2005: Recruiting women: A questionable strategy?

Orlando, Fla.

The speech has been made before, but it’s being delivered more emphatically: The golf industry needs to embrace women.

Spurred, in part, by the excitement created in recent years by Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie, the game’s leaders are urging a male-dominated, and sometime reluctant, industry to court women more aggressively.

That message was echoed repeatedly by a handful of golf’s most prominent executives: Tim Finchem, PGA Tour commissioner; Steve Lesnik, chief executive of KemperSports Management; Dana Garmany, chief executive of Troon Golf; Roger Warren, PGA of America president; and Fred Ridley, president of the U.S. Golf Association. The five men were featured panelists at the “Business of Golf Conference” that kicked off Day 1 of the 52nd annual PGA Merchandise Show Jan. 27-30.

“It will certainly stunt the growth of golf if we neglect 50 percent of the population in the United States,” Lesnik said.

The push to attract women – which also was championed at last fall’s Golf 20/20, an annual

industry-wide conference dedicated to growing the

game – is being fueled by the significant “upside” the demographic category possesses. Privately, however, many industry executives are questioning whether this strategy is the right course to pursue. The mounting backlash stems from market research indicating women’s playing frequency is far less than men and concerns about their frugal buying behavior.

Nevertheless, Warren and others lobbied that golf could not overlook women.

“In the resort area, we know that in many cases the woman in the family is many times making the decision as to where they are going to go . . . to play golf,” Warren said.

Added Lesnik: “I’ve already indicated what a strong promotional device I think the (PGA Tour) is for the golf industry, but the demographics of women on the spectator side of the business are improving every year. I think that lends a lot of hope for the future.”

To convert women spectators into women golfers, Lesnik and others urged the development of women-only beginners’ programs, women’s leagues and advertising aimed directly at women. Warren said this is essential because women “were the largest group coming in to play the game and also the fastest group leaving the game.”

Lesnik notes that while his courses have seen a gradual increase in the number of women playing golf over the past 25 years, such gains have been less noticeable recently.

“We have not seen a dramatic uptake in the participation of women over the last five years,” he said.

Especially in the future, participation increases may well be fueled by women. Garmany said participation of school-age girls in sports has grown tremendously in the past 20 years.

“I think today it’s 1 out of 3, and 20 years ago it was 1 out of 30,” Garmany said.

Such demographic changes require an ability to adapt to change and a willingness to try new approaches, he said.

– Gene Yasuda and Mike Mazur

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