2005: End the debate, make it happen

Since the 1990s, golf industry research has indicated that reaching out to bring women into the sport is one of the best opportunities for increasing business and growing the game.

Consultants have been engaged and reports have been prepared, confirming what the research has shown. Books and articles have been written advising how to engage and attract this market. Panels have been formed where golf course owners and golf professionals and retailers testify to how their bottom line has been positively affected when they focused on the women’s market.

Organizations such as the Executive Women’s Golf Association have formed and shown dramatic growth. Programs like Link Up 2 Golf have been created. Initiatives such as American Golf’s Women in Golf Day, Nike Golf Learning Centers and the recent Golf 20/20 Women’s Golf Week have been created. All of these efforts confirm without a doubt that women are interested in golf and will spend money on the game.

So why are we continuing to debate whether the women’s market is worth pursuing as a viable option for growing the game and the business of golf? Why are we asking questions such as, “Is it really worth it to spend time and money on this market, and can we really move the needle in this market?” Why do we need more data, more proof, more examples that women are a great growth opportunity in our business?

As a female who has loved sports and participated in them since childhood, including playing golf since age 8, I learned long ago that asking the “Why?” question and expecting a logical answer is an exercise in futility.

Sports in general, and golf in particular, historically have been a man’s world, and to a large degree they still are. Only during the past 30 to 40 years has there been the beginning of a shift in the culture that makes participating in sports not only fun but acceptable for girls and women. Cultural shifts are complex and take time.

A wise counselor once told me that if I tried to explain something three times in three different ways and the other person still did not understand, then it was not that they did not understand, it was that they did not agree.

Isn’t that what we are facing in golf? Does the industry really need more proof or more explanations that the women’s market is worth pursuing, or are there some who are just not sure that they really want all those women in the game? Are we not sure how to deal with the women’s market, or do we have some underlying concern that the game we love will forever be changed in ways that we don’t understand or do not want to see?

The golf industry, for the most part, still has not presented a product that is attractive to women. The entire golf industry model – everything from merchandising to equipment to course layouts to education – has been designed for men. Most efforts to bring women into the game have been superficial, usually focused on changing only the marketing, occasionally on changing the packaging and almost never on changing the product.

For example, “women’s equipment” still is appropriate only for women of certain abilities, and with few exceptions there aren’t as many choices available as there are in men’s clubs (senior flex, regular flex, firm flex, etc.). Even when there are choices available, retailers don’t carry them. Retailers often spend zero time with women selling them clubs because they don’t think they will spend money and, not surprisingly, that’s exactly what happens.

For women, this is sometimes discouraging, often frustrating, and on occasion, downright infuriating. Yet we persist. This cultural shift has started and is not going to stop, no matter what obstacles the naysayers present. Women have learned how much fun golf can be, they have seen how important it is in business, and they know it is a game that they can enjoy for life with family and friends.

The leaders of the key golf associations, such as the PGA of America, the National Golf Course Owners Association, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the PGA Tour realize the importance of the women’s market to their members and to the success of their organizations. The PGA of America has been a strong supporter of the EWGA since its inception and took a lead role in promoting Women’s Golf Week in 2005.

The NGCOA and the GCSAA are including sessions in their annual meetings on attracting the women’s market as well as on attracting more women into careers in the golf industry.

While the shift may not be dramatic, the environment for women in golf is changing.

I think any woman who plays will attest to that fact. And she also will say there still is a long way to go before women truly feel welcome in this sport. As they do, their numbers will increase and the business they bring to the industry will, too.

As for the EWGA, we will continue as we have for the past 15 years to promote the growth of women’s golf and to provide opportunities for women to learn, play and enjoy the game for business and for life in a welcoming, inclusive environment.

For those courses, golf professionals, equipment manufacturers, retailers or other members of the golf industry who want to learn more about how to grow their businesses by marketing to women, we stand ready to share what we know about the women’s market.

Bringing more women to the game is not about displacing or replacing the business that is already there. It is about adding 5 percent, 10 percent or 20 percent to the bottom line by reaching out to a new market that is eager for golf’s cultural shift to finally take place.

Ready or not, “shift” happens, and it is happening in golf. Let’s stop debating and start taking advantage of this great opportunity to grow the game.

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