December 19, 2022
By Jessica Marksbury
The following content was first published in Golf Journal, a quarterly print and monthly digital publication exclusively for USGA Members. To be among the first to receive Golf Journal and to learn how you can help make golf more open for all, become a USGA Member today.
Diane Thomason, longtime women’s golf coach at the University of Iowa, is one of many women alive today who remember a time when, in some places, women’s sports teams simply didn’t exist.
Thomason grew up during the 1950s in Waverly, Iowa, where her father taught and coached at Wartburg College, a private, Division III Lutheran liberal-arts school. Thomason was lucky in that the importance of education and athletics were impressed upon her at an early age, and golf was a family activity.
She graduated from high school in 1968 and went to college at Iowa State. Back then, the only sports available to women were club sports, or “play days.” Thomason finally had an opportunity to join a club-level golf team by her junior year, but when the team
qualified for the national championship, the school wouldn’t finance the trip.
“We all said, OK, I guess we’re not going, because none of us really had the money to pay our own way,” Thomason recalled. “Looking back, we all said, you know what, that was stupid. We should have tried. But we didn’t.”
Dianne Dailey can relate. Dailey spent 30 years as the women’s golf coach at Wake Forest University, and she also had a stint as its women’s athletic director. But she never had the chance to play organized girls’ sports in her youth.
“I used to play a lot of sports when I was a kid,” she said of her childhood in Frankfort, Ky., during the 1950s. “Of course, I was the only girl. As I got older, the boys would never let me have a chance to play. They wouldn’t let me bat, they wouldn’t give me the ball in basketball.”
Dailey decided she needed to find a sport that wouldn’t involve the permission of others, and she settled on golf.
“You can have as many turns as you want,” she joked.
While at Frankfort High School during the 1960s, Dailey tried to play on the boys’ golf team but was denied. So she gathered a few other girls and started her own team.
Within two years, they won a state championship, and Dailey and her teammates became the school’s first females to earn varsity letters.
For young people today – especially those who compete in college sports – the idea that Thomason and Dailey had a hard time participating in sports because of their gender seems inconceivable. Equity, especially in terms of athletic opportunity, has been status quo in the United States for decades. While there is certainly room for improvement when it comes to gender equity in many aspects of life, anyone who attended college at some point over the last 50 years is legally protected from that level of discrimination. And for that, we can thank Title IX – the landmark legislation that mandated gender equity under any education program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.
President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law on June 23, 1972, as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. Though Title IX is perhaps best known for its mandate of equity in terms of college athletic scholarships, its original purpose was geared more toward equal opportunity in education, both in college and secondary school. Before the legislation passed, women were barred from some areas of study, including medicine, or simply discouraged via other means, like unfair admission quotas or the requirement of higher standards for female applicants.
Title IX made those practices illegal. In addition to the education stipulations, Title IX mandated that gender equity must also apply to a school’s activities. That meant pretty much everything else: admissions, financial aid, student services and, of course, athletics.
This year, we celebrate Title IX’s 50th anniversary and the incredible gains the legislation has granted women in both education and athletics – with a special focus on women’s golf.
Martha Lang graduated from the University of Alabama in 1975. Her senior year, she became the first woman golfer to ever receive a scholarship there under Title IX.
“When I look at what college players are having the opportunity to participate in and the things they get to do now, all the coaching they have and the working out, and all of that, it’s amazing,” she said. “And I don’t know that they appreciate how much more they have than the generations before them.”
Thomason and Dailey certainly do. They missed the Title IX window by a few short years, never benefiting from its provision during their own college days. But they dedicated their post-graduate careers to making sure that other women could.
“I’m not mad or angry that I didn’t have those opportunities,” Dailey said. “In some ways, it probably made me tougher. But I’m so glad that other people do have it, and they don’t have to work quite so hard to get the things that they need to play sports.”
Change came slowly at first. Title IX wasn’t immediately met with universal approval when it was signed into law. Less than a year after its passing, Texas senator John Tower introduced an amendment to exempt revenue-producing sports from Title IX compliance. It ultimately failed to pass, but multiple attempts to modify the legislation followed in the ensuing years.
Public perception was another obstacle that Thomason remembers battling. After graduating from college, Thomason started teaching and coaching girls’ golf at a high school. At practice one day, she remembers the golf course starter telling her he would have to cut her team’s block of tee times because the course was running behind its pace of play.
