Last week, I received an email asking me something that really got me thinking: What’s the difference between gender and ability?
What they were getting at is this: If men and women played from the same tees, off the same card, wouldn’t the handicap system simply level the playing field?
Huh. Could it really be that simple?
Have we bought the sexism and gender divide upon ourselves by totally and utterly over-complicating the game for all this time?
I realise it’s not quite as black and white as that (I can vouch for that after having a 20-minute debate with my husband about it!).
But hear me out …
It would be just, well, golf
If we all played from the same tees, we wouldn’t have men’s golf and women’s golf. We’d just have, well, golf (at club level at least anyway).
Women’s handicaps would never be dismissed or questioned – or just not taken seriously – because we’d all play from the same tees.
We’d never have those confusing adjustments or courtesy shots in mixed competitions (which, by the way, only ever add to the bad feeling between men and women golfers).
And we wouldn’t feel invalidated or embarrassed because the playing field would be levelled.
Women would finally feel equal. Finally feel included. And our abilities would finally be respected.
It would also be far more sociable. There would be no more waiting alone on a different tee box whilst the men you’re playing with chat away 50 yards behind you. Or vice versa.
And potentially quicker too. If you’re playing in a group of men and women, playing from different tees often ends up taking more time.
Course set-up and handicap adjustments
There are, however, two glaring issues with all of this. The first: Course set up. And the second: Handicaps.
Women’s tees are further forward to negate the physical differences (and therefore hitting distance) between men and women. But that also insultingly assumes that all women golfers are less skilled than all men golfers.
From the women’s tees, golf courses are anywhere from a few hundred yards to over 1,000 yards shorter.
Logically you'd assume that a longer golf course equates to a higher handicap. But I know from experience that isn’t always the case. I’ve played plenty of short courses and scored terribly. And played plenty of long courses and scored really well.
So I’d be interested to see how much handicaps would be adjusted if we all played from the same tee. There doesn’t seem to be any research on it. But in a lot of cases, my guess is that it wouldn’t be as much as you might initially think.
The only caveat to that is that where courses require big carries to fairways or greens, making them too difficult for some women golfers. In those cases, we’d likely see a big adjustment to handicaps.
But the key word there is some.
Some women hit their drivers 200+ yards and would have absolutely no issue playing from the same tees as the men. In some cases, the so-called men’s course would actually suit their game a lot more, and we may actually see a drop in their handicaps.
Some women hit it half that distance, and a longer golf course could see their handicaps rise quite a lot.
But – and here’s the crucial point – some men also struggle with the length of the course from their own tees. It’s what puts new golfers off. It’s why golf clubs have senior’s tees.
And it’s why I feel so strongly that it’s time to move away from men’s and women’s tees.
One tee box and one card for all golfers may not be the magic solution to modernising the game and driving participation.
But introducing tees based on ability would go a long way. And that’s a debate for another time …
What do you think? Should we all play from the same tees and card and let the handicap system do the rest? Email [email protected] to share your thoughts.