R&A again late to the game on women’s participation

SINGAPORE - MARCH 02: Minjee Lee of Australia plays her second shot on the eighth hole during round two of the HSBC Women's World Championship at Sentosa Golf Club on March 2, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images) Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

R&A again late to the game on women’s participation

Euro Tour

R&A again late to the game on women’s participation

Golf prides itself on being reactive rather than proactive. Distance wasn’t a problem between 2003 and 2016, but last year we “crossed a line in the sand.”

The R&A was blasé about female participation for centuries. Suddenly the governing body has realized there’s a dearth of women taking to the links.

Who knows, maybe they’ll soon admit golf needs a shot clock to speed up play.

The governing body released a report last week claiming golf can grow if more women, girls and families get involved in the game. An R&A commissioned report by the International Institute for Golf Education at University Centre Myerscough highlighted a number of factors to help women, girls and families to get into golf.

Among the recommendations from Dr. John Fry and Philip Hall, who produced the report:

  • The importance of optimum environments for family participation
  • Equality and women in influential decision-making positions
  • Parents are chief influencers in getting children to play
  • Clubs must provide opportunities for socializing and be adaptable and flexible
  • Golf has to meet the demands of contemporary society

“The research demonstrates there is a tremendous opportunity for golf to grow its participation numbers and generate more income if it can attract more women, girls and families into playing the sport,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said. “We know that more work needs to be done to achieve this outcome at a time when there are concerns about declining participation levels, and this report provides useful actions and guidance for our affiliates and clubs that can lead to tangible, positive outcomes for golf.”

I don’t know how much the R&A paid for this research, but the governing body could have saved itself some money simply by visiting a few golf clubs around Scotland. Slumbers could have started with the Royal & Ancient clubhouse. He wouldn’t have had to travel far: Slumbers’ office is on the top floor. Then he could have headed to a couple of British Open venues.

Scotland has one of the lowest ratios of female to male golfers in Europe. According to research by KPMG last year, Scottish women accounted for just 12 percent of the 192,533 golfers registered with Scottish golf clubs in 2016. Only three European countries – Albania, Ukraine and Macedonia – have lower ratios. The Scottish figure compares to 45 percent for Slovakia, 35 percent for Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein, 34 percent in Switzerland, 32 percent in the Netherlands and 31 percent in Belgium. Sweden and Spain came in with 26 percent, and France 25 percent.

It’s an appalling statistic for the country that invented the game, but it didn’t materialize out of thin air. The figure has remained stagnant for years. Only 12 percent of Scottish golfers were female when Slumbers’ predecessor, Peter Dawson, had the onerous task of defending staging the 2013 British Open at Muirfield, the home course of the then all-male Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

It took two votes for the Muirfield men to finally allow women members after 273 years of misogyny. Royal Troon also has voted to allow women. At the moment, no women have joined either club. The Royal & Ancient, the members club affiliated to the R&A, only admitted women in 2015 after 260 years.

Is it any wonder Scotland has such a low ratio of women to men when its leading clubs were staunch bastions of male chauvinism for so long? As for optimum environments to welcome women, girls and families, none of the above clubs fit that bill. The Royal & Ancient clubhouse may be an iconic building behind the Old Course’s first tee, but this imposing structure hardly screams family friendly. Remember, the Royal & Ancient, of which Slumbers is secretary, has no junior members. Neither does the Honourable Company.

We have to cut Slumbers some slack. He only took up his post in 2015. Systematic chauvinism had been in place since the game was invented.

Slumbers has displayed a new, welcome attitude to help promote women’s golf. He was quick to knock Muirfield off the British Open rota when the club voted against women members, and just as quick to reinstate it when the club saw sense with a second, positive vote.

Slumbers recently helped institute two new tournaments for women, the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific and the Girls Under-16s Open Championship. The R&A also recently offered €2 million in financial help to the beleaguered Ladies European Tour.

Hopefully Slumbers likes taking on thankless tasks, because it’s going to take more than recommendations to reverse 250 years of chauvinism. Gwk

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