THIS is a real Challenge Annika... Annika Sorenstam is to be the first woman golfer for 50 years to play the men at their own game. Tomorrow she's competing on the men's professional circuit.

No one 's expecting her to do brilliantly. If she does respectably, it will be a triumph. Golf relies very much on physical strength and power, where the men have an advantage. But she's chosen a course where care, cunning and accuracy are more important than usual. So who knows?

But what makes it really interesting is the attitude of the men. 21st century? Some of these haven't yet made it to the 20th.

Champions like Tiger Woods can afford to be generous and welcoming, and are. Others have gone all snide and petty. One has even taken his clubs and his silly trousers home and isn't playing . Good riddance, we say.

But what is it about golf?

A few years ago I wrote about the difficulty of women being allowed to join some golf clubs. Most are perfectly welcoming. But with others it was a bit like stepping into the world of Bertie Wooster. Some of the club secretaries I spoke to could easily have been mistaken for Sir Roderick Glossop and Lord Emsworth - only not as forward thinking.

They even made the average working men's club committee look like New Men.

My late mother - a fanatical golfer - once persuaded the an official at a Scottish golf club to let her and a friend play on a day when women were unexpectedly barred from the course. To do this, they had to change in the car and go for a wee in the woods.

And these men think they are gentlemen?

But maybe those big tough professional golfers are just plain scared. Women athletes are getting ever closer to the men's achievements. Paula Radcliffe's marathon times put her up there among the top men. Women tennis players are no longer just girlish glee and frilly knickers but are, frankly, terrifying.

If nothing else, letting the women in to the men's game has got to add interest to a sport that so many of us find - sorry Mum - deadly dull.

It's not anything as corny as a Battle of the Sexes, but an interesting idea of how far women have come and how the gap between men and women has narrowed.

And I bet it will double the number of viewers.

MEANWHILE, the Royal Society, the world's oldest scientific academy , has suddenly elected nine women as Fellows - an unprecedented number.

Of course all these women are experts in their fields - everything from the discovery of pulsars to genetic research - and deserve their places.

On the other hand, a few years ago, women hardly got a look in - until a Commons select committee called the Society little more than a male dominated club and questioned their right to £25m of public money.

Co-incidence, I'm sure.

SO fat cats might not get so much of the cream. Glaxo shareholders have voted against giving their chief executive a package of £23 million if he were forced to leave. Shares have fallen by a third since he took over in 2000.

The gap between those running industries and the people working in them gets wider every year, with many chief executives earning well over a million pounds a year.

Meanwhile, shares plunge, pensions evaporate, house prices soar and the people at the bottom of the heap get further behind than ever.

We have a minimum wage. But if we want any balance brought back into our society, what we really need now is a maximum wage - and it won't be more than £3m to run a company down. Or £23m as a reward for failure.

A SCHOOL in the Midlands has banned parents from Sports Day, because, they say, they don't want children to be embarrassed by failure.


Any sensible school can organise sports day so that most children win something - if only the dressing up race - and, much more importantly, have fun.

The school surely has a totally different motive - to save children the enormous embarrassment caused by their parents.

I still thank my lucky stars that on my very first sports day as a parent, I had my leg in plaster.

Otherwise I might have been foolishly tempted to join in - and would have competed against a blinding set of rivals including a couple of former county champions.

I would have tottered in last and my sons would never have got over the shame, but luck saved my children from that humiliation.

Maybe the Midlands headmistress' s decision has saved the blushes of many more...

PS: PUPILS in the Isle of Wight who behave badly on the school bus, are to have their own special transport home - the oldest, coldest, rattliest bus in the fleet. What's more, it's painted pink. The shame of it all.

I'm sure it will work, as it ties in with my theory that if all 17-year-old boys were allowed to drive only bright pink or yellow bubble cars, with smiley faces, nodding dogs and tartan rugs, and not a go faster stripe in sight, then the number of boy racer crashes would halve overnight.

Has to be worth a try...