The sport has made a grave error in not taking its chance to break down barriers, industry expert Phil Grice has told Steve Carroll in a hard-hitting interview

The failure to remove gender-based tees at clubs has been a “hideous mistake”, according to a leading golf consultant.

Phil Grice, the founder of Golf Transition Management and a former director at Royal Norwich, told NCG’s From the Clubhouse podcast that keeping traditional white, yellow, and red markers in place was a missed opportunity.

Speaking about the impact of the World Handicap System, and a move from some clubs towards mixed competitions, Grice said: “I won’t point a finger at any of the [governing] bodies but what an opportunity has been missed to remove red, yellow, and white [tees]. What a hideous mistake has been made.”

He added: “You’re not telling me a 23-handicap man is better than a three-handicap woman? So why do you get to play off bigger tees and further back? Why do I doff my cap to you?”

There are a small number of clubs in the UK who have abandoned their use of traditional men’s and women’s markers, replacing them with neutral colours that encourage any player to use those most suited to their choice or ability. That’s allowed golfers – regardless of gender – to play together rather than separately.

But looking at the wider picture, Grice said: “Golf courses should be played from any length. I know there’s tradition – and maybe bodies didn’t feel it was their place to tell clubs – but allowing you to play off the course that you want, allowing you to play in competitions with each other, it’s such a unique opportunity.

“Apart from possibly darts, and maybe snooker, what other sport do you have a level playing field for men, women, and juniors? What a phenomenal opportunity has been missed for us to open up.”

When asked why it was a mistake, and what should have happened, Grice explained: “It was such a step change. In removing the traditional red, yellow, and whites, then you move away from the stigma that women are at the front.”

He added: “From an equalities point of view, creating a level playing field in golf would have been fantastic. You can see at the top end [of the game], they are trying to do that on the tours. They are trying to bring women and men together.

“It was such a brilliant opportunity for us to take not one just step but two and maybe three steps forward and encourage clubs openly.

“There is 10 per cent of clubs that have done it on their own and said, ‘We’re doing away with the colours and if somebody wants to play off a 6,000-yard course, a 6,500-, or a 5,200-yard course that’s their option.’ They’ve done away with the stigma around the tees.”

He continued: “I know Martin [Slumbers] and the guys at the R&A are really doing a brilliant job trying to drive women’s participation.

“I just think it’s all about the family. It’s not about women. It’s not about men. It’s about absolutely everybody. I just love the concept of having a club where the barriers are virtually gone.

“That doesn’t mean you don’t have men’s competitions. It doesn’t mean you don’t have women’s competitions. But I would have 80 per cent of the club as an open forum and all of that old tradition and that stuff is gone. It doesn’t mean you destroy your heritage, but the future is in front of us. Everything else is in the rear-view mirror.”

More on the From the Clubhouse podcast

As well as discussing clubs missing a trick by not freeing golf from gender-based tees, Phil Grice has his say on plenty of the sport’s biggest talking points. Do we play too many competitions at our clubs? Is fair use really fair?

We also covered points memberships and how golf is shaping up as we come out of the pandemic in a lively 40-minute chat, which you can listen to in the player below or on your preferred podcast platform.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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