Mianne Bagger, amateur golf champion

Mianne Bagger is a transgendered female, born in Denmark and living in Australia, who plays high-level amateur golf. Currently ranked sixth in the country, Ms. Bagger has won a number of State titles and has played for the South Australian State Team for the last 3 years.

In an interview with GolfWeb in 1999, Ms. Bagger says “I’ve always loved golf. I’ve always enjoyed it. I wanted to get back into social golf. I did not play very much competitively when I was young. I actually took it up in Denmark when my Dad started playing. I worked on my game and tried to get it to a better level. I have played on and off for the past 10 years.”

As a child, her family moved several times, from Denmark to England and back again, then finally to Australia, where she lives now. Taking up golf at the age of eight, when her father started playing, Bagger continued to play until around the age of twenty-three. Her handicap down to a four, her golf game at its best, her personal life was getting increasingly difficult.

Says Bagger about this difficult time in her life, “I played 5 rounds of golf over the next 5 years while I was going through my transition, hormones, surgery and getting used to my new identity.” She started playing social golf again in 1998 at the age of 31 and quickly got bitten by the bug again. “I just couldn’t resist. I was playing OK and figured if I just practiced a bit I could improve my game. The more my game improved, the more I practiced, and so on.

“While playing a pro-am one day I was introduced to one of the pros who offered to coach me if I was interested. I was interested and started going to him not long after that— he is still my coach today some three and a half years later.”

She started playing for a women’s pennant team and began meeting other top players in the state. “Everybody knew who I was so there was no secrets,” she says of other players’ knowledge of her transgender status. “I entered some local amateur events and the first one I played in, I won! I didn’t play particularly well, I just kept it in play and had the best score at the end of the day (well, after a play off anyway). As a result I was approached by one of the State Selectors to join the State Squad. It was a few months later that I won the South Australian Amateur Championship. I shot a course record during the qualifying rounds (2 under I think) and had a couple of close matches along the way. I couldn’t believe it when I actually won.”

Bagger’s win made page three of the news, with the headline “She’s the Womens’ Golf Champion who used to be a man.” Other articles were published, and Bagger gave interviews with other newspapers and magazines. “I turned down quite a few of them, including all the TV shows, as I was concerned about getting caught up in doing ‘trashy’ stories that I really didn’t want to be associated with. I kept my interviews to golf and sport related publications and left it at that.”

Bagger attributes the fact that the publicity was largely positive to the way that WGA and WGSA dealt with the situation. To her knowledge, the WGA was the first sporting organisation in the world to have an all-inclusive policy that doesn’t exclude transgendered women. “I have been told that other golfing organisations around the world are familiar with the policy but have not made any changes themselves.” WGA’s policies are available online. On the subject of transgendered women, they write: “WGA considers that women are not disadvantaged by permitting transgender persons to participate in the playing and administration of the game of golf.”

A few months after her first win, she was selected to play for the State Team and her first Interstate Series. “This was pretty nerve racking as everybody knew who I was, but I knew no one. Everyone treated me well though, without giving me any special treatment. There were a number of players that really didn’t like the fact that I was there and they were either polite when speaking to me or just didn’t talk to me.”

More importantly to Bagger, this was her opportunity to see how her game compared to the top golfers in Australia. “This really opened my eyes. I was no where near the top players— not in my skill level nor in my length. I was being out-hit and out-played by a lot of them. I had a long way to go before being in their league.” This eye-opener gave her the determination to continue working on her game, while at the same time proving to Bagger that she didn’t have any advantages over her non-transsexual competitors. “They could all see it too— whether they wanted to admit it or not.”

“High level golf takes a combination of physical ability, timing and finesse. With regard to a long drive, fundamentally it’s about club head speed…. I would certainly have to say that being taller, with longer arms, is an advantage with hitting the ball longer in golf— but length is not everything…. Look at John Daly or Laura Davies for example. Both very long hitters but not often at the top of the leader board. The secret to good rounds of golf is an accurate touch with the short game…. If you can hit a long ball, great. But if you can’t get it in the hole, you’re not going to score!”

Bagger is used to fielding questions on the subject of the advantages a transgendered woman golfer would have over her competition. “Obviously transgendered women in sport have always attracted a lot of attention because there is the assumption that we have an unfair advantage with regard to strength and performance,” she says. “I guess this is quite a difficult issue to clarify and prove and I don’t profess to know the answer. I know through my own experience that I have lost a significant amount of strength and, with regard to my golf, I don’t hit it as far as I used to. Most of the hype in the media was with regard to a perceived unfair advantage but this is what WGA (Women’s Golf Australia) researched at some length (over a 2 year period I believe) and came to the conclusion that there is no known advantage that I or other transgendered women would have in golf. They did however state that this decision was by no means final and would always be mindful of any new research and would amend their policies in future if deemed necessary.”

“I certainly don’t feel I have any unfair advantage and if I did, I wouldn’t feel comfortable competing!”

Since winning the Championship in 1999— her first win— Bagger was selected for the South Australian (SA) state team, becoming the first known transgender person to so. Women’s Golf South Australia (WGSA) pays for air fare and accommodation for some of the State’s top players to help improve their game on a tournament level, a benefit Bagger has used to play a number of tournaments around the country. Her employer, with whom she’s worked for 15 years, is also flexible, allowing her to take unpaid leave when necessary to play in tournaments. During the summer, she plays 4-6 days a week after work.

Recent highlights of Mianne Bagger’s golf career:

1999 – Winner – South Australian State Championship
1999 – SA State Team
2000 – SA State Team – 2nd (of 6 teams)
2001 – Winner – SA State Championship (top qualifier)
2001 – Winner – SA 72 hole
2001 – SA State Team – 2nd
2002 – 6th Australian 72 hole
2002 – 2nd round match play (top 16) in Australian Amateur Championship
2002 – Winner – SA State Championship
2002 – SA State Team

Earlier this year she finished sixth at the Australian 72 Hole Championship at Royal Perth, and in June she won the 2002 South Australian State Championship for the third time. Regularly finishing in the top 15, she has increased her national ranking to sixth as of 20 July 2002.

Considering Bagger’s success as an amateur, I asked her if she has aspirations of turning pro. “Well, yes, one of my dreams was always of becoming a professional golfer,” she says. “I guess it still is but now it just isn’t possible (even if I do eventually become good enough). Most countries around the world that I know of specifically exclude transgendered people from turning professional in women’s golf.”

Being one of South Australia’s top ranking players, Bagger has been sent to a number of interstate tournaments by WGSA. She hasn’t won an interstate event yet, but her results have helped improve her National ranking, now sixth in Australia. Talking about arranging her full-time work load and considerable practice time, Bagger says “I don’t know where my golf goes if my game gets better and my ranking keeps improving— I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”