So after hearing that golf has been voted the most boring sport on television, I found some serious research about barriers to participation. Two sets of focus groups were set out to uncover what women and juniors really think as these are the groups which have the most potential for growth in the game.
Women first. This is what they said.
Let’s put this in bold letters.
IT IS TOO MALE DOMINATED which can be INTIMIDATING and UNWELCOMING to women as men can resent their presence.
There is very little female golf on TV, so there is no reference, no one to look up to.
GOLF CLUBS ARE OFTEN ELITIST AND POMPOUS. I would certainly agree that there is a hierarchy of clubs – I was once given a list of the clubs which I was allowed to visit and the message was clear that they were for my sort of people and other clubs, which I was not allowed to visit were not for the likes of me. (Hence I sold my golf books, previous post. The wooden Rolls of Honour on club walls sometimes going back a couple of centuries might make the winners of club championships feel proud but they can make others feel oppressed. I would also add to this the uniforms – the ubiquitous club blazers which the wearer may feel is “smart” and may remind him of his happy days at public school, but these garments are seriously intimidating to look at. It is power dressing, meant to command authority but has the opposite effect of driving new people away.
YOU MUST BELONG TO A CLUB Now this is something which England Golf could be leading the way on – no club membership which can be traced then no Handicap Certificate. It’s a network which creates a closed shop to new people coming into the game.
COST AND COMMITMENT it is a huge investment of time and money to take up this Isport. One of the recommendations of the report was to make it easier for new golfers to rent clubs donated from old sets members no longer use when they trade up to new equipment. I am soon to buy some custom fitted clubs and have two old ladies sets which I would gladly pass on if it meant a new person would come into the game.
Here’s what some lapsed golfers said:
“What I didn’t like about it was the pretentiousness of it and the rules. I don’t like being told this is how you should behave”
“At my gym you have equal rights. It doesn’t give you the right to be rude to people”
“The members didn’t want new people. They thought it’s going to be busier. They’re going to take my tee time”.
And the Under 18 focus groups had equally interesting things to say:
“It’s a bit boring for young people. All the older men say “shush, be quiet” when you are on the course. But teenage girls aren’t quiet. They want to talk and laugh – it’s like a lot of people are saying they don’t want you there”.
“It’s all men and no women. If we could have someone to look up to then you would become interested”.
And this was the most damning:
“If I was going to take up golf I wouldn’t know where to start. Where to go, what to buy. I wouldn’t have a clue how to get into it”.
So the conclusions of these reports were that shorter courses, affordable rentals and affordable flexible club membership were factors which needed to be looked into but 8 out of the 12 factors were psychological. It was about being welcomed, feeling that people were friendly and accessible, that families were encouraged to play together, that juniors were not going to get a hard time and it was more female friendly. There was one interesting suggestion from the junior group – that there needs to be more on course refreshment facilities – every six holes would be a good idea.
So this gives a fairly accurate picture of peoples impressions – and misconceptions – about what golf is like. Mostly that it is a single sex sport.
It is painting a picture that people outside the sport think that it is a selfish person’s game, that you have to be the right sort to be a member and people can hurt you with their opinions. That isn’t for most of us, which is why they are staying away. It seems to me that it is not golf that is wrong, it is golf clubs and their members and management.
I am lucky. At my club the staff have been trained well to greet and make welcome, and it feels that way. But before I got there I interviewed another club which on the face of it seemed very promising only to find out that there were still playing restrictions for women on the weekends. So I walked away from them. This isn’t good enough in 2018.