but their actual actions may continue to demonstrate the differentness of women (Reskin 1998). Maintaining notions of gender or emphasizing femininity (Connell 1987) creates gender boundaries and limits how women can perform in a golf environment and still be accepted. In essence, women in this case must participate in golf in a way that reinforces or reproduces oppressive gender relations (Shaw 1994).

"Good Old Boy" Network

A third way in which gender continues to be propagated in the golf industry is what we call an adherence to the "good old boy" network. Due to the fact that golf is a male-dominated industry laden with rituals and ritual scripts that continue to sustain male domination, many of the golf professionals displayed behaviors and made remarks that are consistent with trying to appease a sexist subgroup of men. Many of the professionals displayed a tendency to temporary let down their guard when talking about particular male-exclusivity rituals. In the process, they condoned certain behaviors as part of the "fun of golf." By rationalizing such behaviors, they not only appeased the sexist subgroup, they also justified in their own minds why they believe such behaviors need to exist. For example, when asked about the ribbing ritual of one man calling another man "Alice" for leaving a putt short of the hole, one male professional responded:

Oh yeah, that’s the fun part of it, though, you know, to kind of rib your friends and make fun of each other. That’s just a way of getting along. I mean, I think it’s in every sport. It’s existed since time began.

--male head professional, late 40s, public course

This way of "getting along," however justified, maintains the gender gap because it devalues the efforts of the female golfer (see Reskin 1998). In many of these cases, it appears that gender is unwittingly perpetuated because the professionals are stuck in a groove that has proven successful in the past in appeasing golf’s primary target.


The themes generated from these interviews indicate that the messages perpetuated and held by these golf professionals may be confusing to female golfers. At the institutional level of analysis, the industry is inconsistent in generating a consistent message capable of effectively eliminating or narrowing the gender gap. On the one hand, the industry is perpetuating messages adhering to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. What is seen as the norm for women is conformity toward the notion of being "ladylike." This was reflected in many of the statements, beliefs, and practices the professionals held in regard to how the media present and should present female golfers, how professionals address and interact with women golfers, and how professionals market merchandise and golf to women. This also came across in how the professionals believe women should be employed in golf. The combination of a desire to maximize profit potential, adherence to traditional notions of politeness, an a felt need to appease a sexist subgroup of male golfers may be perceived as countervailing forces that perpetuate golf’s gender gap.

Connell (1987) alludes to the idea of cyclical practice whereby empirical outcomes can be reproduced in the same fashion time after time. What keeps a cyclical practice cyclical, rather than divergent, is the extent to which groups constituting the institution have an interest in maintaining it. The golf professionals interviewed in this study appear to be pulled in opposite directions in terms of maintaining the cycle. Most of the professionals acknowledge that increasing business generated by more women in the game is a positive for everyone involved. From a business standpoint, maintaining the cycle appears to have no inherent advantage. Therefore, the tendency or desire to maintain the current cyclical practice in golf might easily be diverted through sensitivity training and a better understanding of how to market golf to women without stressing or maintaining the gender order.


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Lee McGinnis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29 | 2002

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