05 May 2021 | Women and girls | Feature stories |

Comment: Time to ditch the 'L' word

by Martin Blake

Generic women's golf image
The 'ladies' reference is profoundly outdated. Photo: Getty

Language is important. And golf is no different in this.

Across the game one of the big aspirational pushes in recent times has been the desire to get more women and girls playing. If it’s successful, it has the potential for huge upside for the game.

But we keep using antiquated language and that slows us down.

Why, for instance, would we call it ‘ladies’ golf? Why do we refer to the ‘ladies’ tees’ and the 'ladies' locker room?

Surely it should be women’s golf and women’s tees and women’s locker rooms and women’s competition …

Is it really so hard to modernise the way you speak and communicate?

So, what exactly is wrong with ladies? We know that it’s used colloquially, and often. “What’s happening tonight, ladies?” No problem with that, the same as we might say: “Are you gentlemen up for golf tomorrow?”

But in its formal sense, lady refers to the wife of a nobleman such as a knight of the realm, or a woman of high moral standing.

If you want to call women’s golf ladies’ golf, then you should be referring to men’s golf as gentlemen’s golf. And nobody’s going there.

Fortunately, there is a little movement to change this, and it started with the women’s golf tour in Australia, formerly known as the ALPG (Australian Ladies Professional Golf) but now enshrined as the WPGA Tour (Women’s Professional Golfers’ Association Tour).

It’s an excellent change, but the biggest tour in the world of women’s golf, the LPGA, has not done what it should do (although the tour’s event in Singapore last week was the HSBC Women’s World Championship). Nor has the Ladies European Tour made the change that it should make.

There are branding issues at play here, because the LPGA, for instance, is one of the top women’s sports leagues in the world. But the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open dropped the ladies reference a couple of decades ago.

At club level, hardly any have made this change. ‘Ladies’ is everywhere you look, although one Melbourne facility, Cardinia Beaconhills Golf Links, did remove the word a few years ago. Ladies is out. Women is in. Associates is long gone.

Well done to that organisation for helping to drag us into the 21st century.

At the WPGA Tour, the change only came after “robust” discussions, but Karen Lunn, the chief executive, is happy that it happened.

“Ladies and gentlemen are dated terms,” said Lunn. “We are women. The word women represents everything about our members – they’re independent and successful. “It was looking at all the other sports. We felt Australia’s led the way in many of these things where the ‘W’ replaces the ‘L’. It represents a new generation of strong independent women and that’s what we wanted to represent in our organisation. “For young girls and business women getting into the game, they don’t want to be referred to as ladies. The older generation probably don’t care, and that’s probably why there hasn’t been much change, because the committees and the people making the decision are from the older generation. But we have to change with the times.”

Let’s hope many more follow the WPGA Tour’s lead, because you just have to wonder how the 16-year-old pennant player whom a club attracts feels about this? Would she see herself as a lady?

Worse, the ladies reference speaks to privilege, which is the last thing golf ought to be projecting right now as it battles to hold ground in a competitive sporting environment.

“It (women) is less dated,” said Chyloe Kurdas, Golf Australia’s Female Engagement Senior Manager. “If we want our sport to reflect the current and the future, why would we use a word that’s quite old-fashioned?”

Other sports are already on to this. The AFLW, the NRLW, the WBBL and the W-League are examples where they won't go near the 'L' word. Golf is lagging behind.

This might seem like a small issue. It won’t change the world in five minutes.

But to me, it feels quite important in the bigger scheme of things.

At the very least, let’s have a think about it.

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