“I said no, you won’t cut my team out. We’re going to the tee box right now,” Thomason said.
“We went down and I said to every one of [my team], ‘Just rip it.’ And they did. They were good players. And I think that shut the guy up.”
When Thomason’s team qualified for the state tournament, she bought a half-dozen Titleists – one ball for each player.
“I thought, this will be a treat,” Thomason said with a laugh. “My athletic director chewed me out. ‘These girls don’t need Titleists!’ It was always that kind of fight.”
It wasn’t until Thomason started working at the University of Iowa in 1975 that she noticed any substantive change. She was hired by Dr. Christine Grant – a vocal advocate for Title IX who was hired as Iowa’s first women’s athletic director in 1973, the year after Title IX was passed.
Thomason remembers Grant’s frequent weekend trips to Washington D.C., where she testified before Congress and helped draft Title IX guidelines. Grant passed away in December 2021 at age 85.
Much has changed in the 50 years since Grant exerted such meaningful efforts. Thomason recalls the first women’s athletic budget at Iowa as being $14,000 – distributed across 12 sports. It took a few seasons to acquire a golf team uniform shirt. There were two phone lines available for a staff of more than 20 people. Nowadays, Iowa’s women’s golf travel schedule includes stops such as the Bahamas and Mexico.
Dailey, too, remembers Title IX’s initial effects to be slow. She became the women’s athletic director and golf coach at Wake Forest University in 1988. Even then, Dailey says resources were relatively scant.
“We started out with pretty much nothing,” she said. “All we could provide the students were golf balls and a bag, a rainsuit, and four shorts, four shirts and one sweater.”
At the week-long NCAA tournament one year, Dailey recalled visiting the local laundromat to wash the team’s uniforms so they could make it through the championship with clean clothes. But as time passed, resources slowly and steadily increased and improved. During her 30-year tenure at Wake Forest, Dailey was pleased to observe the evolution of all women’s sports on campus.
“It was just unbelievable how facilities changed,” she said. “Now, we have some of the finest facilities in the country, and it’s open to both men’s and women’s sports, every sport that we have. It’s just phenomenal the progress that has been made for women’s sports.”
Since the passing of Title IX, growth in women’s participation across all sports has been exponential, and golf is no exception.
According to National Golf Foundation (NGF) statistics, girls now make up 36 percent of high school golf participants, with the number of female players increasing by 43 percent since 2014 — a huge gain.
“If you go back to 1971, girls represented about 1 percent of all high school golfers,” said Joe Beditz, NGF’s president and CEO, in an email. “By 1973, that proportion jumped to 12 percent. Looking at the numbers, there’s no question Title IX has had a significant effect when it comes to opportunity and access.”
The trend in college golf showcases similar gains. In the early days of NCAA governance, Dailey recalls, there were 99 Division I women’s college golf teams. Now there are around 250, with nearly a thousand teams across all college divisions.
“Multiply that by five scholarships per school and you can see how much the sport has grown,” Dailey said.
The opportunity for both an education and a chance to compete on a team is one of Title IX’s greatest benefits to women. The increase in female participation at the collegiate level has had meaningful ramifications at the professional level, with college golf becoming an increasingly viable pathway to playing on a pro tour.
There are currently 141 active LPGA players who were affiliated with a college golf program in the United States before they turned professional. Meg Mallon and Juli Inkster are World Golf Hall of Famers, winners of multiple major championships and two of the LPGA’s greatest living players. They launched their legendary careers in college – Mallon at Ohio State and Inkster at San Jose State. Both women credit their time in school with instilling the skills and confidence necessary to make it on tour.
“Those collegiate years were really important for me for development,” Inkster said. “No doubt, if I didn’t play college golf, I know I would not have been as successful as I was on the Tour. It did make a huge difference to compete and go to school on a scholarship.”
Mallon didn’t have a high school golf team to play on until her mother helped create one during her junior year at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Mich.
She walked onto the golf team at Ohio State and earned a full scholarship by her senior year, improving enough that she considered pursuing a career as a professional golfer.
“Golf gave me the opportunity to be an athlete in college,” Mallon said. “We played on an Alister MacKenzie course for qualifying. It was a tremendous stepping-stone for me. We practiced alongside the men, played the same facilities. Never did I ever feel they got more than we did. And the scholarships were there. I feel I really benefited from that.”
