The birth of women’s golf at Princeton came with little fanfare: In July 1991, athletic director Robert Myslik ’61 sent a memo announcing that women would join the existing men’s varsity program, and a little more than two months later, the Tiger women teed off in their first tournament as varsity athletes.
Behind the scenes, though, the change was a culmination of more than a decade of lobbying, first by Betty Donovan, inaugural coach of the women’s golf club, and later by a group that included lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, volunteer coach Paget Berger *90, students, alumni, and parents.
The decisive push began in 1990 when Lisa Olson ’80, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer and former Princeton golfer, sent a letter to then-president Harold Shapiro *64, asking why women’s golf — a competitive club since 1977 — hadn’t earned the chance to be a varsity team. After receiving a lukewarm reply from the athletics department, Olson contacted the ACLU of New Jersey, which believed the University was violating the gender-equity protections outlined by Title IX.
In hindsight, Olson said she thinks that the University wanted to do the right thing but “needed a little nudge.” While the threat of a lawsuit may have helped, women’s golf still faced an uphill climb: Of the 15 women’s teams at the time, only one had gained varsity status after 1982, and budget constraints were forcing several Ivy League schools to think about dropping teams.
Players Barbara Armas ’92 and Carol Welsh ’92 wrote letters and met with administrators. By the spring, they “knew that things were percolating,” Welsh said, but the varsity announcement still came as a surprise.