Heads Up! Women Golfers are Coming

By: Nancy Berkley

Women, "Heads Up! June and July are your months to play golf or get reacquainted with the game if you have given it up. And to the golf owners, professionals and golf staff, I say: "Heads up - the women golfers are coming and you better get ready."

June is "Women's Golf Month" sponsored by American Express. And, in just a few weeks it will be July and "Family Golf Month." The industry is swinging into high gear.

For those wondering who designates these monthly golf promotions, the answer is that it is a consortium of golf industry associations led primarily by the PGA of America and organized under the World Golf Foundation an umbrella organization. A useful website that explains it all is www.playgolfamerica.com, which has a good program-search feature that will help you find what is being offered at your local golf courses.

I mention the PGA of America in particular because for most golfers in the U.S., the PGA professionals - about 27,000 (less than 1,000 are women) - have more influence on the 26 million men and women golfers than any other golf association. (Of course, if you only watch tournaments on TV, you might argue that the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour are more important. That's a discussion for another day.)

It is not only that PGA members have a monopoly on golf instruction which is a major part of their approximate seven-year accreditation program, but also at most golf facilities, it is the head golf professional (almost always a PGA member or an apprentice) who is in charge of the "meet and greet" when we first drop our clubs at the bag drop and continuing through our experience on the course until we finally pick up our clubs and head home.

I will be the first to say that the role of head PGA golf professional is a challenging one. There are a lot of responsibilities, which range from managing a golf-cart fleet to making sure that a good pace of play is maintained - and everything in between!

But I will also say that, at most clubs, women golfers have to continually struggle for attention and recognition from a staff that is almost exclusively male and not generally trained in how to meet the needs and expectations of women. It's not their fault - this is not a scolding - it's just the way it is. And women have to take more responsibility for making it better.

So, in anticipation of female readers heading out to the course in greater numbers this summer, it's a good time to re-circulate a short section from a book I wrote several years ago. Here it is:


(From "Women Welcome Here: A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, Jupiter, Fla., 2003 - www.ngf.org)  

Women have to be involved in the change process. We can't just complain when things don't go the way we would like. We have to be a positive force in making the golf environment a friendlier place for women of all ages. Here is my advice to women golfers:

• Get Organized. The key to getting things done is to have some form of women's golf organization, formal or informal, with designated representatives. Even if there are just a few women trying to get a program organized, designate a spokesperson or some interim officer who can communicate with the leadership of the course. Nothing is more frustrating to golf professionals than a dozen women proposing individual suggestions.

• Know Who You Are Speaking For. Remember that as a proponent of women's golf you have to know your customers. Are they just a certain segment - working women, for example - or are you thinking more broadly? Perhaps you want to start a league for girls' or super-seniors (women 65 and older)? Make sure you have talked with your fellow women golfers about their needs. Knowing your customers will give you the most credibility when you take your program to course management.

• Think Beyond Selfish. There are many different ways for women to enjoy this game. You may be a competitive golfer. You may like 18 holes, or just nine. You may like group lessons, while others don't. Your role as a leader is to balance your interests with the interests of different segments. You need to make sure that more women play more golf and enjoy it. To grow the game you have to be inclusive.

• Establish regular communications with your golf professionals and women golfers. In fact, over-communicate. Don't wait for a problem to arise; think ahead and be proactive. Set up regular informational meetings between the staff (informal - over breakfast, lunch or cocktails) and the women representing various segments of your golf community. Make it an open discussion. Ask, "What's working well? What's not? How can we make our golf experience even better? How are we measuring our success?" Together, count the customers: how many are playing, taking lessons and improving? Communicate regularly with fellow women through newsletters and bulletin boards. And don't forget to say "thank you" to the professionals and managers when they go the extra mile to help women enjoy the game.

• Use Your Best Communication Skills. It's much better to say, "How can we help the staff handle all the pairings on a Friday morning?" rather than "Why couldn't they get the bags on the right cart last week?" Don't shy away from demanding customer service, but do it without putting the staff on the defensive.

• When It Comes To Complaints, Do Your Research. There will be complaints and problems, but before you bring a problem to the staff do your research. Is this a one-person issue or is it bigger? Are two women complaining that they can't play on a Tuesday, or are there 50? As a leader among your colleagues, don't ask the professionals to solve personality-driven problems, deal with them woman-to-woman first.

• Be a Public Relations Partner. Whether it's the locker room bulletin board or the local newspaper, be proactive in figuring out the best way to communicate with fellow women golfers. Most golf professionals and managers came to golf because of golf skills, not because they know how to take photos for the newspaper and write a press release. You and your colleagues likely bring many professional skills with you to the course. Take an active role in helping your facility spread the word that it's women-friendly.

• Be a Mentor. Take new women golfers under your wing. A new golfer will generally feel comfortable on her own after five to ten friendly on-course coaching and mentoring experiences offered by a seasoned golfer. Think about how to be a good mentor and encourage your friends to be mentors.

• Promote Women for Leadership Roles. Figure out the best (and most politically effective) action plan to get women on governing boards and important committees. Most women-friendly courses have women-friendly management.

• Stay Focused, Be Patient And Have A Plan. Don't start too many projects at once. Concentrate on a few at a time. Make a multi-year plan (at least three years) to grow women's golf. Measure your progress. What gets measured gets done! There are many reasons why a program might not work the first year, but, with a little patience and tinkering, could become successful in two or three. Encourage the staff to be patient, too.

• Move On if You Have to But Leave a Message Behind. If you have tried to lead positive change at your club, golf resort or facility and are continually met with resistance, move on to another course. But tell the senior management why you are leaving. You may have lost a battle but women coming along behind you may reap the benefits of your work.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is a regular contributor to Cybergolf. She's an expert on women's golf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women. She is a resource for golf-industry trends and marketing advice on her website www.nancyberkley.com. In 2008, she chaired a panel at the World Scientific Congress of Golf in Phoenix, Ariz., and was a guest speaker at the Northern California Business Women's Conference held at Poppyridge Golf Course in Livermore, Calif. Nancy also consults with golf facilities and product manufacturers. She was a contributing editor of Golf for Women magazine and is the Chair of the Advisory Board of Golfer Girl Magazine where she also writes a series about careers in the golf industry. Her articles also appear on www.ladiesgolfjourney.com. Nancy provides a Free Help Line on her website for those seeking marketing advice in the golf industry.