Women can change the for­tunes of golf

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Behind The Scenes - By Stu­art McLean, Ed­i­tor stu­art.mclean@new­me­di­a­pub.co.za

Go to any golf club to­day and the chat among older mem­bers will in­vari­ably be about the fact that young men are no longer vis­i­ble at their club. And, by young, we’re not talk­ing univer­sity stu­dents, but men un­der 40. Cy­cling has se­duced them away from golf, is the main com­plaint, as has mem­ber­ship costs, and greater fam­ily com­mit­ments than the older gen­er­a­tion faced at that age.

How­ever, when you look around the 19th holes of clubs, an­other group is also miss­ing from the room. It’s women golfers. Golf clubs have missed a trick in this coun­try by not mak­ing a greater ef­fort to em­brace more women into the game and give them ac­cess to cour­ses when­ever they wish to play.

It’s a world­wide prob­lem too. A global study has shown that women ac­count for just 24 per­cent of golfers world­wide – in South Africa it’s more like 12 per­cent.The study, pre­sented at the HSBC Golf Busi­ness Fo­rum, con­cludes that in­creased fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion could add $35 bil­lion to the global golf econ­omy.

The beauty of golf is that it is a nat­u­ral fit for men, women and chil­dren.Yet the fact that it con­tin­ues to re­main a male­dom­i­nated sport in the 21st cen­tury is hold­ing back growth among women. Many have good rea­son to be­lieve that Golf still stands for “Gen­tle­men Only, Ladies For­bid­den.”

Women are drawn to golf for var­i­ous rea­sons other than try­ing to mas­ter the game – spend­ing time with fam­ily and friends in a re­laxed out­door en­vi­ron­ment be­ing one of them.The study found that 29 per­cent of non-golf­ing fe­males and lapsed play­ers were in­ter­ested in tak­ing up the game. And, women are 38 per­cent more likely than men to bring chil­dren to golf, which in­di­cates that in­creased fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion would sig­nif­i­cantly boost the num­ber of ju­niors tak­ing up the game.

But do male and fe­male golfers have to co­ex­ist at the same golf club in a man­ner that be­fits an old fash­ioned mar­riage rather than a mod­ern one? The mis­take made years ago was to pre­sume that women would be for­ever happy to play sec­ond fid­dle at what were es­sen­tially “men’s” golf clubs, and not put up a fuss when their tee times were hap­haz­ardly taken away and given to cor­po­rates. Maybe they should be given a turn in charge?

An in­ter­est­ing story came to my at­ten­tion in Aus­tralian Golf Di­gest about McLeod Coun­try GC in Bris­bane. Noth­ing about the name gives away the fact that it is one of the world’s few golf clubs gov­erned by women. It was founded in 1968 with 163 inau­gu­ral women mem­bers who had the unan­i­mous con­vic­tion that they were no longer pre­pared to put up with be­ing bossed around at a men’s club where they had no say and were only al­lowed to play on cer­tain days. There was a groundswell among women golfers to es­tab­lish a club of their own, and they de­vel­oped their course amidst a real es­tate de­vel­op­ment. To­day, McLeod is a mixed club, with only 40 per­cent fe­male mem­ber­ship, but they make 100 per­cent of the de­ci­sions, run­ning the club and hav­ing ac­cess to the tee times they want.

Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­veals the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto, founded in 1926 in Canada. Men were wel­come from the start, just not as mem­bers or, in the early days, in the club­house. They still don’t get the best tee times, and the orig­i­nal men’s locker room was in the base­ment be­low the pro shop – a pro shop, in­ci­den­tally, which is packed with women’s golf equip­ment and ap­parel. But the women never tried to make their club a state­ment or protest, but rather a nice place for them to play.

The mes­sage out there is that mil­lions of women world­wide are in­ter­ested in tak­ing up golf. It’s time that the golf in­dus­try be­gan to lis­ten.

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