Would Mallon and Inkster have achieved their legendary stature in the game without Title IX? Would Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam, who played at the University of Arizona before becoming professionals?
We’ll never know. What we do know is the effect of the game-changing impact of Title IX from the women it benefited — lives irrevocably changed for the better, thanks to Title IX’s protections. And perhaps the most meaningful summation is from the women who never benefited from Title IX, but nurtured generations of other women who did.
“It’s about the opportunity to learn the lessons that men have always learned from sports, like teamwork and discipline and focus, communication and honesty,” Dailey said. “Those are the things that had been denied women for so long. That’s what’s really important about Title IX.”
“Title IX gave women the permission to say it’s OK to compete, we want you to compete,” she said. “Because the values that you get from sport, from golf, are unbelievable. Discipline, accountability, how to be a great leader, how to be a great teammate – all these valuable things come from sport. And what better way to learn them and experience them than through sport?”
After 50 years, where do we go from here? Despite the important strides already made, there’s still plenty of room for progress. In March 2021, a female basketball player from the University of Oregon posted a video of the “weight room” — a lone rack of dumbbells — at the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in San Antonio. The video went viral when it was juxtaposed with footage of the expansive men’s tournament’s facility, which was stocked with multiple machines and free weights.
It was an embarrassing gaffe for the NCAA, which, as an organization that doesn’t directly receive federal financial assistance, isn’t subject to Title IX governance. But the episode shined a spotlight on the fact that true equity has yet to be achieved.
The best news for women’s golf? Disparities between the men’s and women’s game are narrowing, and Title IX’s positive momentum is still manifesting in beneficial ways. Girls under the age of 18 represent the fastest-growing sector in the U.S. golf population since 2010 – largely thanks to efforts launched by LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, which has more than 500 sites across the U.S. and is the only national organization that specializes in instruction for girls ages 6-17.
Greg Allen, who coached Lorena Ochoa at the University of Arizona and is now the women’s golf coach at Vanderbilt University, has noticed a huge increase in the talent pool of female golfers over the last two decades.
“When I first got into coaching, if you had a team that could break 300 [a four-player total score of approximately 12 over par], you probably had a pretty good chance to win the tournament,” Allen said. “Now, it seems like you’ve got to shoot under par to have a chance to win. The players are better at an early age.”
The chance to play for U.S. colleges is also appealing for international players, who jostle with U.S.-based players for coveted scholarships. The U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, now in its 73rd year, provides a televised showcase each summer and includes an impressive roster of champions, both U.S. and international. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which debuted in 2019, offers a nationally televised platform on the Saturday ahead of the Masters. Golf Channel has committed to dozens of hours of live coverage to the annual NCAA Division I Golf Championship – a huge boon for collegiate golf visibility.
Positive changes are also afoot at the pro level of the women’s game. In November, the LPGA announced that the 2022 season would be the richest in the organization’s history, with a record $87.5 million in prize money across 34 official events.
The year’s biggest championship, the U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica, nearly doubled its purse this year, rising to $10 million, with $1.8 million going to champion Minjee Lee. The increase is a vital step toward the ultimate goal of payment equity.
Though it has been 50 years since the advent of Title IX, the revolutionary nature of the legislation still offers fresh inspiration.
On a personal level, there’s no question that I am a beneficiary of this world-changing mandate. I was a member of the inaugural class of female golfers at Columbia University in 2003. The team came to fruition because the associate athletic director and men’s golf coach at the time, Al Carlson, thought it was important, and the incoming athletic director, Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, was supportive.
“I’m very proud of what we did; we were at the forefront,” Carlson told me recently. “We had a men’s team, and we felt we should have a women’s team.”
Title IX may not have been directly responsible for the women’s team’s existence at Columbia, but a firmly entrenched belief in equity was. And that may in fact be the legislation’s greatest legacy.
During my sophomore year, my assistant coach at the time, Karen Noble, encouraged me to apply for a summer job at the Maidstone Club, on Long Island. I worked there for two glorious summers. Maidstone is where I met my husband, and it also led to the career in golf journalism that I have to this day.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Noble is an alumna of Wake Forest women’s golf, coached in her senior year by Dianne Dailey.
How would so many lives – my own included – be altered without the protections and opportunities of Title IX? It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving. Supporting women, generation after generation.
The legacy continues.
Jessica Marksbury is an associate editor at Golf Magazine who took advantage of Title IX by playing college golf at Columbia University.