When it comes to numbers of women golfers, the UK is lagging behind other European countries. Fortunately, associations such as the R&A are taking big steps to help the situation, but what can Pro’s and clubs do, at grass roots levels, to attract more women to the sport? Crossover Chairman, Phil Barnard, talks seeds of change.
This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Suffragette victory to secure voting rights for women. It’s a landmark year, but, while UK school children have been marking the occasion with themed events and special talks, some golf clubs are only just clearing away hugely prejudicial signs, such as “No Women or Dogs Allowed”.
It’s no surprise that the UK has one of the lowest percentages of female club members than many other European countries. At approximately 15%, the UK is overshadowed by Germany at 35%, and Sweden at almost 30%.
Some golf clubs are only just clearing away hugely prejudicial signs, such as “No Women or Dogs Allowed”
Resistance to change is unacceptable and, whilst change is afoot, it’s slow progress, and a dramatic departure from the past is overdue.
The reasons for a seed-change in attitudes across the industry are two-fold. Firstly, when it comes to equality of the sexes, the golfing sector has remained out of step with changes in society.
Secondly, golf has a real opportunity to play a part in the overall health of women and children: and not just men. This would also have the added bonus of increasing the golfing population, and help both clubs, and the sport, to survive in these changing times.
The Swedish Golf Federation (SGF), in particular, has made some decisive moves. In 2010, research undertaken by the Federation, identified that exercise, health and socialising with family and friends, were far more important to women, and most golfers, than the competitive element of the sport. In 2010 the SGF launched its Golfnyttan campaign, highlighting the benefits that golf brings to Sweden: focussing on regular participation, rather than competition.
Even authorities in Sweden now recognise the importance of “wellbeing” and provide tax-redeemable contributions for sporting and leisure activities, including golf. What’s more, other research bodies confirm the importance of this approach and have identified that regular golf can add approximately 5 years to life expectancy.
“As PGA Pros, we have a responsibility to grow the game in the UK and make it accessible to as many people as possible”, Colin Sinclair, Carnoustie Links
Last year, in 2017, the SGF launched its gender equality campaign, Vision 50/50 , which aims to establish an equal balance between the sexes: in both sports participation, and club management.
There’s a lot to be learnt from other sports, which have aimed to attract a wider audience. Take tennis, for example. The LTA now offers Cardio Tennis, which is much favoured by women, and offers a fun, sociable group-fitness class, set on a tennis court, supported by music, and open to people of all ages and abilities.
It’s fantastic to see the more traditional associations, such as The Royal and Ancient (R&A) is working hard to encourage girls and women into the sport. The R&A recently unveiled its “Women in Golf Charter”; the objective of which is to achieve industry-wide commitment to a culture that enables women, and girls, to get the maximum enjoyment from golf.
One man who is addressing the issue head-on, is Carnoustie Links’ Head PGA Pro, Colin Sinclair. “Golf is changing, and it’s important not to sit still”, he says, “We’ve made some big changes here over the last couple of years to try to widen our audience. Our new golf facility, Links House, is a cool place to hang out and the introduction of indoor options, such as events and courses aimed at women, girls, seniors and wheelchair users, means we are now engaging with a whole new audience. Everything’s about golf but the rule is, we want you to have fun”.
Sadly, there may still be an uphill battle to overcome the long-held perception within the general population: that women are discriminated against in golf clubs. Despite the vast majority of men accepting women into the sport, women members can still suffer at the hands of a minority who apply covert pressure: complaining of slow play, and demanding rite of passage on the course, even if the way forward is blocked by others.
This would be unheard of in Sweden, says Johan Thellmark, the Vice President of GolfStore, the leading golf group. “No one would dare to do this. The women would kick our butts!”, clearly demonstrating how far ahead the country is ahead of the UK in terms of gender equality.
“As PGA Pros, we have a responsibility to grow the game in the UK and make it accessible to as many people as possible”, adds Carnoustie Links’ Colin Sinclair. Clearly the R&A Women in Golf Charter is a great step within the industry and has enjoyed good publicity. But what can Pros do to help facilitate change and attract more women to the sport?
- Encourage new golf formats including mixed and family golf competitions
- Introduce women-only courses and events in the club house. Prosecco evenings are proving successful in some forward-thinking clubs
- Ensure women feel welcome by training staff to be proactive to offer help and advice
- Encourage the club to establish a management committee with equal numbers of men and women members
- Widen the club’s culture, by giving equal emphasis to the social and health benefits offered by regular golf play
- Introduce a form of black list, identifying members that persistently fight the new culture
- Reduce the technical aspects of tuition for both women and men who are new to the sport, in favour of basic skills. Consider equipment such as Masters Short Golf, that uses oversized plastic club heads and a ball similar to tennis, which makes early learning more fun, speeds the learning process and helps getting the ball into the air
- Provide facilities for women that have young children to operate their own creche
As champions of the golf industry, we need to leave the sport in a better condition that we found it. Ultimately, the best way to encourage women into golf is to change the culture at grass roots. Greater accessibility via fun, social programmes, which emphasise health and wellbeing, is a pretty good start.
Phil Barnard is Chairman of Crossover Technologies. XPOS is the leading sales and stock management solution, designed specifically for golf retailers. XPOS will revolutionise your business and help you to be a better retailer. Can your epos do that? Call Crossover to find out more 01454 318495 crossovertec.co.uk