Gordon on Golf

Welcoming women into the game

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Golf Canada/ Morten Byskov

In a recent segment on Golf Channel’s Playing Lessons with the Pros, host Holly Sonders hesitated when her guest and matchplay opponent, PGA Tour star Matt Kuchar, asked her if his one-foot putt was good. She eventually nodded and he picked up his ball. “Ah, ladies’ matchplay rules…” snickered the noted jokester and trash talker.

But his slightly snide comment contained a kernel of relevance. The key to inviting more women to play golf is not to intimidate them with rules and regulations (although there is a definite need for a basic understanding of rules and etiquette, of course), and sometimes the more experienced women at a club or in a league do just that.

“When I started, some of the older ladies weren’t very welcoming,” recalls a friend of mine who now is a diehard golfer. “So I moved to another club where the atmosphere was totally different, like the difference between rep hockey and rec hockey,” said my friend, who has played both. “All I wanted was to exercise and socialize.”

Not coincidentally, at the club where my friend now plays, both the general manager and the director of golf are female. Keenly attuned to the priorities that make their ladies’ league so successful, they emphasize team events, where the focus is on enjoyment, not serious competition. They mix up the foursomes and provide a different themed dinner each week. “Exercise and socialize,” indeed.

Those grumpy Rule book-thumping ladies are not the sole reason more women don’t play the game, but they are a contributing factor, along with many others.

The deficiencies of design of many courses is a major offender. The forward tees are often an afterthought, poorly positioned to address the realities of shorter hitters who can’t navigate forced carries. These tee positions generally do not consider the distance women drive the ball or what club they hit on their approach. (I often wonder how many men would give up the game if they had to hit a fairway wood into every par-4 and counted themselves lucky if they hit a par-5 green in four shots, not three, as many women do.)

Many years ago, I was fortunate to interview Alice Dye who is married to famous course designer Pete Dye. Like her husband, Alice is an accomplished player and a renowned designer and was, in fact, the first woman president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.  Today, she has not changed her mantra from what she told me back then.  Golf courses should have two sets of tees for women; one at about 4,600 yards for average players and another about 5,600 for above-average. You can read the details here.

It’s not that women don’t want to play golf, or more golf. It’s that they don’t feel welcome, sometimes by their peers, or men, or even course design. And that is regrettable, because those of us fortunate to play and enjoy the game realize the object of the exercise is to have fun.

Combining that fun with a great cause is what is behind the Subaru Golf Fore the Cure. Golf Fore the Cure was created by Golf Canada to drive women’s participation in the game of golf with the use of fun, non-intimidating activities. Through a unique partnership structure with the Canadian Cancer Society (and Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation), the program has women across the country participating in golf activities and raising money and awareness for the fight against breast cancer. (Please go to www.golfcanada.ca/golfforethecure to find out how you can get involved in this inspiring program.)

Ideally, the best way to get more women into golf is to introduce them to the game at an early age. Junior camps and clinics are great, but an impressive initiative has been started in Brampton, Ont., where Jeff Overholt and Jon Roy of Golf Performance Coaches have partnered with the Brampton Golf Club to launch the first and only Junior Golf Development Centre in Canada designed specifically for girls.

“The objective is to create an opportunity to encourage young girls to participate in golf while developing confidence and respect in a safe and supportive environment,” says the release announcing the program.  “It will also provide a coaching pathway for girls who are interested in playing competitive golf.”

The program, a joint effort between Golf Performance Coaches and Brampton Golf Club, is in conjunction with the governing bodies for golf in Canada. It is supported by Golf Canada, and run by PGA of Canada members.

For those not-so-young beginning female golfers, we may want to take a page (or pages, literally) from our neighbours to the south.

The National Women’s Golf Alliance is encouraging courses to become “NWGA certified” under its “Rolling Out The Green Carpet” program which uses as its major resource a PGA of America publication called the Connecting With Her Playbook, which explains why golf clubs should appeal more to women and offers advice on how to do it. (You can view the Playbook here.)

Obviously, there is no lack of resources to welcome more women of all ages into golf.

The question is: Do we—women, men and the industry in general—have the will?