Women, Where Are You?

U.S. Navy Admiral Craig Faller (back center) along with officers from Navy Recruiting District/Michigan, visits the MWGA Junior Girls Golf Mentor Day at Dearborn Hills Golf Club.

The golf landscape for those who play is changing………really?

‘Roughly 40% of all new players coming into the game are women’ is a quantifying phrase that has emanated from the spokespersons of several golf industry organizations for over 20 years.   Unfortunately, there is another statistic rarely discussed in the same breath:  only one in four of those new women stay with the game.  With over 50% of the population alienated by a sport to the verge of quitting at some point in their golf life, it is time to seriously examine why and to figure out how to solve the problem.

The PGA, the LPGA, the USGA, and probably every state golf association and women’s golf association in the country have been trying to figure out why women leave the game, but it can be a touchy subject, ripe for stereotyping.  The women will give reasons but no one listens, with programs and efforts creating a band-aid false fix rather than a full bore makeover.  Most men do not understand very much about women and how they play golf, so how then, can accessibility to the game and course design be addressed since these aspects of golf are still primarily a man’s domain?  In a recent discussion blog on Gear Effect Golf, a ‘Poll for Men: Women’s Distance Quiz’ was posed with two questions: 1) ‘How far do you think the average woman hits her driver, with roll?’ and 2) ‘How far do you think the average woman can carry a shot from a normal fairway lie?’. Of those who responded, no one answered both questions correctly.  And if men, who still are the majority of course architects, are designing courses based on presumptive information, is it any wonder that women have difficulty playing yardages that do not reflect playing ability?

On a positive note, the PGA of America has finally realized that cultivating women golfers should not be an afterthought, or an idea whose time has come for women’s golf organizations, the USGA, or the LPGA solely to ponder.  It is a vital part of the growth of golf across the board.  At the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show, the featured ‘Consumer Revolution in Golf’ panel discussion moderated by Former PGA Tour and WNBA Executive Donna Orender revealed some poignant numbers:   “Women spend about $4.6 billion, and they influence $15 billion dollars.”  And so, women might ask, ‘are you paying attention to me yet’?

Longtime golf legend Jack Nicklaus has also tossed his golf cap into the ‘accessible golf’ ring:  “We’ve lost 23 percent of the women in the game and 36 percent of the kids since 2006…..that’s not a good stat,” Nicklaus said during a Golf 2.0 panel to kick off the 59th annual summit aimed at 40,000 retailers, PGA professionals, and industry and consumer leaders in order to improve the economics of golf.

With a novel approach in Michigan, the U.S. Navy Recruiting District (NRD-MI/IN) has taken an interest in girls junior golf by supporting a nutrition and fitness aspect.  In the last four years three different NRD Commanding Officers realized that kids need to be more fit and that golf is a way to promote it.  The Michigan Women’s Golf Association (MWGA) welcomed U.S. Naval Recruiting Commander (East Region) Admiral Craig Faller to the final day’s Mentor Tournament where women mentors – including Detroit’s First Lady. Mrs. Yvette Bing – each joined a group of junior girls to ‘show them the ropes’ of fast play, etiquette, and rules.  Admiral Faller said, “This was one of the most important events I have attended in years;  to be able to get in front of these young girls and their parents with such a positive message is what we should be doing.”

Since women make over 80% of all buying decisions and have an opinion in nearly 100% of them, it would seem wise to seek their interest….and their opinions.

And so, this question was posed to golfers in Michigan, a state with about 850 public golf courses, the most in the U.S. “What could improve women’s participation in golf?”   Here are the answers so far:

NBC affiliate WDIV-Local 4 Detroit Meteorologist Paul Gross says, “The answer is a long term solution that is no different than with other hobbies.  You need to get them interested as young children.   However, golf is different……you can’t take your kids out without risking angry foursomes stacking up behind you muttering about slow play.   Then, there are very few true golf camps for kids.  Summer is a time for fun – but also a time for parents to scramble to find child care opportunities for their kids.  Give me a 9am to 4pm golf camp that provides pick up and drop off service and I’d jump at that opportunity for my kids.”

SOLUTION:  As a junior golfer, I recall my dad coaching us and letting countless groups play through all of us Parrott kids.  But then, we never played in prime time, nor did we hold anyone up.  It is good to have a ‘mentor’ in your group who knows the etiquette and can convey it.  As for the summer camps, golf facilities, are you listening?  A number of differently styled junior golf programs have sprouted up, including California based Total Golf Adventures and Midnight Golf in Michigan, with more on the horizon.

“When I was able to play golf, I was also working full time and could only play on weekends,” said Mary Anne Yemec, of Royal Oak.  “On weekends, the ‘GOLFERS’ take over and they sure do not want to put up with a novice.  There was always someone in the group who would get their nose out of joint because I was still learning.  I think I could have been pretty decent.  Instead, I concentrated on bowling.”

SOLUTION:   Veteran players need to remember when they were fledgling golfers.  We should help newer players and not add to their frustrations with verbal clucking.

Nancy Serra, past President of the Michigan Women’s Golf Association (MWGA) points out that, “women in general are extremely cost conscious.  Perhaps a day of the week dedicated to women golfers, with a discount price of course, would draw them out.  Bars do it:  Tuesdays!  Ladies Day!  Half price drinks!  Also, a Play with the Pro day would be good.   Maybe it is not so great for the pro…….but the ladies would continue participating.  Another good idea would be to have a frequent player club like ‘play ten 18- hole rounds and get one free’ or get something from the pro shop.  Then the gals would feel like they were earning something.”

