In 2 previous blog posts, I looked at some of the issues that could be impacting on the declining participation of women in golf. As I’ve found out in many years of marriage, women think differently from men, and men shouldn’t automatically assume that what works for them also works for women. Unfortunately, the golf industry is largely run by men.
If you look at the 6 (depending on how you count them) national and provincial golf programs focusing on beginners or learning to golf, only one focuses on adults – Get Golf Ready. The rest all support junior golf development.
Get Golf Ready is managed by the National Golf Course Owner’s Association (NGCOA), and is designed to introduce men and women to the game in 5 steps guided by a PGA Professional. There are 6 courses and facilities in the Lower Mainland that offer the program. The program content looks good, but one issue is that a facility needs a PGA professional who is qualified and interested in developing the program. But there is a starting point for women in golf.
Many courses offer their own “Golf for Women” programs and many more offer golf leagues for women. It’s really at the course or facility level where an impact can be made on SWIG. But what should a program look like that meets women’s needs?
Golf Fore Gals Golf Club, which unfortunately closed this year, was one good example of how to draw women into the game through a supportive network. If you are reading this on Golfgal.ca, then you are looking at another.
At the club or facility level, where there may not be any professional help, there are some factors that need to be incorporated to attract and retain women in the game.
S – for Starting
Learning to golf is the start of what hopefully will be a lifetime experience. Each woman will have a different starting point – they may have played the game in their youth, may have a partner who plays golf or may have tried it unsuccessfully previously.
While it is possible to start the experience at the driving range, it’s probably not best to start it with lessons from your (male) partner. Starting off on the right foot is important and the first steps may not be on a course, but over coffee in the clubhouse getting to meet others and with the leader gaining an understanding of why women are there and what they hope to experience.
The first steps can be taken with a mentor, someone who understands the game, but also someone who appreciates that there are a variety of needs of women that are important to them. These were explored in a previous post. The basic elements of the game – stance, grip, swing – can be taught at a level that women can have some fun just hitting the ball. That’s why they are there.
W – for Women
What women are looking for from the game – social contact, exercise, being outdoors – needs to be incorporated throughout the experience. Women, like men, will want to see improvement in their game, but want to have some fun along the way. It has to be an enjoyable experience.
The progression from range and putting green to a course may need to be longer for some women in order for them to gain the confidence to try playing a course. A modified approach to a course experience might help – forward tees, using a tee on the fairway, picking up a ball when they are in trouble – will help them graduate.
Women may have different time slots available than men. Young mothers might like mid-day when children are in school and lunch can be incorporated into the experience. Business women, like men, will need time available after work and 9 holes with cocktails later would work well.
Simply – women have different needs than men.
G – for Golf
Golf is a game with a long history, tradition and with a confusing set of rules. It’s important for a novice to have an appreciation for history and tradition of the game. But rules need to be more flexible so that they aren’t intimidating and don’t get in the way of having some fun.
Rules have to be appropriate for the level of play and while its important to have a common set of rules, they can be learned and used gradually. In the golf industry, this is called bifurcation and its something that traditionalists have a problem with. But to start with, are not the most important rules those dealing with safety and etiquette?
With a proper introduction to the experience, geared to their needs and interests, golf can be made an experience that women will want to continue. As with men, there will always be the more macro and individual issues impacting on participation – economic, demographic, health, jobs, children – that will influence their continuing participation.
But for heaven’s sake, let’s make that first experience a great one — one that women will remember fondly.