When I was growing up in Ontario, Canada my brother and father played golf a lot. In fact, they played so much my brother ended up a scratch golfer and my dad was pretty close to a single digit handicapper. I remember asking my dad if I could play with them and I got “the look”. In my generation, golf was for boys and figure skating was for girls. Guess what – I figure skated.
Years later my brother left home and my dad got lonely on the course. Suddenly I was given a full set of golf clubs, shoes, hat, glove…the whole kit and caboodle. It was now time for women to play golf in my family. Haha…I hated it and my clubs spent more time in my dad’s garage than on the golf course.
25 years later, I decided (after much pressure for coworkers) to take some lessons that my company was offering and I discovered a new love — golf! I don’t know what happened, but I’m now a golf addict.
Today, I want more women to feel the same love for this game that I discovered 5 years ago. But the numbers say that we have a long way to go.
According to The Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA), 5.95 million Canadians play golf – representing a national golf participation rate of 21.5%, among the highest golf participation rate of any country in the world (88% men and 12% women – after rounding).
In the USA, there are over 26 million golfers and ~22 percent are women – better than Canada by a long shot, but still pretty low.
What is the problem? Why don’t more women play golf? Why are there only 6 Canadian women players on the LPGA out of 121 active International players? South Korea has 45! Sure, it’s cold in Canada a lot of the year, but look at Sweden…they have 15 players on the tour.
When I read these statistics, I decided to talk to people of all ages and vocations who love this game and want to see more women fall in love with it too and make successful careers out of their passion. I decided to start with the University of British Columbia Women’s Golf Team.
I was introduced to a lovely young woman by the name of Kyla Inaba (second from the right). She’s the captain of the UBC’s Women’s Golf Team and has made quite an impression on those who work with her.
According to Coach Chris MacDonald, “Kyla was our hardest working player the last two months of the year. The fall term she was adjusting and settling into her new role as captain. She lead by example, her individual runner-up result at the NAIA Championships at Lake San Marcos in San Diego was one of the best performances for a UBC women’s golfer in our programs history. Kyla’s leadership and playing ability will be counted on to create her goal of another NAIA team championship for UBC this season.” [BTW…UBC won the women’s NAIA title in both 2001 & 2004.]
Although Kyla didn’t jump on the game when she first tried it at the age of 6, she found herself drawn back to it when she was in grade 9 or 10. She started entering tournaments and got pretty competitive, and so a good golf program was one of her requirements when choosing a university.
I spoke to Kyla about her experience as a young female golfer and what golf has meant to her in school and in life.
Kyla, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me about golf for women in North America, and more specifically Canada. It was great to hear that your dad introduced you to golf at a young age and encouraged you to play. When did you win your first tournament?
It was a Western Canadian Tour event which is now the Maple Leaf Junior Tour. It was so amazing. I had played a few competitions before that and I was working very hard. There was a bunch of other girls and we were all at about the same level. It was a really really tight race coming into the last round. We all shot really good rounds, but I won by a couple strokes.
What programs are available to young women in Canada today? I know there is the First Tee Program in the US. What Canadian programs are there for young people?
RCGA runs something called Junior Linksters and there are local programs at most clubs for young people. Many clubs will also run junior camps throughout the year.
Did you ever do any of those programs?
I definitely did. I attended the junior camp at my home course, Gallagher’s Canyon, in Kelowna for about 4 or 5 years. It was so much fun because you had all these big pros who were there to help you learn golf. You were surrounded by a bunch of other kids your age, and when you hit just one good shot you’d think, “Oh wow, it’s so amazing!” It was so much fun.
What was the percentage of girls versus boys at those camps?
There used to be more boys for sure, but today it’s actually pretty equal. I coach the junior camp every year now and the percentage is getting close to 50/50.
For high school graduates, what are the golf scholarship programs like in Canada?
