“The Founders” Film – A Review

The golf world is full of stories about the pioneers of golf, men such as Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen.  Movies abound about their exploits – Bagger Vance, The Greatest Game Ever Played.  But notice it’s all about the men.  Do women golfers even have any pioneers whom they can look up to and thank for the game they so love today?  Do we women even know who they are?

Here are the thirteen names we should all know and revere:

  • Alice Bauer
  • Marlene Bauer Hagge
  • Patty Berg
  • Bettye Danoff
  • Helen Dettweiler
  • Helen Hicks
  • Opal Hill
  • Betty Jameson
  • Sally Sessions
  • Marilyn Smith
  • Shirley Spork
  • Louise Suggs
  • Babe Didrikson Zaharias

They are the founders of the LPGA and the subject of a fairly recent film “The Founders” produced by Stacy Lewis and Kari Webb through Mighty Fine Pictures.  We sat spellbound through a screening of the film on August 1st here in Sacramento, but it is also available on iTunes, Amazon, etc.

The film begins with an old clip featuring a gentleman looking into the camera, smiling, and saying, “Competitive athletics tend to destroy all that is natural in women and all that makes them attractive to men.”  By the end of the film, the audience is amazed at the accomplishments of the Founders but acutely aware that the misogynist culture surrounding golf may not have changed all that much since 1950 when the LPGA was founded.

The film tells the story of the 13 founders “through rare archival footage, historical re-enactments and current-day interviews with surviving founders and leading players” (as described on “The Founders” website).  However, the audience’s emotional involvement stems from two conflicts, one cultural and one personal.  Because of the existing prejudices against female athletes, the thirteen founders were forced to plan their own tournaments, create the original LPGA by-laws, set up the golf courses they played, and even hand out tickets. They received no help from existing golf organizations.  They might have failed altogether had it not been for the big-name draw of member Babe Zaharias, perhaps the greatest female athlete of all time.

Equally as compelling a conflict is the rivalry between Zaharias and Louise Suggs.  Their ill-will toward each other unfolds dramatically in the film through emotional interviews with Suggs.  The fact that all is not fun and friendship in competitive golf makes these founding women seem more human and therefore much more interesting.

The film brought back a personal memory for me that now has a new significance.  As a very young girl in the late 1950’s just starting to play the game, I accompanied my mother to an LPGA tournament in Spokane, WA.  I was so impressed with all the women who participated and I remember deciding that Louise Suggs was my favorite.  I rooted for her with great passion from then on.  In retrospect, I realize I was a witness to the great existing inequality in the game.  The women played their tournament on what was perhaps the worst golf course in Spokane at the time.  The image I have of it in my mind is flat, brown, and almost treeless.  It was not a very welcoming venue for either players or galleries.

The film ends with a crucial point.  Have times changed?  Women are still not seen as athletes.  Do women’s professional tournaments have the same prize money as men’s? The answer is an overwhelming no.  Are women pros playing their tournaments on the same top-notch golf courses as the men do – Pebble Beach, Olympic Club, Augusta?  No. Have we come a long way, baby?  The film leaves the audience wondering.

This film is beautifully put together.  It combines a documentary style with a tension-filled and compelling human story.  These tough, pioneering women golfers deserve our admiration and gratitude. A good way to honor them is to see this inspirational film.

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The Opens on T.V. – Part II

Warning:  This article may be further evidence of the boredom forced on me by sitting around indoors watching television on 100+ degree days.

NBC added a new feature to its coverage of the British Open which it needs to reconsider and hopefully dump immediately.  Its new commercial break format called “Playing Through” turns out to be distracting and irritating for us couch potato television viewers.  An admirable idea, “Playing Through” allows viewers to continue watching the action on the golf course while a split-screen format runs commercials at the same time.

The problem with this idea is that it reduces the golf action to half a screen, making it harder to see.  In addition, the golf half of the screen has the NBC logo (those peacock feathers), the title “The Open,” and a list of the top 3 players on the leader board superimposed over the action.  It is just too hard to see the golfers on the smaller screen with all this extra business going on.  I found myself praying that Jordan Spieth would finally hit his shot from the practice area after the commercial break.  Why pay all that money for a 50″ screen when you find yourself squinting at an 25″ picture?

Even more annoying are the commercial jingles that end up providing background noise for the golfers – almost as irritating as some boor in the gallery yelling “mashed potatoes” after a golf shot.  On behalf of couch potatoes everywhere, I ask NBC just to give us a regular commercial break after which we catch up on the action via video replay; forget about “Playing Through.”

A Tale of Two Opens

I am forced to admit that this summer I have spent a lot of time watching golf on T.V.  The 100 degree + temperatures (why-always on the weekends?) have driven me inside to the air conditioning and my trusty recliner.  Not able to afford the airfare to be there in person, I watched both the men’s US Open and British Open while avoiding the heat outside waiting to do me in.  The contrast between the two championships as far as venue and T.V. coverage was eye-opening to say the least.

