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Gender bending
John Daly and Laura Davies have a lot in common. They are both readily distinguishable on the course from their amiable deportment and their devil-may-care play. Both are great champions who have done much to broaden the base of the game and both have brought reassurance to the less trim and unpretentious of the world's golfers.

They are, however, fundamentally different in a way that no amount of prayer, supplication or reference to political correctness can do anything about. John has an Y chromosome and Laura does not. It may not be a lot but it is certainly significant.

The presence or absence of the Y chromosome determines gender. It is manifested in primary sexual characteristics, the bits of our being that not only make life interesting but are also essential requirements for the procreation of our species. Secondary sexual characteristics are consequential upon the primary and are the features that count when we consider gender separation in sport. Bearing the Y makes men bigger and stronger in the main and conveys a greater strength to weight ratio. Men tend to be more aggressive, competitive and self-centred, features that make them unpleasant. It is not surprising that until recent times women have eschewed competition with them.

Equal opportunities were not only morally overdue in society but also economically necessary to prevent wastage of talent in every department of human activity. No rational, objective human being with a modicum of material between the ears could question the right of women to equal opportunity. In sport, no one would deny women the right to compete but to ask them to compete against men on equal terms is simply silly for the woman is singularly disadvantaged from the outset - and that is unfair.

It is condescending, patronising and opportunistic to invite women to play in men's golf tournaments and it is becoming rapidly commonplace. Such invitations are not made for the altruistic reason of equal opportunity but rather for the purely materialistic reason of attracting media attention to an event that would otherwise pass as trivial. The woman has no chance in the event and the fact that she will happily acknowledge the fact makes her complicitous in something completely contrary to 100 years of women's suffrage. She, like the sponsor who invited her, is concerned only with the money. Neither gives a thought to the consequences of their actions and they show little respect for the countless well meaning people who have applied themselves over the years to promoting and developing the women's professional game.

The consequences of this indulgence are far reaching. It is clearly a better investment for a potential sponsor if they can have the best of both worlds by supporting a men's tournament with a few women in the field. Humiliation is also hardly an incentive for recruitment of women to the top levels of the game and minority representation is not conducive to progress and development.

The most sad consequence, however, is the opportunity presented to those with a political agenda in sport who are constantly on the alert for any opening to the can of worms of gender discrimination in private golf clubs. The headlines are already written for April when, together with the leader columns in otherwise rational newspapers, the focus will be on why no women are invited to participate in the Masters. Similarly, some hack with severe personal problem masquerading as a social conscience will pose the question why, since women compete in professional men's events, are they not admitted to the R&A at St Andrews or the Honourable Company of Golfers at Muirfield? Preoccupying questions that are about as interesting as having to listen to an account of the last round they played with their husbands or wives - or the more correct expression, partner.

Everyone familiar with the history of the game is filled with admiration for the way that women have administered and developed their tournament golf despite minority interest. In contrast to the men's game, women's golf has been distinguished by an absence of controversy and is marked by consensus. It is a magnificent irony that a man in the guise of a woman should present it with its most testing situation to date.

Mianne Bagger is about to tee up in the Australian Women's Open. Bagger has only been a woman since 1995. Before that date Bagger was a man playing to a handicap of four. Having undergone a sex change operation, Bagger now has all the bits of a woman, thanks to the skills of a surgeon and the efforts of an endocrinologist. Bagger still carries an Y chromosome in every body cell and therefore, in strictly biological terms, is a man. Whether Bagger plays well or badly in Sydney s/he can certainly expect sponsors invitations to both men's and women's events for nothing attracts attention like novelty.

It was a novel experience for Laura Davies to join the field of men at a remote course about 100 miles north of Sydney in the hitherto unheralded ANZ tournament. It was also a novel experience for her to experience the ignominy of coming second last in the field.

It is perhaps noteworthy that John Daly combined his awesome power and aggression to master the mammoth Torrey Pines course in winning the Buick Invitational. Daly beat two lightweights in mass but not in power, Chris Riley and Luke Donald, in a playoff. This may prove that mass matters which is something, from a gender standpoint, my editor's wife has been trying to make clear to him for years.

©    16 - FEBRUARY 2004

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