Golf for him, Golf for her

A tradition that began in the days when men worked and women didn’t holds its ground in today’s Colorado

By Susan Fornoff

Colin Prater, the CGA’s Mid-Amateur champion of 2022, has never been in a “men’s club” and probably wouldn’t join one. A 27-year-old teacher, he’s worked with and for women, and enjoys his coed Friday golf group at Cherokee Ridge. “It’s just people who enjoy playing and hanging out. I don’t see any reason for it to be gender-specific.”

Joe Smith, 31, also grew up in a world where there were no longer men’s jobs and women’s jobs. As president of the South Suburban Golf Course Men’s Club, though, gender-specificity on the links doesn’t strike him as one bit antique, “I think everything has its place. Our club is competitive, it’s organized, there are formats, there’s money to be won. There’s camaraderie. And there’s a history.”

Prater’s attitude may signal changes in the future. After all, Colorado now has one golf association, not one for men and one for women. The World Handicap System has made it easy and fair for amateur women and men to compete playing from different tees. But Smith’s “everything has its place” philosophy continues to thrive here because men’s clubs and women’s clubs generally serve their members differently.

No one knows this better than the men’s and women’s club golf course liaisons, who help the CGA clubs with scheduling, recruiting and planning. At CommonGround, that’s Director of Golf Ben Pennymon.

“It’s been my experience that the guys put a higher emphasis on their payouts,” he says. “They’ll put in a little more, in what the annual dues are, what the weekly buy-ins are, and for day-of games like skins. The ladies don’t really get into that. The ladies are very competitive, but not with the goal of getting enough credit on the books to buy a new set of clubs. It’s more about: Can I be competitive and am I having an enjoyable social experience?”

The social experiences, Pennymon says, differ along gender lines. On league days, he says, “The ladies are a lot more in line. They play, they enjoy each other, they may have a glass wine and a bite to eat. Guys are a little bit more raucous. They may have a drink, watch a game afterwards, play cards. They’ll be gone a lot longer than the ladies, typically.”

That’s no doubt partly because of the traditional differences in men’s and women’s clubs. Men’s clubs traditionally play on weekends – and at courses that also serve the public, that means not every weekend. CommonGround’s men’s club, for example, now alternates between Saturday play, Friday afternoon play and no play. So the social experience happens after the competition and lengthens a day of leisure.

Women’s clubs tend to play a weekly game on a weekday morning when many members have a to-do list afterward, although more are adding flexibility to accommodate working members. At Overland Park, where the women’s club has been making birdies for more than 75 years, club president Norma Bisdorf says, “We can play any day of the week. We’re the only club that does that.” The members worried at first about competing equitably when course conditions or weather might differ wildly over the course of the week, but with regular payouts of around $10 at best, they got over it by scheduling their handful of major events on Saturdays.

When the CGA and Colorado Women’s Golf Association combined forces in 2017, competition directors were struck by a major difference in their tournament setups: Men preferred tee-time starts, while women wanted to have a shotgun so they could sit down together afterward for a luncheon.

A few other general differences between men’s clubs and women’s clubs:

  • Where’s there’s a women’s club, there’s usually an 18-hole group and a nine-hole group. The men are all about 18.
  • Men’s clubs may cost three or four times as much to join as women’s clubs, but the payouts (in money to be spent in the pro shop) may be 10 times bigger.
  • With a 4-to-1 ratio in golf nationwide, men tend to have much larger rosters – although at CommonGround, it is closer to 2-to-1, men’s club to women’s club.
  • Women’s club members generally all play from the same tees; men’s clubs tend to have flights and start the better players farthest back and senior players farthest forward.
  • Men’s clubs generally play what Ben Pennymon describes as “more straight-laced golf, closer to normal stroke play.” Women’s clubs, he says, “tend to be a little more creative with their golf experience and create games and formats that allow for anyone to have a chance to win.”

Of course, there’s a big difference between the genders’ average capacity for distance. But the World Handicap System makes that a nonfactor, says Lee Rainwater, USGA assistant director of handicapping education and outreach: “As long as men and women are posting all acceptable scores from the tees played with the appropriate ratings then their Handicap Index will represent their demonstrated ability.” The system converts Handicap Index to Course Handicap, “which represents the number of strokes needed to play to par for the selected tees.” So Jane would use her 17.1 index to calculate her course handicap playing the gold tees at Our Town Course, and Tom would use his 6.1 index to calculate his course handicap playing the blues.

Those calculations technically could allow a man to compete in a women’s club and a woman to compete in a men’s club, and Smith’s South Suburban club has had at least two female members over the years. Who knows what would happen if a man who worked weekends wanted to join the women’s club?

Pennymon hopes to launch a coed club soon at CommonGround. That might start a trend in Colorado golf. But, for now, the CGA’s men and women golfers seem to enjoy their separate, and very different, worlds.


Are you considering joining one of the state’s many men’s or women’s clubs? Start by inquiring in the pro shop or on the website of their favorite golf course. And here are a couple of helpful resources:

Dear Molly: Is a Golf League Right for Me?

Joiner Pointers