Industry expert Nicole Wheatley says providing childcare for working women would be a massive step forward in increasing participation. Steve Carroll sat down with her
What is the key to unlocking more participation in golf from working women? Is it equal access to tee times? The end of single gender competitions?
For industry expert and passionate women’s golf advocate Nicole Wheatley, the number one priority is much clearer: childcare.
Nicole, the CEO of golf marketing agency Medi8, believes the future of clubs will depend on them offering facilities that allow parents to get out onto the course.
She wrote the ground-breaking documentary Breaking With Tradition, which explores the relationship between women and golf and has recently had an acclaimed run on Sky Sports Golf.
While the number of women and girls playing golf is increasing, thanks in part to the Covid pandemic, recent figures from Hillier Hopkins showed that clubs across the UK are still concerned about the average age of their members.
Nearly two thirds were over 50, with a third over 61, and only a quarter were female. With women still struggling for prime weekend tee times at some clubs during the competition season, there are increasing questions as to how clubs are catering for those who work, or have children, but still want to play the game.
Nicole said the provision of childcare could make a huge difference. “Personally, I find it very hard to make time to play golf,” she explained. “I have a seven-year-old daughter, my other half is currently working in Sheffield, and it’s my time that is hard to find.
“But I’ve always had this idea that if I could find a golf club that had a creche, or childcare facilities, I would ‘give you my child’. And if you sold really good cocktails, I would bring my friends with me.
“That’s the future of golf clubs. Childcare is the thing that makes a difference. I can free up time to go and play golf but I need somebody to look after my child. By doing that, you’re also clearly introducing children into a golf club environment earlier.
“They might not necessarily learn to play until they’re a little bit older, but it becomes a normal thing to go and do.
“That’s where golf really struggles. It’s not even in the top 10 things my friends want to try. They want to try yoga, or pilates, tennis – all these other sports and activities and golf isn’t on that list.
“That’s because we don’t give them – working women in particular – the facilities they need to be able to free up the time to go and play the sport.
“And a major thing is childcare. I can’t turn around to grandparents and say, ‘Can you look after my child for four hours while I go and play golf?’ But if I could book my child into childcare somewhere for two hours, even after school in the summer, we could go to the golf club. She’s with her friends and I play nine holes.
“I do think golf clubs have to start thinking about how they can cater for that. It’s another income stream too. I don’t expect it to be free, and I think it’s a winner on so many levels.
“Going to a golf club has to be a normal thing to do and if we can establish that with children from a really young age then they are going to want to learn to play golf: because it’s what their mum does. It’s what their dad does.
“Giving working women with children access to childcare would be a massive step forward.”
Breaking With Tradition, which can also be watched on YouTube, considers how the golf industry, governing bodies, golf clubs, and golfers themselves are shaping the future of the sport for women.
It also looks back at the hidden history of golf and the barriers that women and girls have always had to battle against to be heard – a fight that has still not been completely won.
Nicole added, though, that women’s golf has reached a “really interesting point”, spurred by the development of initiatives like Women’s Golf Day, and she thinks clubs will have to take note.
“I’ve worked in golf for 20 years and the change I’ve seen in that time is astronomical. It’s so different in many ways,” she said.
“From a golf club perspective, you’ve got to adapt or die. I know that sounds quite dramatic but it’s increasingly difficult for anyone to take four hours of a weekend to go and play golf and that’s because both men and women are working.
“Whatever couple you are in, if one of you is dedicated to a sport that means you neglect the other then that’s not OK.
“We’re going to see the emergence of more family oriented golf clubs – or those [type of] clubs becoming more successful.
“I’m about to move to Derbyshire and the first thing I’ll do is find a golf club that suits me. I couldn’t have done that 10 years ago when a golf club was a ‘golf club’.
“Now I have options, I have choices, and that’s a huge thing because when a consumer has choices you’ve got to start thinking about what your consumer is, and what your audience is, as a golf club.
“If you’re not reacting or providing the services or facilities they’re looking for, then they’re going to go somewhere else for them. It becomes a supply and demand issue.
“I’m never going to join a golf club where I feel I must compromise myself. I’ve done it before and I won’t do it again – because I don’t need to.”
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Is this the way forward for women golfers?
What do you think? Would you welcome a creche at your golf club? How can we engage more working women to get involved in the sport? Tweet us and let us know.