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  • Alistair Tait

Many happy returns me

It’s my birthday today. I’m not going to tell you how old I am: suffice it to say I’m getting more over par as the years go by. A bit like my golf scores.

C'est la vie.

Instead of telling you my age, here are some birthday wishes. I’d love to see action on all of these. If only I was in charge of golf….

Equality: I can’t believe after 30 years as a golf writer I’m still writing about inequality, especially in professional golf. Am I really still writing columns about helping more women take up this game, as I did yesterday.

Lest you think I’m way off base on this issue, here’s one response to yesterday’s column from Twitter follower Karen:

“Thanks for writing this. Women remain second class members at many clubs. Opportunity to get on the course at weekends is a key measure of equality. So many clubs fail that test badly. We can never boost the participation of working age women while such restrictions exist.”

Here’s another from Yvonne:

“I despair of the whole getting girls into golf campaign. Fine while you’re a girl - then join the ladies section - this alone reeks of a second tier - and they may find it’s not a level playing field.”

Not all clubs treat women as second class. My own golf club, Woburn, certainly doesn’t. We have a thriving women’s section, one that’s supported and produced talents like Charley Hull and other promising young women.

However, as I said yesterday, women still account for approximately 13% of the total UK golf population against plus 30% in other Continental countries. Oh, for a 50/50 split. No wonder we have to designate one day a year as Women’s Golf Day.

The gulf in prize money at professional level hasn’t narrowed in the 30 years I’ve been covering golf. It’s widened, especially in Europe. All the money seems to flow one way: the men just get richer while cash is scarce on the Ladies European Tour. The LPGA/LET merger earlier his year will help, but how I wish the European Tour and LET were one entity with equal prize money. Not sure we’ll even get close to that in my lifetime.

Diversity: It’s been nearly 25 years since a young black golfer exploded on the scene. Tiger Woods seemed to herald a new age, with black golfers following him to the heights. With the exception of Vijay Singh, it hasn’t happened in the men’s or women’s game. Most won’t be able to name another black player at the highest level on the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the LPGA or LET.

Well done if you came up with Harold Varner III and Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece. Two names in 25 years isn’t progress, is it?

Do you think it might have something to do with those running the game who are predominantly white and male (and I speak as a white male)? To paraphrase recent correspondence from a friend, if golf authorities aren’t as diverse as the groups they’re trying to reach out to then how can they expect to attract people from those groups?

We need a serious discussion about diversity.

Tolerance: How many potential players have been put off taking up this game by entrenched attitudes? By clubs that wanted to know what school they went to, what their profession was or where they lived? Too many.

And it still happens.

How many have been put off by experienced golfers with no time for newcomers who they saw as getting in the way? You know the ones I’m talking about, those who feel the course belongs to them and them alone. Those in the group behind who imitate teapots if they’ve got to wait five seconds to play their second shots to the green.

On that note, what is it with the small minority who seem to take great pleasure in making the group in front squirm, even though said group is keeping up with the group in front? Which brings me swiftly to my final birthday wish.

Etiquette: It’s the cornerstone on which our game is built yet it seems a section of the rule book a minority of players skip. Fixing pitch marks, raking bunkers, not shouting across to playing companions while players on a nearby hole are preparing to play seem alien concepts to some.

I know we can’t use rakes at the moment because of coronavirus restrictions, but if I find my ball in one more sandy footprint I swear I’m going to scream so loud they’ll hear me back in Canada! Just smooth your footprints. And fix your pitch marks. It takes only a few seconds.

If anyone can deliver my birthday wishes then I, and the game, will be eternally grateful.

Okay, I’m climbing off my soapbox. I’m heading to the place I head every birthday: to Woburn Golf Club with my pal Izzy. Is there a better place and a better way to spend a birthday?

I think not. Talk about being privileged and lucky.

Many happy returns me.

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