Golf’s most iconic tournament, The Masters, begins Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club, which has traditionally faced scrutiny this time of year because of its male-only membership policy. Last fall, though, the club relented and extended memberships to two women, former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and private investment executive Darla Moore. Ahead of The Masters, Rice walked the grounds at Augusta last week clad in one of the famous green jackets donned by Augusta members and Masters champions.
Augusta’s first female members aren’t the only milestone for women in golf this spring, though. On March 26, EA Sports released Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, the latest in its line of video games named after golf’s biggest star. And for the first time ever, the game features the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LGPA) Tour alongside the men’s tour.
Gamers have long had the option to play the game as female professionals like Natalie Gulbis. The new version, however, gives them the option to play not just as women but to create female players and play a career mode that takes them up the amateur ladder to the LPGA Tour. It even includes the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the biggest tournament on the LPGA Tour schedule. And in a nice touch of gender equality, the game also allows female players to compete against the men on the PGA Tour, which isn’t unrealistic: LPGA players Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie have both competed in men’s events before.
This isn’t entirely new territory for EA, which included international female stars in NHL 13, its hockey line, and plans to add female players and teams to its line of soccer games in the coming years. Still, it’s a welcome step to include not just a handful of recognizable female athletes but the entire league in which they compete, particularly given that some versions of the game are branded with the Masters logo and that it was released in time for this week’s tournament.
There are more than 6 million female golfers in the U.S., according to the National Golf Foundation. Plenty of them are LGPA Tour fans, and plenty of them also play video games. As I wrote when EA announced it was including women in NHL 13, its great that the company is acknowledging that women deserve to be able to identify directly with avatars when they play these games in the same way men do. More importantly, video games can have a major positive experience on young people like the girl whose father hacked Donkey Kong to make the princess the hero. So in a sports world where women still face sexism and questions about their legitimacy as athletes, something as simple as equality in virtual reality can go a long way in planting the seeds of equality in actual reality too.