When discussing the future of golf, enticing more women to play is often brought up as a means to increase the total number of participants in the game. Seldom, however, do we discuss the idea that if we’re going to increase the number of women playing golf, it would be helpful to have more women working inside the golf industry.
Consider, for example, PGA teaching professionals. Golf instructors hold one of, if not the most public-facing roles in golf but comparatively few women fill these positions that are essential to the growth of the game.
Consider that less than 1,000 of the PGA of America’s 29,000 members are women. At the end of 2015, the LPGA Teaching and Club Pros program had only 1,700 members total, some of whom are dual members of the PGA and LPGA. The membership data suggests that women make up less than 5% of those teaching the game. And since most golf courses and clubs require that a Pro be certified by the PGA of America, it also means that there are considerably fewer women in Director of Golf and other senior golf management positions.
Now, I know some of you are going to chime in by saying, “Well, maybe women don’t want to work in the industry. And if they wanted to work in golf, they would do it.” This is the go-to excuse for any industry where few women work.
Let’s talk about Title IX for a hot second. Title IX was a critical piece of legislation that gave women and girls an equal opportunity to play sports in schools. Pre Title-IX, only 1 in 28 girls participated in sports. Post Title IX, 2 out of 5 girls play sports. This highlights the fact that opportunity and accessibility are critically important to growing participation. It wasn’t that girls didn’t want to play sports; they simply didn’t have programs in their schools that encouraged or gave them the opportunity to play.
The same is almost certainly true for industries like golf that have traditionally done a poor job of recruiting women – whether it’s as teaching professionals, golf club designers, club fitters, media personalities (outside of those used primarily as eye candy), or in golf tech. Is it that women aren’t interested in golf, or is the issue that golf has shown very little interest in women?
So what happens when a sport that is dominated by men struggles to connect with women? That sport grows stagnate, and efforts to attract women in any significant numbers will fail. Only about 20% of women have shown any interest in golf. That’s a liability. As an older, predominantly male demographic slowly ages out of the game, one would think the industry would be scrambling to do everything it can to improve diversity inside the industry to make the game more appealing to women on the outside.
Study after study shows that diverse companies produce 19 percent more revenue. Why should it be any different for companies in the golf space? It’s also true that companies where women worked in top management generated more profit. This doesn’t mean that companies need a female CEO, but increasing the percentage of women in senior positions from 0 to 30 percent correlated with a 15 percent jump in profits.
Golf’s growth problem isn’t isolated to the lack of women who play: it’s the lack of women across the entire golf industry. And if anything, the golf industry should be incredibly grateful to the few women who work in golf and who work tirelessly to grow the game among women. If it wasn’t for businesses like Women on Course, Grueter Golf, Black Girls Golf, the LPGA Amateurs Golf Association, Golf4Her, Latina Golfers Association, High Heel Golfer, Women’s Golf Day, Street Swings, and many others, it’s likely that female participation rate would be lower than it is now.
In my experience, men in golf are often incredibly dismissive of women and lazy in how they engage with my demographic. If efforts to engage with women don’t pay immediate dividends, the response is often, “See? Women aren’t interested in golf! This is a waste of time.” The fact of the matter is that women are interested, but as with any new customer, attracting their business may require a fundamentally different approach; a change in the status quo, if you will.
So if you’re struggling to bring more women to your course, and with the acknowledgment that most golf courses don’t have a female teaching professional or Director of Golf at hand, here’s what I suggest. Reach out to any of the companies listed above (and below) and ask them to consult with your club or course. Engaging with successful women owned and operated golf businesses can help you better understand the female demographic in terms of what they want, like, and need, and ultimately how you can provide it.
Until more women make up the golf industry as a whole, female participation will not grow. So in the meantime, take advantage of the dirty groundwork these women have been doing for you, and get more women on the course.