Golf and Sexual Harassment

The issue of sexual harassment has taken center stage in our society.  Just ask Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and yes, Donald J. Trump, just to name a few.  In my past writings about golf’s culture and conscience, I’ve lamented the dearth of the “3-M’s” in the golf landscape.  But until now, the issue of sexual harassment in the work environment has been somewhat suppressed. Unfortunately, there are now instances of sexual harassment in what has traditionally been (as my good friend Jim Keegan describes) an industry, largely of men, by men and for men”.   

To me, this is another area where golf’s culture is it’s own worst enemy.  Who among us that plays golf regularly hasn’t observed the flirtatious cart girl, often being harassed by the overzealous and sometimes over-served traveling golfer?  How many of us have noticed the attractive female attendant in the pro shop or bar that invariably seems to exist.  There are even comments about how the guy in charge of hiring “did a good job”.  Guys will always notice attractive women.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but if it goes beyond a certain (sometimes undefined) line, problems arise.  If those hiring understand that attractive women in these positions can be “good for business”, those women can be at a disadvantage in the workplace, especially when there might be implied expectations.  In golf’s decidedly white, male dominated environment, whether club members, resort guests, co-workers or managers take liberties, it’s often unlikely that anyone will notice.  This has created an ugly side to golf culture and represents one more reason why change – socially and economically is probably iminent.

The Washington Post recently raised some interesting questions.  While most of these referred to the political atmosphere, it stands to reason that December’s special election in Alabama, along with the ultimate resolutions of numerous high profile sexual harassment cases could shape our culture in this area and a part of the golf culture for years to come.

Golf’s economic fortunes depend on growth.  The decline in golf participation over recent years, combined with the closure of numerous golf courses is due at least in part to women being turned off by the golf culture and millennials choosing activities that are perceived as more inclusive.

While not in a position to “change the world” the golf culture sometimes eschews the idea of being “politically correct” in favor of tradition, especially at some private clubs. Golf can possibly achieve the economic goals of participation growth while actually becoming a societal leader in resolving a cultural problem that extends well past the boundary stakes of our beloved ancient game.  Golf has some wonderful traditions that should be preserved, however “for the good of the game” (as the USGA likes to say) a move forward, much in the same way it has embraced most of the technological revolution in balls and equipment could be the recipe for economic success.  The old concept that G O L F stands for “Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden” needs to be put to rest forever in favor of “Game of Lots (of) Fun”.