Although Erin Hills, built on perfectly good farmland in Wisconsin, and Royal Birkdale, built on the shores of the Irish Sea, are both links-style courses, the viewer at home had a much better view of the game in England than she did the tourney in the USA.  Because the USGA chose yet another treeless links-style course where the fairways were not defined and almost every shot was a blind shot from the television viewer’s perspective, the tournament was hard to watch.  No matter how many shot tracers Fox used, this course gave us no perspective as to where the target was.  We could not follow the ball nor could we tell where the player was aiming and most times where the ball ended up. On the other hand, watching the action at Royal Birkdale was like watching an old friend. The fairways were clearly defined by the sand dunes which belonged there and the tall fescue and heather rough.  From the tees the camera clearly picked up the landing areas in distant fairways.  The only blind shot that was really noticeable was Jordan Spieth’s on #13, but of course a shot should be blind if it is hit from the practice area back to the green.

NBC’s coverage and camera work at the British was far superior to Fox’s at the US Open. NBC never failed to pick up the location of both accurate and wayward drives.  I recall seeing many approach shots to the green at Royal Birkdale.  Sadly, Fox’s cameramen seemed to be just as confused as we television viewers’, often not picking up on the location of drives and not making approach shots a priority.  I can’t recall seeing a green target on any approach shots other than short chips or pitches.  However, the fault was not in ourselves, dear golf lovers, but in the course.

Royal Birkdale is comfortably suited to the terrain it was given while Erin Hills appears to have forced its links-style on a Midwest corn field forgetting that it is in Wisconsin, not on the shores of any great body of water.  The USGA seems to believe that the “modern” golf course does not require trees: note the location of the last three US Opens.  However, the T.V.  audience loves the definition of tree-lined fairways in order to follow the action. Perhaps we television viewers were were more comfortable in our air-conditioned homes even in our collective state of confusion.  I feel sorry for both galleries and golfers searching for non-existent shade in the sweltering heat of a Wisconsin summer.  British seaside courses like Royal Birkdale, working with the dunes and heather they were given, have created playable courses without trees.  Then again, the climate and changing weather conditions don’t require trees for shade or for obstacles.

I would much rather be playing golf than watching it on T.V., but if I am watching, I’d like to be able to follow the play as I was able to do much more easily with the British than with the US Open.

Note: Perhaps you are wondering why we did not comment on the Women’s US Open. We were unable to watch it from our recliners as we were busy driving our air conditioned car on a road trip (see “Golf Montana Style” and “Shopping at Fiddler’s Green” blogs).

Woman Golfer Makes Sacramento Bee

Congratulations to Betty Wood who had a hole-in-one on the 123-yard third hole at Cameron Park with a gap wedge (That’s a long wedge shot!) on May 7.  This amazing achievement, however, pales in comparison to being a woman player making Steve Pajak’s weekly column in the Sacramento Bee as Betty did last Tuesday, May 17.  Mr. Pajak religiously covers our local men players from the pros to the Sacramento County Men’s Senior champion, but rarely do we find a word about local women players on any level.  My guess is that women golfers read his column, too.  Again, congratulations Betty Wood, for your two stellar achievements.

A Woman’s Review of Golf Magazine

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A sign at Diamond Oaks promotes young female players unlike the Golf magazine.

Not all golf magazines are created equal, especially if you are looking for news about women’s golf.  The magazine titled Golf which every golfer receives when he or she joins the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) has little or no value for the group’s female players.  Its April issue, 2017, is a good example.

Although full of interesting and fun information on the Masters, all of the mag’s tips and profiles are directed at men.  The Club Test section, for example, lists advantages and disadvantages of irons for a man’s game, ie. “guys have a fighting chance to hit the 4-iron well.”  The photo list of all club “testers” does not include a woman.  All the lessons and advice are pointed at men and picture men.  The pages are full of men players – participating at the Masters, of course, illustrating proper grips and posture, and especially revealing how to get more distance with their shots (certainly a focus of today’s male players).

You must imagine my thrill at finally finding an article on a woman player in this magazine; however, you will see why the elation soon faded.  Tucked between the article on Brooks Koepka’s burning need to win and one on what brands of clubs Justin Thomas uses is a one-page article on Alison Lee, a talented, budding LPGA star.  What she wants, as described in the article, is to “buy books, hang with her girlfriends in the ‘Babe Cave’, become World No. 1.”  The order of this list immediately bothered me.  I counted only three of the following sentences in the story that described her golf resume and one paragraph describing her work ethic.  The rest of the article was devoted to her “fun-loving character.”  Her “trophy cases” are “floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with empty bottles of a wide variety of alcoholic beverages.”  Lee spends “many of her evenings” in a sorority house “while her LPGA colleagues live out of lonely hotel rooms.”  Although the article mentions briefly that she is “deeply ambitious about her golf career,” it spends much more space describing her weekly schedule of watching The Bachelor, drinking “glasses of red wine,” attending fraternity parties, and planning a “raid with Lambda”.

Obviously, this article is out of place in Golf magazine; it does not deal with the drive, skill, or equipment of a great male player (even though Alison Lee is a great player) and it focuses on a woman player, not a man.