Shona Malcolm, Ladies’ Golf Union CEO
Shona Malcolm, Ladies’ Golf Union CEO, spoke with Golfweek’s Alex Miceli during the recent Ricoh Women’s British Open, which returned to the Old Course at St. Andrews:
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How comfortable are you with the growth of this event?
I think the event has really grown quite dramatically since it was first held here in 2007. In the last seven years, it’s really gone to the next level, and I think that’s for a number of reasons. I think we’re going to the best available courses, and I think that’s important for the ladies’ game. I think we need to be showcasing these stars of the ladies’ game at the toughest courses that we can take them to.
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Was it hard to get venues like the Old Course and Turnberry (site of the 2015 Women’s British Open) to be receptive to the women’s game?
The venues have always been receptive actually when we’ve approached them. I think what we’ve done is taken it more around the country, sort of various parts of England and various parts of Scotland, and since we started using Scotland, we went to Carnoustie; we’re here; we go to Turnberry. You really just need to knock on the door of these top venues.
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What is the next level for this event?
One of the biggest issues facing women’s golf is sponsorship, prize fund. When you compare our prize fund with the men’s game, there’s really no comparison. And I think the real challenge for us, for everybody in the ladies’ game, is really to start pushing prize fund and trying to bridge that gap between the men’s game and ours. It’s going to be a long, long haul, but that’s the ultimate goal really is to grow everything that we’re doing here.
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In the United States we have this perception that this single-sex club issue is a big one. Is it to the LGU?
It’s not as big a deal as everybody makes it out. I think from my point of view, it’s been blown out of proportion a little bit. There’s much bigger issues facing the ladies’ game I think than single-gender clubs. It’s a bit of a red herring. Having said that, it’s a bit of an anachronism in this day and age that are not open to both, but I’m sure that’ll change in time, and in my view you leave that to the clubs themselves to decide when the time is right for them. But the bigger issues facing the ladies’ game: falling participation, lack of media coverage. If I had all the column inches covering women’s golf that we had covering single-gender clubs, I would be very, very happy, but we can’t get that. We need to keep pushing that and be a bit more aggressive in engaging with the media and actually getting the game known out there.
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What interaction do you have with the R&A or its chief executive, Peter Dawson?
We interact with the R&A regularly. We have a very good relationship with them. I’ll probably meet with Peter formally a couple of times a year, but we bump into each other and have the odd conversation other than that. The R&A are great supporters of women’s golf. They support us when we’re running Curtis Cup, nationally support us, but they also support us in all sorts of other ways, as well. If we need help in any way, we just need to lift the phone and we know we’re going to be listened to and looked after.
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Do you think people were losing the idea that we needed to grow the game and kind of got – not purposefully but inherently – got put on the back burner in some way?
I think we probably got a bit complacent because we’ve had golf for so long, in the States, as well, and GB& I. Our numbers have depleted in terms of golf club membership. They were at 210,000 in 2004‑2005, and now we’re going to 177,000 in that short space of time. It’s almost a 20 percent drop in a period of four or five years. So we really need to accept that that’s what’s happening but understand the reasons for it. One of the reasons is demographics, I suppose. Whereas ladies used to go and play golf during the day, their husbands were out working, they were at home, the kids were at school and they had time to play golf, that’s not happening now because the younger ladies are all working in professions and things, so we don’t have that same attachment. That’s one of the things that’s impacted in the numbers game. The other thing is that ladies are getting older, so they’re maybe not playing as much as they were, giving up their memberships. The Equality Act (2010 anti-discrimination legislation in the U.K.) I think had a bit of an impact in that ladies used to play two-thirds of the subs as an example, and have restricted playing rights. They were being asked to pay full subs and didn’t really see a major benefit. That caused a bit of a dropoff. An unforeseen consequence I think of the Equality Act but one that’s live, but all these things have impacted participation, and I think now is the time to just sit back and actually – people talk about growing the game. For me it’s more about stopping the hemorrhaging, and actually if we can even maintain the levels that we’re at, I think that would be an achievement in itself.