Scott Weems, Ph.D.

Scott Weems Ph.D.

Feed Your Head

Sexism on the Golf Course?

Golf courses may treat men and women differently—and not just in memberships.

Posted May 03, 2019

Creative Commoms
Source: Creative Commoms

I love that scientific studies explore nearly everything. One 2016 research report, for instance, found that riding a roller coaster can help dislodge kidney stones. One group of scientists found that infrequent kissers showed improved allergy responses when intense smooching was added to their lifestyle. And my favorite—one study found that howler monkeys with small testicles compensate by raising the volume of their screaming.

Sometimes it's easy to dismiss these studies as eccentric and silly, though we shouldn't. Each usually says something important, even if the sentiment gets you punched by a loud guy acting like he has something to prove.

Which brings me to another topic I love: Golf.

At first glance, the golf course seems an unlikely place to study sexism. Yes, there are still golf courses in America which exclude female members, but that's slowly improving—and now even Augusta hosts a national Women's Amateur tournament. But what's the deal with tee boxes? As frequent players know, most courses have separate tee boxes for women and senior players based on their reduced hitting strength. This alone isn't sexist, because women and seniors do average shorter distances off the tee, to the tune of about 20 to 30 yards on the professional tours. Yet, why do some courses give bigger advantages than others—and when do the differences become based on more than math?

When researchers from Clemson University started measuring tee box distances from the green across the country, they surely expected some differences. Though many courses are designed by high-end architects, most tee box locations are chosen by course managers and owners. On my own home course, these locations change frequently based on course conditions and how difficult they want to make the game each day. 

Yet, the researchers didn't expect to see such startling differences between northern and southern courses. Specifically, they found that courses in states part of the historical confederacy give their female players an extra advantage, and not by a small amount. Female golfers in Georgia might start over thirty yards closer to the hole than in Rhode Island, while those in South Carolina might get an extra ten yards or more. All eight of the states giving females the greatest advantage were south of the Mason Dixon line and east of the Mississippi.

Maybe these differences are innocuous, but I don't think so. Other research has shown that states with the most favorable female tee box locations also have the lowest average salary for women in marketing or managerial positions.

And if that's not enough, one study looking at issues of Sports Illustrated has also found that articles about women athletes were over 15 percent shorter, compared to those about males.

The good news is that that Sports Illustrated study was conducted a little over twenty years ago, and a lot has changed since then. We now more often notice subtle differences in the way we treat people and the effects these differences have, even on the golf course. Many tee boxes aren't even labelled by gender any more so that players can choose on their own where to tee off. Instead they get colors, like blue and white and red.

That's good, because as a golfer who seldom hits long, I like the red tees. Occasionally someone calls out to me from the blue tee box with a snide comment, and that's when I mention the howler monkeys finding. I don't mention the thing about kissing and allergies; they're on their own for that one.


Limehouse, F. (2010). On Chivalry in Golf. Public Choice, 142, 335-337.

McCormick, R. and Tollison, R. (2010). Chivalry in Golf? Significant Tee Ratios. Public Choice, 142, 323-334.

Lumpkin, A. and Williams, L. (1991). An Analysis of Sports Illustrated Feature Articles, 1954-1987. Sociology of Sport Journal, 8, 16-32.

Mitchell, M. and Wartinger, D. (2016). Validation of a Functional Pyelocalyceal Renal Model for the Evaluation of Renal Calculi Passage While Riding a Roller Coaster. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, October 2016, Vol. 116, 647-652.

Kimata, H. (2003). Kissing reduces allergic skin wheal responses and plasma neurotrophin levels. Physiology & Behavior, Volume 80, Issues 2–3, November 2003, Pages 395-398

Dunn, J., Halenar, L., Davies, T., Cristobal-Azkarate, J., Reby, D., Sykes, D., Dengg S, Fitch, T and Knapp, L. (2015). Evolutionary Trade-Off between Vocal Tract and Testes Dimensions in Howler Monkeys. Current Biology, Volume 25, Issue 21, 2839-2844.