R&A Captain wanted more women to join clubs

"But I believe the trouble is that so many golf clubs will not cater for the girls - for the women, and after all if you are a young married man and you want to play golf it is not a very pleasant thing to go down to some golf club where women are looked upon as almost a weed or an excrescence which is not required anywhere near the place...It is high time that many of the old people in charge of some of the old golf clubs realized that the club has got to be a social thing with women there, so that everybody can find amusement." Lord Brabazon of Tara : Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews 1952

Revenue from women

Writing over 60 years ago, his Lordship may be excused for what today would be deemed a somewhat patronising view of “the girls”. But he was clearly well aware that gender was an issue for golf and he didn’t allow his privileged position to stifle his personal views.

He was commenting at a time when golf in Britain was still suffering greatly from post-war austerity, and many clubs were struggling to make ends meet. They needed all the income they could get – and that included revenue from women playing golf.

Barriers to the game

These faint echoes of the past are more than significant for the game today. Worldwide, in established golfing countries, we are at last waking up to the problem of a game in decline – and trying to figure out the depth of these challenges and a solid base for solutions. For women, for all sorts of reasons, REAL golf is not as popular as it is for men. Why not?

The issues of too slow, too difficult and too expensive are rehearsed often enough on these pages. Of course, such problems apply to women just as much as men – although they don’t get the same amount of attention and the outcomes aren’t always the same. But are there also other barriers to take-up of the game by women?

New Zealand success

One of the first countries to work hard on this issue was New Zealand. Five years ago, women golfers accounted for 30% of club membership ( the figure for the USA was even lower, at 20% ). Their research showed that golf clubs in New Zealand, and perhaps around the world, were perceived as quite unfriendly places. Would-be women golfers found that entering a golf club by themselves was a harrowing experience – so clubs were encouraged to offer packages where women could go with a friend, at reduced rates, and also get a few lessons so that at least they understood the technicalities of the game and wouldn’t be embarrassed on the first tee. And it’s been a very successful programme.

Defining consumer needs

This chimes with experience from other parts of the world : women want a more social experience whereas men enjoy competition more. They each value instruction but benefit from different teaching methods, as any club pro will tell you.

None of this comes as any great surprise and it is encouraging to see the needs of the consumer being properly defined and delivered. At club level, but encouraged by the national authority.

Greater efforts?

What does come as surprising, though, is that for so long golf in many countries has turned its back on over half of the population. Why hasn’t it made greater efforts to overcome barriers to women golfers, whether these relate to time, expense, difficulty – or their social preferences?

Because, in times of plenty, it didn’t have to? Or because it didn’t want to? Or even both?

Does golf want women?

Well, the pressures of modern living have changed the time and finance equations for ever. And there are many other leisure activities out there competing for our custom, even when economic activity picks up. We have to recruit women golfers, by addressing the REAL barriers.

Whether or not golf wants to encourage women to play golf is a moot point. There are still plenty of gender-based golf cases coming to court in the USA – and in Britain, the gender issue has become a ‘Cause celèbré’, given that  The R&A uses some Open championship venues which are men-only clubs.

Twin challenge

Perhaps Lord Brabazon was ahead of his time - his final words on the subject should be noted :

“Once you can get a lot of people then you are on the way to prosperity for your club. But if you look upon the whole thing as something which is only for men as it was twenty years ago, then your club is as good as dead".

So far as REAL golf  is concerned, the game does not quite seem to have grasped that it is in a battle for survival in many countries - not just a few. The challenge is two-fold : the game needs to know how to attract women golfers – and it has to show that it wants them.

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What they say
  • 72% of golfers in the USA now play less frequently - due to time constraints, money constraints or both. National Golf Foundation  September 2013
  • Fitness, Family, Fast and Fun Ron Sirak in Golf Digest January 2013
  • Two options : Change the game radically and grow, or remain a niche sport… Wall Street Journal February 2012 
  •  Only one of Jack’s twenty-two grandchildren plays golf… Golf World January 2012
  • Woman undercover Golf Digest  Peter Finch, March 2012 
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