I have always loved Turnberry. Having played these Elysian Fields since the days when dinosaurs walked the earth and my green fee as a member’s guest was six shillings and eight pence (one third of a pound in old money), I have been drawn back time and again by the challenge of the course and the majesty of its setting.
This time, however, I was visiting not to play but to watch the fabulously gifted women professionals compete in the Ricoh British Open and specifically to support the launch of Sports Publications’ campaign, This Girl Golfs, aimed at inspiring more girls and women to give golf a go.
Supported by England Golf, the Scottish Golf Union and the PGA, the campaign is spearheaded by a video showing examples of the wide range of opportunities for diverse groups and ages, from girls to mature women, who, new to golf who have found, to their surprise, that golf, too often perceived as a man’s game only, can be absorbing, empowering and, most of all, fun!
At the Turnberry launch, Eve Burton, lifestyle editor of Lady Golfer, highlighted specific cases illustrating the satisfaction and companionship found by “working women who find time to play golf”, ”mums who give golf a go” and “girls who just want to have fun” and listing some of the many proven benefits of the game such as living longer, improving mental wellbeing and social life, getting the weekly recommended 150 minutes of exercise, enjoying the countryside and protecting against osteoporosis and heart disease.
She then handed over to David Joy, CEO of England Golf, who pulled no punches about how golf would decline if individuals and clubs did not work to grow the game where participation was weakest. The statistics are damning; with only 12% female participation and where 50% of golfers’ sons play the game, as against only 12% of daughters, this is the area of the greatest potential growth, and also the area where the game was most criticised for a perceived prejudice against women.
"David Joy, CEO of Golf England, pulled no punches about how golf would decline if individuals and clubs did not work to grow the game"
More positively, he listed a number of the many initiatives England Golf are taking to bring the game to a wider public, such as accrediting golf ranges and par three courses, thus bringing them into the England Golf family and, because they are perceived as more accessible and less formal than members clubs, introducing a new type of member to golf, who, when more accomplished, may want to try 18-hole golf as a member of an established club.
However, this is not simply using these facilities as feeders, there are now a number of very successful girls’ and ladies’ groups who find the par three courses attached to such golf centres as ideal for fun golf which doesn’t take much time.
England Golf is also promoting these less formal structures into established members’ clubs, encouraging even further forward tees and 9-hole competitions for those members who cannot devote four or five hours to the game.
I found David’s approach, and his obvious enthusiasm, encouraging, even if I have some scepticism about how much change might be embraced by the naturally cautious more mature lady members.
Later I talked to Lydia Ko and Michelle Wie, asking them what they thought might be the single most important factor in encouraging girls to get into golf.
Lydia, given her background, perhaps understandably opted for improved coaching programmes, citing the excellence of the girls’ programmes in New Zealand.
Michelle thought that the answer might lie in more television coverage of women’s golf.
Both, I thought were good points. It is no co-incidence that, with their dedicated teaching programmes, the Koreans dominate women’s professional golf, and the recent amazing take up of women’s amateur football following the world cup speaks volumes for the effect of television exposure.
However, at lunch, Alison Nicholas with her years of experience of grass-roots golf, came closest to a definitive answer when she said that not only do clubs have to provide user-friendly courses and facilities and a friendly ambience for young people venturing into the game; when reaching out, (for example, into the schools), they have to recognise that girls in particular have to be recruited in groups, as girls, (far more than boys), value the social group and rather than follow individual striving, want to have fun together.
Highly focussed individuals, setting themselves goals and striving for perfection like Charley Hull are the exception.
Girls are no different from boys in that they get more pleasure from doing something well, but they do need the encouragement of their friends and clubs need to factor in the requirement of a strong social base in order to make golf more attractive to girls and women.
Golf, despite the social pleasure it provides and the facility, thanks to the handicapping system, to erase differences in age, ability or gender, is essentially a selfish game, and consequently we golfers tend to concentrate on our own needs.
However, no man is an island and if we want golf to have a healthy future, we as club members, need to acknowledge that change is needed and must be embraced.
England Golf are clearly taking this initiative and this message into the clubs, as, hopefully, will the Scottish Golf Union, but every club member needs to open his or her mind to change.
Visiting http://thisgirlgolfs.nationalclubgolfer.com is a good start; it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking video. Enjoy.