Ted Bishop's gaffe is symptomatic of golf's bigger, badder problem

Ted Bishop’s gaffe is symptomatic of golf’s bigger, badder problem

Ted Bishop wasn't a sexist before Thursday, and he's not a sexist now despite two completely tone-deaf social media posts in a needless effort to defend Nick Faldo in an ongoing public spat with Ian Poulter.

However, Bishop lost his job as president of the PGA of America on Friday, ousted in a vote of its board of governors. With just a month left in his two-year term, Bishop had instantly become a liability not worth defending.

The PGA's board of governors didn't stop with what Bishop has labeled his "impeachment." The board went well beyond what was politically necessary and truly appropriate, stripping Bishop of the opportunity to serve as honorary president after his term ended and effectively erasing Bishop from the PGA's history books.

On Thursday, Bishop was the 38th president of the PGA of America. On Friday night, Derek Sprague became its 39th, with Bishop now a mere specter, a figment of golf's imagination.

The complete eradication of Bishop is a mistake, one that not only denies the good he accomplished as president -- including the formation of a new, strongly supported women's major championship -- but a move symbolic of golf's hypersensitivity to any charge that it is collectively sexist.

Bishop's remarks are indicative of often latent, sometimes egregious sexism in the sport. However, on the grand scale of what golf does and says to demean women, Bishop's flippant comment is minor.

Ask any woman who has ever played golf -- even at the highest level -- and they'll have plenty of stories of patronizing men on the course or outside the ropes. There's utter horror in some company when a woman wants to play from what's colloquially still called the “ladies'” tees. Fortunately, some pockets of golf have been aware enough to start terming them the “forward” tees.

As golf has realized its gamble on Baby Boomers flocking to the golf course as much as the Greatest Generation did in their later years, it has pivoted to women as potential coffer-stuffers. Women are considered golf's fastest growing demographic, but they were also among the first to leave the game in mass when participation declined at the onset of the Great Recession.

However, when the industry talks about the sport, there's code used to describe why male participation is down, too, particularly among younger age groups. Part of the vernacular is that golfers can't spend six hours on the course every day. The insinuated image is a foot-tapping wife, counting down the seconds while her husband is away, while she takes the kids to soccer practice or do other domestic chores.

The smarter minds in the game recognize golf -- and its many beautiful facilities -- have to be welcoming of families. That includes doing things not limited to golf to attract families with diverse interests that go beyond frustratingly hitting a white ball around acres of pristinely conditioned land.

That hasn't caught on across the industry, however, to its detriment.

In September, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, a 250-year-old body whose offshoot governs golf in every nation of the world but two, finally voted to allow the admission of women. And the vote wasn't even close to unanimous. In response, now-ex-president Bishop put the about-time vote in financial terms for the sport.

"Women have played and will continue to play an integral role in the game of golf," said Bishop in a post-vote statement. "In fact, women represent the biggest growth market in the sport, and every step to make golf more inclusive is good for the game. The PGA of America is thrilled that the R&A is welcoming women into its organization, and loudly applauds its decision.”

Why could it simply not have been considered a significant moment for a game historically unwelcoming of women? The vote could have been an expression of opening arms to the 21st century lifestyle. Instead, it was put, in part, in terms of dollar signs.

Then golf turns around and markets to men by disparaging women, and there are countless examples.

Consider a recent Mastercard commercial, featuring, of all people, Bishop's Twitter target Ian Poulter, in which the Englishman acts, well, like an overexaggerated stereotype of a girl, while a voiced-over woman explains why she dare play the championship tees at TPC Sawgrass.

Or how about a commercial for oversized golf grips in which a weekly foursome bets one of its own that he can't hit the ball further than them, lest he wear a dress and play from the "ladies” tees?

These messages are disconcerting and way more sexist in nature than what Bishop said. They were deliberate. They sold the game to men. Bishop was acting childishly starstruck while with Faldo at a PGA event. What's worse?

However, sexism isn't always clear cut. When Paulina Gretzky was put on the cover of Golf Digest in workout attire, was that sexist or just sexy? A business decision to sell magazines is different than a marketing decision which portrays women as inherently weaker.

Are photo galleries of the sexiest women in the game sexist? Or are they simply playing off most men's carnal instincts? Their proliferation, including on this site, is because they represent guaranteed page views.

What about the Caddy Girls, whose owner appeared on a recent episode of ABC's "Shark Tank"? The concept isn't sexist, but rather profits off of a guy's neanderthal nature. Then again, tennis doesn't have sexy ball girls paid by the hour. The golf culture makes this kind of business not only plausible, but profitable.

How golf fosters its business is precisely why women rarely sit at the head of the table of the sport's most important figures.

The PGA of America will turn 100 in 2016, and it's yet to have a woman at the helm. For any organization that proudly says it represents "27,000 men and women" golf professionals, that's a huge oversight.

Augusta National was pressured 10 years ago by activist Martha Burk to admit a -- singular -- woman to its exclusive membership. They did, on their own schedule. The work of club chairman Billy Payne, who once hoped Augusta National would host an Olympic golf tournament for men and women, was critical to bringing in Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore into the club.

The U.S. Golf Association is on the board. They elected Judy Bell as its first, and still only, female president in 1996.

While a problem, the lack of women at the forefront of the sport's scattered leadership is more of a symptom of a bigger problem. Women simply are not welcomed at the ground floor of the game.

If golf is to have a bright future, or at least a sustainable one, it will have to experience a collective moment of clarity.

We have to look at everyone who doesn't play as a potential golfer, doing the hard work to cater to their needs and what they hope to get out of the game. That doesn't mean becoming prudish and shunning reasonable, even occasionally risque, fun. It simply means respect.

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