I made my major contribution to the sport of golf more than 30 years ago, when I moved from Montana back to the East Coast. I stopped playing.
The truth is that I was a terrible golfer, and I was not willing to devote the time and effort to get much better. When I played on courses in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, I paid more attention to the scenery than to the game. I approached the task of hitting a golf ball the same way I approached batting in Little League. My idea was to smack the thing as hard as I could without excessive worry about where it went after I hit it and then run like hell, which was necessary if I was going to track down the ball and get off the course before the next sunrise. (It never occurred to me to rent a golf cart.)
The only reason I took up golf in the first place was because, in college, I went out with a girl who was a really good golfer. She grew up in a tiny town on the Great Plains. The golf course there was so primitive that the greens had no grass; they consisted of sand, to which oil was applied to keep down the dust. After you finished putting, you were expected to use a tool to smooth the sand for the next golfer. My girlfriend had still finished second in her state high school tournament, even though she had few opportunities to practice on courses with real grass.
Other golfers used to stop and stare, admiring my girlfriend’s swing. At least, that’s what they said they were admiring. I didn’t care. She could play better than nearly all the men we encountered, and regardless of whether it was her swing or something else that first caught their eye, the spectators soon acknowledged her skill.
I thought the novelty of, and chauvinism toward, young female golfers wore off long ago, sometime between my college girlfriend and Michelle Wie. So I was startled to read that high school athletic officials in Idaho are considering barring Sierra Harr from the boys’ golf team at Castleford High School.
Harr, a junior, helped the team win a state championship last season. She finished seventh overall in the boys’ tournament, after having won the girls’ state title a year earlier. Not enough girls turned out for golf to allow Castleford to field a team last season, so Harr’s only choices were to play as an individual or to join the boys’ team.
Federal law has required schools to provide equal athletic opportunities for boys and girls for the past 40 years. While this does not require schools to offer both genders a team for every sport, it puts the onus on schools to find ways to accommodate students who want to play a sport that it is not offered for their gender. Usually, this means allowing girls to play with the boys when it is not practical to field a girls’ team.
In Broward County, Fla., 17-year-old Erin DiMeglio has taken some snaps as quarterback this season for South Plantation High School, a formidable team that includes - and faces - players who are bound for Division I college squads. While she is apparently the first female quarterback to play for a Florida high school, The Associated Press has calculated that more than 500 girls have been on the gridiron at other positions.
DiMeglio, who is a college basketball prospect, is only the team’s third-string quarterback and is likely to see limited action. This is, understandably, a relief to her parents, who have good reason to be concerned about their daughter being sacked by opposing players much larger than she is. But DiMeglio has the support and acceptance of her teammates and the enthusiastic backing of the team’s fans, who chanted for her coach to put her into the season-opening game against rival Nova. (He did, for two running plays.)
If fellow players accept girls on boys’ teams, and fans accept them, why do some Idaho sports officials seem to have a problem with it?
It could be anachronistic sexism, I suppose - the kind that still cannot quite allow that a female can or should be allowed to compete athletically with males. The kind that might still look at a female’s performance and see the female rather than the performance. Maybe that’s the answer, but I doubt it.
I suspect the objections come from a misplaced definition of what is “fair.” By this logic, it is not fair that a girl can compete on a boys’ team in sports while we would not accept the presence of a boy on a girls’ team.
But what the players and the public understand, even if coaches and school officials do not, is that the girl has no unfair advantage when playing with the boys, while the reverse is not necessarily true. Nature endowed boys, generally, with greater size and greater strength. Most girls have to make up for these disadvantages with skill, coordination, practice and determination. There is nothing unfair about Erin DiMeglio playing football with her male schoolmates, or with Sierra Harr playing golf with hers.
Maybe an odd situation will arise someday in a place like Idaho, where a school has enough girls interested in golf to field a team, but not enough boys. If that happens, and a boy wants to play with the girls’ team, the right answer might be to say yes. If not, there are alternatives, such as fielding combined boys’ squads from multiple schools.
Harr reports that she, like DiMeglio, has met with acceptance from her male peers. “The boys on my team treated me as an equal,” she wrote to Idaho school authorities, “and if any of my competitors disapproved of my golfing with the boys, they were gracious enough to keep their opinions to themselves and treated me with respect. The only negative reactions I received were from a few opposing coaches.”
I’m reaching a point in life when I am considering taking up golf again, this time with my wife. It would be nice to spend time with her outdoors, enjoying the scenery while we chase that little white ball around. I get out to Idaho now and then. Someday I might even find myself on a golf course with Sierra Harr.
She seems like a very nice young woman, so I am sure she will be patient with me until I can allow her to play through. She knows as well as anyone that a lot of guys just can’t keep up with the girls on the course.