Golf was created as a man’s sport, so there should really be no surprise when there’s discrimination with the game. That doesn’t mean that women can’t fight against these plights, and that’s exactly what Annika Sorenstam is doing.
Sorenstam has never been afraid of competing against men on the course, becoming the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour in 2003 at the Colonial Invitation. She dominated with 93 career victories, including 72 LPGA Tour wins and 10 majors.
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No longer playing competitively, she has turned her attention towards another aspect of the game. Now retired, one of golf’s greatest female athletes has broadened her business by breaking into golf course design. Many of golf’s greatest have swam in these waters, including Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, to name only a couple. And she has found that even in these waters, all of the sharks are men.
“It’s been tougher than I thought,” Sorenstam told CNN Living Golf’s Shane O’Donoghue. “Being a female, when they throw my name in the ring as a designer candidate a lot of times they say, ‘oh, well then this course will be short and easy.’ I don’t know where it comes from. I think they just have that predetermined notion of women designing shorter courses, and that’s not really what comes to my mind.
I consider myself, of course a female, but I’m also a golfer and I feel like I can play any golf course out there and I guess maybe my defensive mechanism is, ‘hey, I’d play you anywhere, anytime and then we can go from there.”
Sorenstam has designed three courses, none of which you’d think were ‘short and easy’ at first glance. Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China is 6,703 yards in length and her Euphoria course in South Africa is more than 7,000 yards. The third course she designed with Arnold Palmer, creating a Queen and King 9-hole course in Lake Elmo Minnesota, that pays homage to its two designers.
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Her main goal for breaking into this field is not only to create gender fluid golf courses but to grow the game in the process. She wants people of any age, gender, and ability to play her courses with ease and enjoyment.
“If we’re going to grow this game it needs to be more accessible for juniors and women,” says Sorenstam, who recently captained Team Europe at the 2017 Solheim Cup. “That means having alternative tees but also you want to make sure you have courses that can satisfy the champions and long hitters.
“I think for a long time people just wanted championship courses, and to me I think that’s short sighted. We’re going to run out of land eventually, you can’t build courses that are 7,600 or 7,800 yards, this is not going to work, we have to find alternative ways to make this game fun. I think the game is too hard and it turns people away. It shouldn’t really be a gender question.”
Course design is just one aspect of Sorenstam’s brand ANNIKA, which includes other projects such as clothing, foundation work, golfing academy and several junior tournaments. There’s no sign that she’s slowing down, and she has no intention of doing so.