By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
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By Jesse Marx
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In 1972, Lori Dokken, then a bright-eyed teenager living in Benson, Minn., sent away for her first golf bag, a gleaming red-and-white model advertised in the Sears catalogue for $20. Toting her rummage-sale clubs around the Benson public course, she often played up to 36 holes a day with her brother, her cousin, or the retired farmers who berated her for walking barefoot on the greens. To earn extra cash, she'd wade into the nearby creek to fish out golf balls, then sell them to passing golfers. In junior high, she joined the boys' golf team--the only girl to play on the team. "I loved golf," says Dokken, currently a musician living in the Twin Cities.
While hardly the first lesbian to fall in love with the links, Dokken is part of a growing number of out queer women who've claimed a spot on Minnesota greens in recent years. Golf has seen a surge of interest among the state's female population since the early '90s, and women constitute nearly 40 percent of all new golfers. Lesbian leagues have sprung up on local courses as the sport has spread. Golf, one might argue, has replaced softball as the stereotypical sport of choice among athletic dykes. The Nabisco Dinah Shore LPGA Golf Tournament, held annually in Palm Springs, has become "the lesbian event of the year," according to the gay news magazine, The Advocate. And locally, lesbian golf fans are gearing up for the Rainbow Foods LPGA Classic (known as the Minnesota Classic), slated for Aug. 17 - 23. The event draws onlookers of all stripes, but, says longtime tournament volunteer Shari Gingerich, "There's certainly a large contingent of lesbians out there."
"Part of golf's popularity is that we are getting older and can't play softball," jokes Mary Zappetillo, a board member of the Minnesota Women's Public Golf Association. "I didn't start playing until after graduating from college, and it was a very humbling experience for me. I continued to play softball and golf at the same time, but my softball swing would mess up my golf swing. Eventually, I retired from softball."
Dokken, who returned to golf just six years ago after a lapse of nearly two decades, hosts an annual charity golf tournament. "The two things I like about golf are that it is a very quiet sport you can play outdoors, and secondly, it's a self-challenging sport," she says. "People don't realize what a physical challenge it is, or the mental stamina and fortitude it takes."
But many golfers are quick to point out the relaxing and less-strenuous aspects of the game. "Other sports, like tennis, require a lot of physical strength and running," says Trikkx owner Molly Kauffman, who played in Dokken's tournament this year. "In golf, you can drink and smoke, and they still call it a sport. Golf you can play till you drop dead."
The sport of choice
Once known as the domain of wealthy, polyester-clad males, golf has seen a transformation in the 1990s, becoming more populist and even sexy. Although most local players can name only one openly lesbian league, the Women's Twilight League, there are plenty of other women's golf organizations that have gay women as members. The Minnesota Women's Public Golf Association (MWPGA), launched in 1947 to serve the needs of the state's female public golfers, currently has 100 member clubs and hosts four amateur tournaments each year. Female members of private courses and country clubs can join the Minnesota Women's Golf Association (MWGA), which has 75 member clubs, nearly 2,400 members, and a calendar that includes seven tournaments each year. There is also the Minnesota Women's Executive Golf League, which encourages women to use golf as part of their business-networking skills. The three women's associations all fall under the umbrella of the state's largest golf organization, the Minnesota Golf Association, which has 250 member clubs.
Still, despite the accessibility of golf, it seems odd that a sport so steeped in formal etiquette and rigid rules should attract the interest of the lesbian population. And then there's the dress code, which only recently relaxed its rules on feminine fashions. "Up until four or five years ago," says Sapa, a golfer and organizer involved in the State Women's Senior Public Links Tournament, "the LPGA also required that pro golfers wear makeup and have their hair done, for instance. Until recently, you wouldn't see anyone wearing a baseball cap."
Women have been playing golf since the first American golf course was established on Long Island in 1891. The first women's tournament was played in 1895, and many local and regional women's golf associations were established just after the turn of the century (the MWGA, for example, got its start in 1915). It wasn't until 1944, however, that the national Women's Professional Golf Association was formed. Corporate sponsorship of the organization (which became the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1950) was limited, though, and the purses awarded at women's tournaments ranged from nothing to a pittance.
Still, as one of the few sports that women could play professionally, golf held a lot of appeal for many gay women. "Professional golf is one of the few sports where women are excelling at being successful," says avid golfer Vicki Frank, who plays on the Metro Transit League with her partner, Shari Gingerich. "Even though female players aren't making the money the men are, it's a display of talent. It's women supporting women; it's a pro-woman kind of thing. Before, it was always the women on the outside looking in."