The latest meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Golf Group took place on April 3rd and hosted an excellent panel discussion on the work being done to encourage more women and girls into golf. We heard from four speakers Jackie Davidson, the R&A’s Associate Director of Development, Lauren Spray, Women and Girls Manager at England Golf, Simon Elson from Sygenta, who carried out the 2012 research commissioned by the R&A into participation and Maria Stokes, Professor of musculoskeletal rehabilitation at the University of Southampton. The discussion focussed on how to foster a more inclusive culture in golf.
Jackie Davidson stated that women’s participation in the UK was now at only 16%, the lowest in Europe. In Germany, Austria and the Netherlands the figure was 30%. There was now an average of two girls per club. The R&A in its global role were looking at the situation in Australia where female participation has dropped from 34% to 20% and how this can be redressed. In Denmark clubs were being challenged with retaining female members. In other sports rugby was at 25% female participation in the UK.
Lauren Spray said that womens golf provided a huge potential revenue stream and they were supporting clubs with best practice. Last year 1600 girls took part in taster sessions in 22 counties providing a positive first experience. Barriers are that sometimes girls feel embarrassed to admit to their peers that they play golf, feeling comfortable in their bodies and the cost of equipment. Mentors, role models and deliberately marketing to females were important. Encouraging clubs to actively invite women in as quite a few had done around the time of International Womens Day.
She said that the offer isn’t right at club level. The environment isn’t necessarily inviting. It needs to be more like a coffee shop environment where anyone can just walk through the door without being challenged or being made to “account for themselves” why they are there which can be intimidating. Women often feel that they are not valued as a customer. The industry is competing for peoples’ leisure time and the offer needs to begin with a relaxed environment, a comfortable meeting place with an open door. The positive offer that golf has is that players of all ages and abilities can play together due to the handicap system. But the delivery needs to change with much more emphasis on health and fitness and social.
In a country a culture of diversity is translated into sport and Jackie Davidson said that people in the golf industry need to begin the uncomfortable process of “looking under the rocks” at attitudes which are holding women back from taking up the sport. There is a recurring theme that image was a barrier and this was at the root of the problem. As a culture inequality needs to be tackled because this would filter into sport. It had been proved that company boards which are diverse are more successful. In Norway 42% of board members are women and 34% in Germany. The current image of golf in the UK is male dominated, elitist, older and expensive. It needs to be accessible, social, open and family friendly.
Public perception needs to change about the sport that it should be available to all genders, socio-economic groups and to people with disabilities. Part of the problem the R&A recognises is the revenue model that club golf is based on. Clubs are nervous of change in case it makes them lose existing members who financially support the cost of running two huge capital assets – the course and the clubhouse. Volunteer committees, which can be transient often changing every two years, are often not diverse and not attracting people with the right skills. We need to also be brave and look at some of the attitudes which repel women and the huge potential income that they could bring in and work out what culture can be sustainable.
The R&A’s Women and Golf Charter which was launched in May 2018 has been useful as a call to action to keep the golf industry focussed on the problem of bringing in and retaining women and girls into the sport. To date 107 organisations had pledged their support and it helps to define what actions can be taken to accelerate change and inclusivity. The host club of the mixed Ayla Jordan Open has become the first club in the Middle East to pledge support as has Oman Golf.
Special mention was made of the work of Alastair Spink, who was present at the meeting see this below
His scheme is being rolled out to Sweden, Spain and Canada.
Mike Round, Chief Executive of the Golf Foundation was also present and spoke about their initiatives to being more girls into the game. They have a special format – Tri Golf- to be used with school children with safe, fun inclusive teams and girls making up 50% of the participants. The focus is on learning and life skills such as integrity and honesty. There are three levels – start, learn and stay – with the focus of retaining the youngsters within the sport. The Golf Sixes initiative had been successful with a league of five a side mixed teams which brought in 2,000 children in 100 leagues across the country, The Youth Sport Trust had also had good success bringing golf into the school games.
There was talk about how other formats such as Top Golf were successful at bringing young men and women into play golf because they provide a social, fun experience. A lady representative from the British Greenkeepers Association raised how women could work in the non -playing side of the golf industry. In particular STEM science and technology students had training and skills which would be valuable. Women could also do greenkeeping work if they overcame the nearly all male culture.
It is clear that some fundamental, cultural change needs to be fostered.A lot of clubs are still not welcoming or open, holding on to many out dated rules, scared of upsetting their existing membership market. Social media is, however, changing the landscape and this may be a big way forward in making golf seem more relatable.