[Side note… In 2007, 65 scholarships were handed out to Canadian students – Kyla was one of them. Amounts ranged from $1000 up to $5000 depending on the specific scholarship]
Right now the strongest two programs in Canada are at UBC and the University of Victoria (both BC universities). UBC is also fortunate to have the support of local business people who want to see Canadian golfers go to school in Canada…
[In the mid-80s Martin Zlotnik, a former UBC golf team captain, entrepreneur and community leader and a group of like-minded alumni founded the Thunderbird Golf Society which has raised enough money to build a sizable and growing endowment fund for scholarships, coaching honoraria and travel for UBC’s men’s and women’s teams. Zlotnik also hosts the Millennium Breakfast, an annual event which in just two years has raised more than a million dollars for athletic scholarships.
“We can’t stand idly by and watch so many academically qualified student-athletes go to the United States because they don’t have the same scholarship opportunities here,” says Zlotnik. “Alumni have to get involved and we have to get excited.”]
What are your plans after university – golf or a career based on your degree?
I always want to pursue golf, but the thing is, it requires a lot of financial support and time and commitment. So for me to turn pro and play in the US tours, I’d have to be spending most of my time on my game. It’s pretty much a fulltime job in itself.
So what I am going to do is apply for the Pharmacy Program at UBC at the end of this year, and if I get in, I’ll focus on that. If I don’t get in, I’ll just work and play golf.
I read once that for the Duramed Futures Tour you have to set aside $35,000 in order to play (includes fees, travel, etc). Saving $35K as a new graduate seems almost an impossible task, even if you had your tuition paid by scholarship. How do you study, play collegiate golf and work to save that kind of money?
Essentially when you are playing collegiate golf and studying at a school with academic excellence like UBC, it’s really hard to excel at one or the other. It’s a tough job to maintain a good balance.
In Kelowna we have two girls who are trying to make it in the pro circuit right now and they are doing okay, but I don’t know if they are even breaking even.
It seems like such a shame that there is so much money in sport and in golf, but women can’t afford to even try and enter the pro ranks because the sponsorship money just isn’t there for them. How can we change that and enable more women to follow their dream?
I think there needs to be, exactly what you are doing, bringing more attention to the issue. It’s an expensive sport and it’s a great sport and sometimes people just don’t realize that. It’s great what people like Marty Zlotnik are doing bringing attention to it and working hard to raise funds for us so that we can play.
You look at the LPGA and you’ll see half the page of the leader board is Korean. But they take golf so seriously over there. I think the Korean girls actually have to take a golfing course in high school.
But I do think that Canada is making a better effort these days and it is getting bigger every year, even though it is on a smaller scale than the US. The RCGA is trying really hard to try and keep collegiate golfers in Canada and they do have quite a little circuit for “Team Canada” girls and guys to play for.
In our RCGA college championships we see the fields getting stronger and stronger every year. It is usually a race between UBC and UVic, but we’re seeing other Canadian colleges get closer on our heels every year. So it is getting better.
What % of the ladies who do play in college go on to make golf their career.
Not very many – probably less than 25%, I’d say. Lots of girls get CPGA-certified and try teaching so they can make money that way. But as far as playing competitively and trying to make it on the circuit, very few can afford to do it.
Do the major golf manufacturers support you?
They do help out a little bit. We get deals on equipment from sponsors who are affiliated with the club we are practicing at or they make a deal with the coach. For instance at UBC, I was provided with a whole bag of Cleveland golf clubs because they decided to give out one set of clubs to 1 player on the team every year. And they give a pretty good deal on clubs to the rest of the team members as well.
How has golf impacted your life?
I think it has been tremendous in helping me grow and mature. This year at UBC we worked with a mental coach and he has helped us a lot not only in golf but also in life – in gaining perspective on why we play golf and why we do the things we do and why we love the game.
Through golf, I’ve learned that everything happens for a reason. So when I went out and shot 90 this year on a difficult day on a very difficult course, I realized I had to embrace that round just as much as I embrace shooting a round of 70.
