I hear it again and again. I heard it from Annika Sorenstam when I asked her why so many women golfers were leaving the game. Her answer: "Time constraints."
I heard it from my friend, Diana. "I'd love to learn how to golf, but my son is into lacrosse. My daughter takes ice skating. I spend half my life in the car. No time."
The number of rounds is declining, especially in18-40 age group as young fathers are coaching baseball and soccer, and participating in family-shared activities like kayaking and hiking which, unlike golf, are growing in popularity.
An iffy economy is also putting a pinch on the golf picture. The bottom line: our great game of golf is not growing. Half the golfers played less than 10 rounds last year. There's a lot at stake. Golf is close to an $80 billion industry. That's bigger than the motion picture and video industry combined.
How can our game be jump-started?
Women. Women can save the day. Although we represent 51 percent of the population, we are just 20 percent of the golfers. It's going to take some re-education and some guts, but it can be done. And why not? When women get hooked on golf, they bring in their kids and friends. In other words, have the potential to grow the game.
This is the perfect time to rethink how our clubs can work better to bring in new golfers, in this case, women. We're not looking to take over our golf courses, just put us all on a level playing field where locker room sizes are the same; the percentage of merchandise in the pro shops is 50-50; the women's side of on-course bathrooms are for women only - no more raised toilet seats (men can still pee behind a tree); and women get their fair share of Saturday-morning tee times. Hey, we work too.
Before I get voted off the island, let me say, we have to earn these rights. Until there are enough women buyers why should our pros stock a bunch of stuff that will sit unsold and become last year's fashions. Until our numbers improve, club facilities will continue to be designed proportionally and golf leagues will be geared to those who turn out.
What keeps women from playing? Pretty simple: Lack of time, knowledge, opportunity and confidence. Teeing off between two groups of men can be like driving on the 16th hole during the FBR Open at the TPC Scottsdale while 35,000 fans cheer and boo.
When women learn all men don't shoot 78 (though they'll tell you that with a straight face) and often don't break 100; that breakfast balls and foot wedges are allowable, and that generally men are a lot of fun and easy to play with as long as you know how to keep moving, then the whole idea of golf may be much less intimidating. It helps too if you come with a relaxed attitude and know how to negotiate the betting game.
You know what may work at your club. Here are some ideas that have worked at others.
• Break away from stone-age traditions which typically give the golf course to the men on Saturday mornings and sometimes Sundays. Open up weekends for everyone.
• Saturdays reserve a couple of reasonable hours (perhaps 3-5 p.m.) for "Family & Beginners Golf Day."
• Ask your pros to come out on the course to encourage the players.
• Create some fun contests where emphasis is not on strokes. i.e. points for skills like hitting the fairway on the drive, getting to the green in 4 or less, getting out of the sand in one shot, playing a round with no whiffs etc. Make it fun, social.
• Encourage all ages and singles to join in the day.
• Mix up the golfers matching similar skills.
• Once a month won't cut it. To build excitement, run this program for a two-month period. Okay, on member-guest days, you can skip it.
• Supply a few sets of clubs from your rental pool for first-timers.
• Offer on-course sessions on etiquette.
• Encourage singles to come out offering evening or weekend singles tournaments.
• At first, don't even try to keep score. Instead keep track of points for special skills and watch your progress. (see above)
• Offer reduced rates for fewer-hole segments (six, nine or 12). Suzy Whaley, a top PGA teaching pro, says, "When we tap the women's market better than we have in the past, we will be growing the game from the grassroots level - from parents to children to their children. Think about it. Time constraints has always been a problem but golf doesn't have to be an 18 hole sport."
• At first, don't get mired down in the confusing web of rules. Just pick a few basics like lost ball, dropping out of hazards etc. and gradually learn the others as you go. Eventually you'll need to know the "rules" for tournaments and believe me, women take their rules seriously. But for other games, "Rules Nazis" should leave their R&A books at home. ("Golf Rules, Quick Reference" is a colorful, straight forward approach with tabs and water resistant pages.)
• Think of new ways to use your driving ranges, perhaps suggest a beginners' six "hole" tournament, hitting to flags with a short clinic. Sure some may scream when they find their range commandeered by newcomers, but think about using the twilight hours in the summer like 7-8:30 p.m. Only a few will be put out and they can always practice their putting.
Get out and play with people you enjoy. Chill out. Have fun. Laugh and pick up, keep up. And bet. If you can't have fun with this game we love, you should just quit.
Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers.
March 19, 2008
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!