When I began playing golf at 5 years old, I was the only girl on my course. It wasn’t something I actually had an awareness of, only because my father served as the head golf professional and made the course my giant playground.
As my game progressed and began to play competitively, it started to stand out to me how there were significantly fewer girls at the tournaments compared to boys. I didn’t know what to make of it, except that not as many girls liked golf. I never once thought of the challenges that girls faced in terms of feeling welcomed at golf courses because I grew up on a course that essentially felt like my own.
Now, after playing collegiately and professionally, and having a stint as an instructor, I have had the opportunity to see why golf courses struggle to recruit girls and women to the game.
Currently, women make up only 22 percent of the entire golf population. For women of color, it’s less than 2 percent.
So as part of the golf industry’s #inviteHER initiative, I’m going to take the time to explore how golf courses that better recruit women to play the game, while also retaining them as participants.
And fear not: the reasons why women don’t play golf really aren’t that complex and they’re solvable (trust me!).
After speaking with various women in the golf industry, I compiled what I believe to be the best ways to make women feel welcome to the game.
Imagine this: you’re a woman interested in playing golf, and you walk into your local pro-shop only to be greeted by men. Perhaps you buy a bucket of balls, go to the range, and even the range attendant is a man, along with the majority of the range having only men hitting. As a woman, that won’t necessarily feel welcoming. In fact, it can have the strong effect of feeling intimidating. Currently, women only make up only a fraction of golf instructors and professionals at golf courses.
And trust me, there are benefits to hiring a woman at your club for the specific reason of recruiting more women to play at your facility. When I taught for a year at Kickingbird Golf Club in Edmond, OK., I was hired specifically for the reason that so many women in the area would call seeking a female golf instructor either for them or their daughters. Around 90% of my clientele were women and girls.
Deb Vangellow, an LPGA master instructor in Houston, TX., has been teaching for twenty years and believes it is integral for golf courses to have at least one woman golf instructor on staff. “Consider hiring a female professional who is enthusiastic, experienced, and personable to be the “go to” teacher for all things Women’s Golf at your facility. Give her freedom and flexibility to develop and implement programming that is appropriate for the facility and the membership. It will pay off!” she says.
This point was reiterated by Nancy Henderson, Chief Teaching Officer at the LPGA, who highlighted the LPGA’s new Golf 101 program. “Women need role models and faces they can relate to. The LPGA launched a new LPGA Golf 101 program last year – it’s a 6 session Intro to Golf program for women conducted by women in an all-women’s environment. It’s easier for women to learn with other women and create a network to play with before gaining the confidence to play with men.”
Representation has to go beyond just having women at the golf course though. Tiffany Fitzgerald, founder of Black Girls Golf, believes golf courses also need to make more of a concerted effort to hire people of color to help women of color feel welcomed at golf courses. “Having representation is so important so you can see yourself someplace. Black Girls Golf is trying to give a safe space to women of color who want to learn how to golf, and also showing that black women do indeed play golf! There’s just not enough of us playing … yet.”
Now, even if you don’t have a woman golf professional at your golf course doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to #InviteHer.
Vangellow suggests courses block off times for women to play, or to create events specifically for women. “Allow unique group instruction and play events that work for the women at your course and watch your revenue stream grow as the word gets out about how great the environment is at your facility for female golfers, something that is not necessarily the case at so many facilities.”
Vikki Vanderpool, another LPGA teaching professional, even suggests having an area blocked off for women at the range. “Women often receive unsolicited advice from men at the course. Providing a space for them on the range can give them a safe and comfortable place to work on their swing, which will keep them coming back.”
My father, who is now a Director of Golf at Elk City Country Club, has found ways to make his club inviting for them, despite not having women golf instructors. Often, he has brought me in to teach clinics, encouraging the women who were members of his club to bring a friend who has never played. He even enlisted the help of a woman at the club to help establish a Women’s Golf Association, which now has over 40 members. On to top of that, he has incentivized women to come to the club by offering specials, free mini-clinics, and intentionally put pictures of women golfers in the clubhouse. This alone helps women feel welcome at the course.
There is also Women’s Golf Day, which Elisa Gaudet started in 2016. “Women’s Golf Day is a global golf initiative launched in 2016 to introduce women of all ages to the game and encourage existing female golfers to “tee it up” in a fun and highly inclusive environment. The one day, four-hour event, spanned 46 countries in 711 locations, and introduced thousands of new golfers to the sport while transcending language, culture, religion, and race to celebrate golf, women, and community.”
So just because you may not be able to fire a full-time female golf professional, doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to get creative: hold monthly events for women, occasionally bring in a woman to host a clinic, and offer deals to women.
It doesn’t have to be hard, it just requires thinking outside of the box and a little effort!
One of my biggest pet-peeves when walking into a golf shop is to find a very limited selection of women’s golf merchandise. This includes apparel, gloves, and equipment. Women want more than one style of a polo in four different colors to choose from. And with the abundant amount of women’s golf apparel lines to choose from now, there is no reason to not have variety.
Having a limited selection of women’s merchandise sends a message to women who come to your course that they are an afterthought. Imagine seeing an entire floor of men’s apparel and equipment marketed towards men, only to see a small corner of women’s merchandise tucked away.
Tiffany Fitzgerald, also encourages to courses to think about different body types. “For black women, we are typically curvier, so it would be great if golf courses would think about having better apparel options in that regard.”
“My number one suggestion is to offer golf skorts that are available at a variety of lengths,” says Christina Thompson of Golf4Her. “At Golf4Her, our customers love that they can find skorts in so many lengths. Having options is a plus!”
Courses also need to think about having more than one option in terms of clubs to buy. I’ve been to several courses where they only offered one brand and one model of women’s golf clubs. Like any other person, we like to evaluate our choices and you should make easier for the women coming to course to weigh their options, and it will also incentivize them to buy their clubs from you. If you only have one option to choose from and they don’t like that one option, they will likely go someplace else to buy their clubs, and will feel less inclined to come back to your course.
When we think about inviting women to play golf, be mindful in your approach. You don’t have to throw pink and glitter on it to make it appealing. Instead, you need to show that you took time to think about the needs of women, how to make them feel comfortable and welcomed at your course.
Women will come to play—you just need to send her an invitation.