You can apply so much of the mental game of golf into your own life. I’ve learned so much, especially with the college golfing aspect of it, but also just growing up – you have to learn about commitment and keep practicing to get better. I have learned time management and how to maintain balance with playing golf and still getting my homework done.
How about anger management?
So today you’re cool headed, but what about when you were younger – did you get angry at yourself?
If you shank a shot in the woods, maybe you will hit a shot that ricochets off two trees and goes in the hole. You just never know. Everything happens for reason.
Golfers seem to have a “never give up – never surrender” attitude.
Definitely. You always hear in interviews, “It was a grind out there.” Or “I was grinding hard today just trying to make my 5-footers..” It’s kind of a characteristic of successful golfers. The people who never give up have a lot of heart. They know that if you keep grinding it out there, something good is eventually going to happen.
How much did your parents play in instilling that kind of perseverance in you?
Oh my…110%! When I was about 6, my parents put me in ballet and I hated it. I cried every Saturday morning before I had to go and they said, “Kyla, you are going to finish what you started.” And I still cried every time I had to go, but I finished out the year and that taught me I have to finish what I start, no matter what.
My parents have always supported me. Anything I wanted to try, they’d let me try it. And so if I wanted to play soccer I would do it and finish out the season even if I found I hated it after I started.
What message would you like to give to young ladies out there who are thinking about golf?
Golf is something you can do all your life. So even if you dabble in it here and there, you can play golf one Saturday afternoon instead of going to the mall and spending money you don’t have
It is something you can enjoy for a lifetime. It is a great competitive sport – it always challenges you and you can play at any level. You can play for fun or competition. It’s just an all around great sport.
It’s also a great sport where men and women can play together, unlike contact sports, isn’t it?
Absolutely. As a junior I would go out and play with whoever was playing at the time and I ended up playing with a lot of old men and a lot of junior boys. That’s how you build character and learn to communicate.
Women always feel “naked on the first tee”. Have you ever felt that way and what advice do you have for girls who feel like that.
What’s your favorite course to play?
We get to train at Shaughnessy in Vancouver and sometimes in the winter we tend to overlook it, but I think it is one of the most beautiful courses I have ever played.
What course would you love to play that you haven’t played?
That’s tough, but I guess after watching the US Open, I’d love to play at Torrey Pines.
Thanks so much Kyla for chatting with me today. Any closing remarks for the readers?
Regarding Canadian golf – I chose UBC so I could get a Canadian education and play golf. At UBC we still get a fantastic playing schedule. We play in most NCAA events so we head down to California or Arizona, play in those tournaments, come back to UBC and practice. Sometimes the practice isn’t all that much fun because of the rain or the snow, but we still get to practice all year round and we get a Canadian education and we get to go down to the sun to play our tournaments.
We have tons of opportunities as well. We have our own fitness trainer at UBC who provides a bunch of golf-specific training programs. We have a coach, an assistant coach and two other swing coaches and a mental coach.
I think I get the best of both worlds. Lots of my friends head down to the states and they really don’t know what they’re going to get. If you are not getting a full ride, sometimes you end up paying more than you would here.
I also think that if you can get a Canadian education, in the end you will be able to do more things with your degree afterwards. That’s one of the biggest reasons I chose to stay in Canada and go to UBC.
I believe that there are still a lot of opportunities in Canada. It really is the best of both worlds.
Ah ha! Now there’s that positive attitude again! :).
You know, when you meet young people like Kyla, with talent, determination and heart, you start to believe what she says, “If you keep grinding it out there, something good is eventually going to happen.”
Well, maybe that’s true of women’s golf in North American. If we continue to grind at promoting it, it just might get the support it needs. I sure hope it happens soon, so talented ladies like Kyla can follow their dream and make a successful career in the pro ranks.
Best of luck to you Kyla and your team! You make Vancouverites like me proud!