A recent pet question of mine when talking to clubs, and those in them, is about equality in golf: How many female members do you have under 45?
The numbers can be negligible – and that worries me. I’ve been nursing a theory for some time that some clubs could be sleepwalking their way into a future membership crisis.
On the one hand, golf as an industry is preaching equality, diversity, and inclusion. But on the ground, that’s not always what I see.
Key Saturday tee times throughout the season are reserved for men’s competitions. Parts of Tuesdays, or Thursdays, are out of bounds for male members.
This traditional state of affairs no doubt suits the lifestyles and demographics of those who enjoy it – and it must be said that includes women just as much as it does men in my experience. But it’s not really fit, or acceptable, for the modern world.
If you’re a woman who works, when do you play? The midweek Ladies’ Day is out. Do you try and squeeze in on a Saturday? If your club’s competitions are popular, and restricted to men only, you might have to resign yourself to a late afternoon slot.
Alternatively, do you just accept on a weekend that you have to put all your eggs into one basket on a Sunday?
Are we really surprised that working women don’t find this a universally attractive proposition?
What is the incentive for them to join a club when half the weekend – the time when, just like men, they will most want to play – is not available to them?
The way society operates has changed, is changing as we speak, and will always change. Golf is going to have to change with it to prosper. Perhaps even to survive in some cases.
It can be done. One private members’ club which is embracing that change is Clitheroe.
Shortly before Christmas, the Lancashire club removed any restrictions to their members on gender grounds.
Competitions are open to all. Subscription fees are the same. A typical Ladies’ Day – even the terms ‘ladies’ and its counterpart ‘gentlemen’ grate – may remain, but nothing stops men taking up tee times. The same applies for women on a weekend.
“There were some traditional members who didn’t like the idea but, actually, it’s not really affecting them,” general manager Martin Robinson told NCG.
“It’s helping us get more women members. Now women members can play in weekend competitions there are quite a lot of working women starting to join, which is just another positive in breaking down the barriers of a traditional golf club.”
“It’s [about] accessibility to the course,” he added. “People that work Monday to Friday want to play at the weekend. Golf was traditionally a male game but everybody’s modernised, families are modernising, and everyone wants equal access.
“It’s benefited the club financially with new members looking to join. The feel I get is that it’s a lot more now like a social club, with a golf course, rather than the traditional formal golf club.
“They’ve broken down so many barriers [at Clitheroe] over the last couple of years – changing the governance and bringing in equality – that it just has a different feel to it. A nice feel and somewhere that you want to join.”
My view, and one I believe is shared by many in the governance of the game, is that the Equality Act doesn’t go far enough. Associations and clubs have been able to sidestep the spirit of the legislation.
Whether competitions are gender-specific or not, it is surely incredulous that in 2023 access to some tee times can still be restricted based on whether you’re a man or a woman.
Have Clitheroe, and other clubs like them, shown the way? Is It finally the moment. for all golf clubs to embrace true equality?
For me, it is just a matter of time before this happens anyway. I think we should cut to the chase now.
Has your club broken down the barriers when it comes to gender equality in golf? Tweet me and let me know.
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