Editor Emma Ballard shares part of a talk that she gave at the Hampshire Ladies Golf delegate meeting this month, looking at the debate around ladies vs women at golf clubs

The discussion around the use of the word women over ladies is nothing new. It’s been rumbling throughout the sports world from football to rugby, cricket to hockey for a long time.

This topic is so personal. So here’s my headline thoughts:

  • Changing ladies to women is not going to have a significant impact on participation or membership in golf
  • Neither women or ladies represent girls in the sport
  • The main problem stems from the fact that most default term refers to men, so we have to use a prefix of women or ladies. Captain and Ladies' Captain, PGA Tour and LPGA Tour etc.
  • However, with the language around gender being so important in this day and age, where possible a move to women would be encouraged.

Before I go any further, it is obviously worth noting that Women & Golf were ahead of their time calling a publication this name in the 1990s 🙂

Will a name change empower girls?

In 2021, W&G hosted a Junior Captain’s blog from Enfield Golf Club, Issie Brunskill was 17 and one of her main ambitions for her year was to get Ladies changed to Women. She achieved this in less than a year as she felt the use of ladies just wasn’t right anymore.

After the change, she told Women & Golf:

“I definitely think it’s a generation thing as I know there are women at the club that didn’t see the need to change the name but I feel the more we are exposed to it, the more accepting we become. I just don’t feel very empowered by the word ladies and I don’t think it represents golf in the right way. I feel so lucky to be part of a forward-thinking and inclusive golf club.”

In this case, although younger women will have appreciated the change, did it change the ethos of the club? Would a woman now be more inclined to join the club because of it? Do girls really feel empowered by the name change? I’ll leave you to ponder on these thoughts.

We are often influenced by those around us and as a mother of two daughters, both generation Alpha, I value their views on the world.

It’s not the first time I’ve asked them about the use of ladies and women but I thought I would ask again.

My 13-year-old declared that she saw no issue with the term ladies, it’s used for toilets and changing rooms and although a young woman she views herself as a girl so neither term feels relevant to her.

Would it put her off competing in any sport? She told me not to be ridiculous and that it had no bearing on her enjoyment of the sport.

I will say that they both note the difference between how the boys and girls are treated when it comes to school sport, where the boys have greater opportunity and their attitude towards girls and sport – but that’s a debate for another day.

I often feel that in women’s golf we get het up on the little things like the use of women’s and ladies when there are much bigger issues at hand that are really impacting women’s participation in the sport. Flexible memberships, equitable tee times, world handicap system, tee ratings and the amalgamation of old and new blood in a clubhouse are all areas that will have more impact on participation and retention in the game rather than whether we’re called a lady or a woman.

The problem with male bias

Anyway, to my point around default male bias, I talked about this in an opinion piece at the beginning of the year:

“Whether it’s a Major, a new driver or the new Captain, we need to either add the word men in or make sure that a genderless reference works.

“For Majors, there aren’t four Majors, there are four men’s Majors. A new driver could be marketed on swing speed rather than using men’s head and ladies flex. If appropriate, it’s Men’s and Ladies’ Captain, not Captain and Ladies Captain (obviously we’re pushing for Women in a lot of cases).

“It’s more than about time that we stop seeing men as the default in a lot of these situations.

“In other areas, we need to move away from gender completely. Tees, are a great example of this. Forward, middle, back, whatever you want to call them but the forward tee is not exclusively for the ladies any more than the middle and back tees being just for men.”

Maybe we need a move from the top? The women’s Majors have taken a move – KPMG Women’s PGA, US Women’s Open and AIG Women’s Open to name three, but these women are competing on the Ladies (LPGA) and Ladies European Tour (LET). We even had a new mini pro tour launch in England called the Ladies Pro Series this month and I’ve just attended the Rose Ladies Series this week.

I am not sure whether you feel I have come to any conclusion but, I would say that where possible we should look to change ladies to women to make a move in the direction that all sports are going in. It may seem small or petty but the benefits outweigh the negatives. Ultimately if we move away from the term ladies it impacts more than the section that it relates to.

Is it time for change and will it really make a difference? What are your thoughts? Email me [email protected] or join the conversation on Facebook here.