By Kate Scarpetta
Coming in “under-par” is my (and every other professional golfer’s) goal. However, in terms of pay equality, being “under par” is a bad score.
As a young girl growing up in Northeast Pennsylvania, I spent a considerable amount of time on the golf course; I also spent a lot of time around men. These men were socializing and conducting business on the course while I was in pigtails on the putting green. I have always felt that my place and presence was welcome — provided I hit the ball well enough. It’s a testament to the men at the clubs I grew up playing on, because I can honestly say, it’s never taken more than one well-hit driver for me to win over a man on the golf course and if it ever does, I’ll just wave him through.
However, I can see a real history of exclusion at the country club — not just to women but to certain ethnicities, races and religions — as a place where women, regardless of how accomplished they are in their professional field, still feel they don’t belong. Many women take up the game later in life, so they may experience the anxious, spotlight-effect feeling all golfers face, because they feel like they can’t catch up.
Believe me, everyone hits more bad shots than good ones. No one is exempt even if they’ve been playing their whole life. It also doesn’t take long to realize that what drives competitive people to the game is the fact that you are your own competition. This realization is when most fall for the game and become life-long players and fans.
Golf still carries enough baggage for women to hesitate picking up a club. This is sad, because the game is the only sport that is set up for different skill and age levels to play together. Basketball doesn’t adjust the three-point line to take into account for arthritis and aging, but golf actually does. There are tee-boxes of various lengths and handicaps that allow everyone to be competitive and have fun. These elements set the stage for good company. No other sport has the reputation for being more exclusive than golf, but at the same time, no other sport is actually set up to be more inclusive than golf.
The overlap of golf and business extends further, because a round of golf takes several hours, but only about fifteen minutes are spent hitting the ball. This time in-between shots is when relationships form and conversations that lead to trust and interest happen. Try spending four and a half hours with someone and not get a good picture of who they are and what they represent. Not even Boyden, a top head-hunting agency, could devise a better litmus test for employers. Golf is the best networking tool that I’ve experienced, but how do more women get to a point where they can use it to advance in business?
Some of the solutions to overcoming the wage and opportunity gap — that powerful women like Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook suggests — can be navigated more organically and rapidly by growing the female golfing population.
One specific fact referenced in Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” is that women do not negotiate their salaries as much as men. Being poor at negotiating will certainly result in getting paid less than men, even if you have the same title. Sandberg presents a study which looked at starting salaries of students graduating with a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University. The report found that 57 percent of male students, but only 7 percent of female students, tried to negotiate for a higher offer. She is quick to mention the cause: “women often have a good reason to be reluctant to advocate for their own interests, because doing so can easily backfire.” (This author hopes this article is not one such occurrence.)
Sandberg nails down the sweet spot: combine niceness with insistence. This is a style that Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, describes as “relentlessly pleasant.”
A great way to practice being “relentlessly pleasant” is to play golf properly. Playing “properly” doesn’t mean having a perfect swing or knowing every complex rule and decision; it means reading and aspiring to adhere to the guidelines in the first section of the Rules of Golf, entitled, “Etiquette.” This section comes even before the “Definitions” section. This ordering of the index is intentional and suggests that “Etiquette,” is comprehensible for even the non-golfer. The only rival to the “Little League Pledge,” as far as inspiring sports vows go, is the second paragraph, which describes “The Spirit of the Game.”
“Golf is played, for the most part, without the supervision of a referee or umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration for other players and to abide by the Rules. All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. This is the spirit of the game of golf.”
If those words don’t draw a tear or make you wish everything was like golf, then the game isn’t for you. “The Spirit of the Game” is a prescription for being an ethical and likable businessperson: don’t cheat and don’t be someone that no one wants to spend four and a half hours with. Any golfer, even if his or her own etiquette is not paragon, will always prefer the company of a player with good etiquette. The characteristic even trumps talent, because sharing company with someone who throws clubs or cheats in a $5 Nassau gets old quickly. The “Etiquette” section wraps up with:
“If players follow the guidelines in this section, it will make the game more enjoyable for everyone.”
There’s nothing suggestive about this statement. Follow these guidelines and you’ve done it right. This means that women can enter and be “business-golf-ready” sooner than they think.
More women in business need to play golf. Period. These first four pages on “Etiquette” are a prescriptive way to be welcomed and respected by any golfer. When playing with clients or one’s boss, a woman will get ahead by being “relentlessly pleasant,” which, recall, is a skill people like Sheryl Sandberg think women need to master anyway, if they want to lean in effectively.
Golf needs women too. Women make up half of the population and only account for 19 percent of golfers, according to The National Golf Foundation. Numbers-wise, the game is in decline by 30 percent in the number of golfers ages 18 to 34, and having more girls and women pick up a club can help fix this problem. Incentives for more women to play and take an interest in golf couldn’t be more attractive or logical.
Personally, my confidence in negotiating and interacting with men and women who are successful comes less from my college degree than it does from early interactions with people who are older than me on the golf course.
The golf course is a setting where being young and female, at least for now, means you’re in the minority. Navigating this type of setting on your own increases your self-esteem, people skills and confidence. Introduce your sisters, daughters and granddaughters to golf so that they can use it to their advantage on and off the course.
Girls don’t have the luxury of being socially intimidated and a great way to overcome this is by spending time on a golf course. When more girls and young women start playing and acquire golf etiquette, (aka “relentless persistence”) women and golf will improve their scorecards.
Kate Scarpetta is a professional golfer and founder of the 2017 PA Women’s Open. She said “The 2017 PA Women’s Open Tournament I am running is actually making history. It’s the first professional golf tournament to have a larger purse for women than for men. We’ve also partnered with Geisinger Health System to raise money for their Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute. It’s a great project and it will be a truly awesome event.”
2017 PA Women’s Open
Valley Country Club
79 Country Club Lane, Sugarloaf, PA 18249
• There will be 78 players, consisting of the world’s best professionals and amateurs
• Tournament Purse: $100,000
• First Place: $20,000
• Title Sponsor: Computer Aid Inc.
• Benefits Geisinger Health System’s Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute
Schedule of Events
• Wednesday, May 24 — 18 Hole Open Qualifier, Women’s Clinic, Cocktail Pairings Party
• Thursday, May 25 — Pro-am, Jr. Clinic, BBQ
• Friday, May 26 — Round 1
• Saturday, May 27 — Final Round, Award Ceremony