SOLUTION:   20 women playing at a 20% discount are better than no women playing at full price – on an empty course.

From Colorado, Berith Jacobsen, CEO and ‘Chief Bag Lady’ of TEAM 2000, a sports bag/carry-all manufacturing company, is involved with the Executive Women’s Golf chapter in Denver and explains that “women do things in groups.  If you make it social and fun, and where they see improvement, you’ll get greater participation.”

She added, “Women are ‘hyper-taskers’ and are pulled in many different directions, so it needs to be a relaxing and supportive environment for them to excel.  We have had stand up comedians who know golf give rules seminars and discuss things like ‘putting a Dolly Parton: use the whole cup’, or hitting a worm burner, or catching the jet stream……”

SOLUTION:  Stop taking golf too seriously.  Let’s take a hint from our friends at NASCAR.  Now that is marketing at its best.

A number of folks, including insurance agent Bruce Weisberg from Farmington Hills, MI and retired Ann Arbor research scientist and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member Sara Wold, thought that women really need to focus on taking lessons and getting properly fitted equipment.  However, getting women to do that can be a tough task.

“I know about 5 or 6 women for whom I secured lessons from a top pro at a reduced rate.  Did they do it?   Nooope – they’d rather flounder,” said Weisberg.

SOLUTION:  Bruce is right:  many women are embarrassed to take lessons because they don’t know how to play and don’t want to look bad in front of the pro.  It’s a tough one to figure one out.  Get over it, please.  In recent years, Golf Demo Days have become very popular and are a great way for golfers – especially women – to try new equipment in a no-pressure environment.  Golf facilities, practice ranges, and golf stores routinely schedule these mini-expos to help golfers sort through the maze of equipment available today.  About three years ago, Terri Ann Anthony-Ryan, Director of Golf for the city of Southfield, Michigan and one of few women PGA Professionals, held a Demo Day at Beech Woods Golf Club where TaylorMade, Cleveland, Cobra, Adams Golf, Callaway, and other golf companies brought the latest and greatest in club technology.  Taking my nephew, Joel, a former collegiate basketball player, who is new to the game, Cobra’s pro, Jim Norgart had Joel swinging like a top golfer within half an hour.  TaylorMade’s rep, Brian Coffman, dealt with another issue:  Joel’s extreme height.  He customized demo clubs with a stiff, 4-degree upright shaft – on the spot –  to accommodate Joel’s 6’7″ frame.  All of the reps were helpful towards women as well, encouraging them to try a number of styles and types of clubs, and not simply what they perceived as ‘ladies clubs’, a term that is quite outdated in this era of golf club technology.

2004 MI PGA Player of the Year Bob Ackerman, from West Bloomfield MI, is an avid promoter of the game and had many great suggestions for women, which could also apply to all golfers:

“Let me emphasize that first, golf is a walking game.  Women are drawn toward health and fitness and should know that walking is the number ONE way to improve your health;  2) golf, unlike many sports, can be played for life;  3) golf is a great social game which can be played as a couple, or any partner if you have no significant other, then end up with another social event –  dinner;  4) golf is a great way to meet new people….. don’t tell anyone, but we played as 5-somes in Chicago.  No one was left out, we walked, and we STILL played in 4 hours;  5) the game is great for those who enjoy challenges and there is always room for improvement.”

Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Parker, of Detroit, gets it:  “Golf is such a fabulous game.  GOLF used to stand for Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden;  but if a woman meets a man who plays golf, they can spend vacations on some of the most beautiful, manicured properties in the world……elite courses, spa packages, 5-star dinners, views of mountains overlooking cities in lights at night.   There is now such beautiful clothing coming out for women – my golf clothes are nicer than my work clothes.   The game lets you out of your daily routine – you can bond with your man or go out with the girls and get some fresh air.”  Now, there are many Singles organizations where golfers who are looking for companionship – and partners – can play the game together.

Assorted comments, summed up from numerous sources: “Golf takes too danged long to play!  I can’t take that kind of time out, away from my family.  Can’t take the kids either….the regular golfers would run us over….and then, talk about taking forever!”…”Golf is too expensive!!”

SOLUTION: Develop shortened rounds where courses can be routed 6-6-6 with the last hole of each grouping near the clubhouse.  Provide family times in the afternoon, prior to Twilight play or on weekend afternoons when most courses are deserted anyway.  Jack Nicklaus is a proponent of the 12-hole design.  Yes, traditionalists will be shaking their heads, but in the olden days, leisure time did not exist as it does today and families are being pulled in many directions.  Golf is simply one choice to ponder, albeit a time-consuming one.

And finally, there was this comment from someone who will remain nameless:

“I hate playing golf with women and usually avoid it at all costs.  The vast majority of them are boring, slow – regardless of handicap.  They won’t gamble, don’t know the rules, and abuse the course.  I have no idea what to suggest in order to change that but good luck!”

You may not agree with these last observations but it doesn’t mean they’re not valid.  And lest you blame these opinions on a chauvinistic man, think again.   This was from a woman.

Watch for Part 2 of this article which will be posted on Friday, March 23: ‘Golf Fixes from the Queen

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