Saying Hi: Continuing Golf’s Positive Outreach to Women

By Donna Orender

My recent column for SportsBusiness Daily:

The white dimpled ball knows not the gender of the hand that places it on the tee, no more so than the golf club that is enthusiastically drawn back preparing for impact. It’s getting to the first tee that has been, and continues to be, an interesting journey for women.

I am sure it was the combination of working 17 years for the PGA Tour and then leading the WNBA for six years that warranted the call from the PGA of America to ask if I would lead an industry initiative called “Connecting With Her,” which smartly recognized that one of the best ways to help grow the game of golf was by reaching out to women.

I now have a healthy handicap that enables me to compete in most matches, but like many women, I came to the game slowly and cautiously. I didn’t necessarily feel welcomed, and candidly, when I was first learning to play the game more than 25 years ago, there were some that liked it that way. But today, I find the game far more democratic and welcoming, although the industry certainly could use a concerted PR campaign to make the nearly 38 million women who have expressed an interest in learning the game aware of the changes being embraced.

At a time when more women are earning college degrees than men, when 70 percent of new businesses are being started by women and when women influence more than 80 percent of purchasing decisions, there isn’t a business in America that should not be looking at how to better understand and court the most powerful economic consumer segment of today — women.

The challenge is just how do you do that, especially when many companies and industries lack the right people and expertise to help them get there. The golf industry needs to own this lack of diversity in its leadership as well. With compelling data that shows financial results for companies with strong female representation on their boards or in their executive leadership outperforming those that don’t, is there really any excuse for not optimizing your business by including women at the highest levels?

Thankfully, there is recognition that “shrinking and pinking” a product for women as a growth strategy is not the answer to attracting women. When results don’t occur with this short-sighted planning, many male executives cite that there is no market, no interest. The truth is there is an enormous market and interest. You have to understand the keys that motivate women to purchase, create the right product, know how to talk to women and, as we have recently seen, how to talk about them. Hence, another key point in why women are so valuable in the decision-making leadership of organizations. The process is a transformative one, not a tactic.

As I traveled across the country to meet with PGA professionals, there was an enthusiasm by the majority of them to understand the new world marketplace. And, as many of them have wives, daughters, female friends and students who were expressing interest in the game, they wanted to better understand what they could do to transform the experience to make it a welcoming one. Let’s face it, when you have a historic service base that is 90 percent male and a customer base that is 80 percent male, it’s not a surprise that the language, culture and aesthetic is male-centric. This is similar to what we see in many other industries, including finance, technology and automotive. So taking the time to really understand the differentiation between what you say you do as an industry and what you actually do, or what is perceived that you do, is critical if you are going to attract women.

The game itself has no gender. It is certainly one of the most aesthetically beautiful of sports. Golf is a game to be played for a lifetime, an antidote for the pressures of our crazy existence. It has even been scientifically proved that the beautiful vistas of a golf course help de-stress our brains.

The opportunity to spend time with friends and family in our time-starved lives is precious. Women in particular, who have so little “me” time, like the opportunity to spend time with friends as one of the top benefits of playing golf. Creating shorter 3- and 6-hole loops is also a product that women have asked for, in addition to golf course layouts that are designed with their games in mind. Of note, many of the changes that women would like to see would undoubtedly benefit all who participate, women and men alike.

It’s very unfortunate what former PGA of America President Ted Bishop tweeted and posted on Facebook, for it belies an industry that is working to embrace women, who for so long they did not recognize. The beauty, the camaraderie, the business tools, the family connection are all great reasons that women want in. I eagerly look forward to the inaugural KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, a new event which is a bold delivery on a plan to create an event that embraces both the best women golfers in the world and a very visible appreciation of the female fan and consumer.

I have seen positive momentum as attitudes are shifting, not quickly enough for most, but perhaps too quickly for some. Greater equity in private clubs and facilities would be welcome, not to mention a revision of some of the arcane sexist rules still present in many old-line clubs.

The fact remains that the vast majority of golf is played at public golf facilities where green is the color that gains access. But for us to spend freely, we need the green light of welcome. There is a recognition that women have a rightful place in the game and that that place is growing. I would not suggest that it is where it should be, or could be. What I am saying is that progress is in the making.

I believe in the upside and, as such, have chosen to personally invest in a public golf course in my hometown where our focus is simple: It’s fun, welcoming to all, affordable and accessible. Oh, and yes, every day is ladies day!

 

Click here to read my column on SportsBusinessDaily.com titled “Golf’s positive momentum in outreach to women will continue”