THE NUMBERS of golf club members may be declining but there is never any shortage of reports advising how to reverse the trend. Nicely timed to tune in with the R&A’s announcement of its first women members come two surveys of how to attract more women into the game. And a key issue is men.
Agrochemical company, Syngenta, launched its dry sounding, ‘The opportunity to grow golf: female participation’ with a one day seminar in London attended by Solheim Cup captain, Carin Koch. What it concluded was that more women would be encouraged to commit to the game or return to the sport if clubs were ‘less masculine’, ‘less intimidating’ and treated them ‘as valued customers.’
Syngenta spokesman, Simon Elsworth, said, ‘What is important is to listen carefully what women are saying about golf, what aspects of the sport appeals to them and understand the conditions that need to be created to engage women as customers.’
Alison Root, editor of leading women’s golf magazine, ‘Women and Golf’ attended the seminar and has also conducted her own investigation into the attitudes and aspirations of women golfers, both those who play actively and those who have stopped.
She said, ‘One of the surprising findings of our survey is that male golfers could be a key stimulus in increasing female participation, as the top reason that female golfers take up the game is because a husband or partner plays.’ However 75% of the men ‘Women and Golf’ surveyed have wives or partners who do not play the game and reasons given for non participation at golf clubs include the words ‘archaic’, ‘anachronistic’ and ‘discriminatory.’
Root said, ‘In general golf clubs are still largely male dominated and, let’s be honest, for a long time the majority of men have been happy for them to remain this way. There could be a number of reasons why women don’t play golf including work or family commitments, or perhaps they’re genuinely not interested, but I suspect that most have never been given an opportunity to play or encouraged to do so.’
She added, ‘With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that over half of men who have sons say that their sons play golf, whereas just 12% of men we interviewed who have daughters say that their daughters play. If these men don’t encourage their female partner to play, they’re hardly going to encourage a daughter.’
What a difference, therefore, when one looks at the state of women’s tennis. Between 2011 to 2013 the number of girls playing the game at clubs almost doubled. The number of 11 to 18-year old girls who have Lawn Tennis Association membership has also risen by 10% to just under 112,000 whilst, in the under-eight to under-12 category numbers who compete have jumped from 4,200 to nearly 8,000.
The effect of British tennis professionals Heather Watson and Laura Robson is thought to have played a significant role in attracting more girls to the game but they are also actively welcomed at tennis clubs. Critically, tennis is perceived to be ‘cool’.
With Charley Hull, Annabel Dimmock and Georgia Hall all young, refreshingly open and extremely talented British golfers there is no lack of similar quality in golf, but more must be done to increase the coverage of women’s golf and also see a change in the enormous disparity between prize money available in the men’s and women’s game at the highest level.
Veteran golf writer, Lewine Mair, wrote recently of her pleasure in seeing women invited to become members of the R&A although believes the organisation has missed a trick in raising the profile of the women’s game. ‘They missed the chance to get off to a cracking start when they chose Princess Anne as one of their new recruits rather than the Duchess of Cambridge. What Kate does young girls follow.’
In her column for ‘Golf Today’, Mair wrote, ‘ When, in 2013, she appeared on TV in a Topshop dress purchased for £38, every fashion-conscious young woman wanted that dress for herself and the shops sold out within the hour. If, let’s say, Kate were to be pictured with a bag of clubs slung over her shoulder, isn’t it just possible that that might detonate much the same knock-on effect?’
There is so much that could and should be done. But at grass roots level making sure that women of all ages feel welcome and a valued part of all golf clubs would be a huge step in the right direction.