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England Golf chief: ‘There are not nearly enough female members of golf clubs’

Speaking on The NCG Golf Podcast about the governing body’s Respect in Golf campaign, England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson said much more needs to be done to attract women and girls to the sport

 

England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson said clubs needed to do “a lot more” to bring women and girls into membership.

Talking about the governing body’s Respect in Golf campaign on The NCG Golf Podcast, he stated there were “not nearly enough female members of golf clubs” in the country.

While membership continues to be on the rise – with recent figures showing 722,000 in 2023 – just 14 per cent of those are female. It’s a percentage that has remained static, despite the participation boom which followed the coronavirus pandemic.

Respect in Golf, launched last July, aims to “inspire, promote and create greater understanding and embracement of equality, diversity and inclusion within the sport”.

All of England’s 1,765 clubs are required – as part of a mandatory term of affiliation – to make commitments and ensure golf is a sport that is open to everyone.

Asked what equality, diversity, and inclusion looked like to England Golf, Tomlinson told the podcast: “The questions we would ask of any golf club is, ‘Is there equality of opportunity with regards to membership?’

“And, if so, then within that membership is there an equal opportunity with regards to playing rights or voting rights? It really comes down to that. I think the best clubs out there look at themselves in the mirror and they start there.

“We do have an issue that there are not nearly enough female members of golf clubs. It’s something like 14% of the 722,000.

“It is over 100,000 women, which is a really healthy number compared to historically. But compared to the male number, it’s very small.

“It would be wonderful to say membership was 50-50 but utopia doesn’t always occur. One thing I do know is 14% is not enough.

“And that 14% is reflective of some golf club cultures. We’ve made headway but we need to do a lot more.

“And as I compare us to many other sports, that have clubs at grassroots levels, we must continually look at ourselves in the mirror. I urge every golf club, every committee, to do that.”

England Golf

England Golf chief: ‘It is something every golf club in the land should be asking themselves’

Some clubs hold regular competitions which are gender specific – either men or women only – and which essentially bars others from playing within those time slots if they are not part of the event.

The Equality Act allows clubs to “indirectly discriminate” – where they do something that “has a worse impact on people who share a particular protected characteristic than on people who do not share that characteristic” – if they can show their actions were a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Quizzed on whether the Act could be more helpful in promoting Respect in Golf’s message that “everyone must have an equal opportunity to participate in golf at any level”, Tomlinson said: “Yes, perhaps it could. But I also think that within the Act, there’s enough in there that everybody could take certain parts and say, ‘are we doing that?’

“It’s back to looking in the mirror. Whether you are a members’ club or proprietary club, there’s enough in the act to be able to go, ‘we should be doing that. We should be able to pull that from it’

“I don’t like quoting the law, for us as a governing body. The law is a fairly low bench. The law has to be adhered to – period – in anything and everything. What we’re more interested in is: what is the right thing to do for the promotion of our sport?

“What is the right thing to do to be able to drive our sport in the right direction, to make sure it’s not only the in the best possible shape for all for all golfers right now but for all golfers to come in future generations?

“That is a lot more important to me than what a bench of the law can do.”

Focusing on equality of access, and looking at working women who may not be able to play on a traditional ‘Ladies Day’ during the week before finding weekend golf restricted in a way it may not be for a man, Tomlinson continued: “Everybody goes out and earns a living. So to have a situation where you have a membership where people are paying the same amount, but there is a differentiation between the rights of certain elements of your membership, I think is antiquated.

“It is something that every golf club in the land should be looking at themselves – again looking in the mirror – and asking ‘is there an equality of access? If somebody is paying the same amount to be a member of my club, they are a member of the golf club’.

“So they should be able to utilise it in the same way – and certainly with regards to gaining access to tee times and playing rights.”

Now listen to The NCG Golf Podcast

England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson joins Steve Carroll and Tom Irwin to talk club membership, WHS, iGolf, and the governing body’s important Respect in Golf campaign. You can listen to the full episode here.

Now have your say

How can golf club membership become more attractive to women and girls? Are England Golf on the right path with the Respect in Golf campaign? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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