Women Off Course

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It has long been heralded that the growth in golf was dependent on this recreational activity becoming gender, generationally and racially diverse.

The Current Players

Currently, of the 24.7 million golfers who play 457 million rounds annually, the average participant is 44.3 years of age, has a median household income of $91,400 (73% higher than the US median household income), and 78.5% are male.

For every round played by a Hispanic American or African American, seven rounds are played by Caucasians. For every round played by an Asian American, four rounds are played by Caucasians.

Golf is principally a sport of well-to-do Caucasian men. We hope this will change.

The Challenge of Women’s Golf Initiatives

Three years ago in publishing, “The Business of Golf – Why? How? What,?” I celebrated three initiatives encouraging female participation in the sport: Women on Course, Sassy Golf and Golf for Cause.

At the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show, I sadly learned that Billy Casper Golf who acquired Women On Course from the founder Ms. Donna Hoffman terminated the arrangement and closed the company for, according to company sources, “It did not pencil out.”   Hopefully, they will be restaging and rebranding their women’s programs.

Previously, Sassy Golf, founded by Ms. Nancy Collins had suspended activities though the website remains online: http://www.sassygolf.net/about-sassy.

I visited at the Show with the extremely talented and passionate regarding golf Ms. Debbie Waitkus about her Golf for Cause whose mantra is “driving better opportunities through the world’s most popular game.”

It was clear in talking with Ms. Waitkus that all three organizations faced the same challenge: “The unwillingness of golf courses to accept women who are willing to pay the full rack rate.” Seems hard to believe but I think it to be true.

In interviewing Ms. Nancy Collins several years ago, she was clearly exasperated how golf courses in Denver would not make available their facilities for nine holes of golf, a cocktail hour, and, on occasion, a networking event in the ballroom with booths.

Ms. Waitkus has been successful she believes because, in her search through Phoenix/Scottsdale, she found one PGA Professional supportive of her efforts. She commented that finding golf courses willing to host women’s, or mixed event remains a challenge.

The Hard Numbers and the Soft Facts

The PGA of America just released a study, which Jon Last, President of Sports and Leisure Research Group conducted for them, entitled “Business Golf: The Gender Puzzle.” Click here.

The statistics are surprising, even to Ms. Suzy Whaley, Secretary of the PGA of America who commented to such during a PGA Forum Stage panel discussion.

The survey revealed some disappointing numbers:

“Only 30% of male golfing execs’ business rounds played are played with mixed gender groups. Only 45% of golfing men execs enjoy playing business golf with women. 61% of golfing women execs enjoy playing business golf with men. 41% of golfing business women have experienced general discrimination on the golf course.”

Participating in the panel was Mr. Dana Garmany, President Troon Golf. He thoughtfully shared a story where he plays golf, his wife is meant to feel unwelcome on the range on Saturday mornings. He commented that “Sixty-nine year old board members are likely to want to keep status quo, as ladies days are specified on certain days and men’s play is reserved for Saturday morning. It is probably fair to to say that than they don’t want women on the course at all.” To amplify his point as to the existing culture at many clubs, Mr. Garmany stated, “After playing in an event, I was asked to participate in a Stag Event that evening of drinking and playing cards.” He declined.

The PGA of America held a committee meeting during the PGA Merchandise Show to determine how to attract more qualified women to the golf profession. No answers were immediately obvious.

It is my opinion that eliminating the professional aptitude test for women would stimulate in an increase in membership but with many PGA Professionals underemployed or relegated to working outside of the industry due fewer to opportunities, would the Association be serving the interests of its current members by welcoming women?

Two years ago, the NGCOA highly recommended to all of the multi-course owners that one of their senior executive women attend the next meeting.    Only ClubCorp’s Cathy Harbin, then as Regional Vice President, Public Golf VP, ClubCorp Golf Academy & Programming was in the next meeting.  In the succeeding year, even ClubCorp hesitated to have Cathy attend again but recognized the need  to be a leader and set the example.

It is Ms. Harbin’s opinion that, “Everyone is committed to the concept of gender equality on the surface, but companies, and many senior management are so focused on daily operations and revenue that it is difficult.   We have a way to go to equality.”

A Round Peg in a Square Hole?

An esteemed national PGA Professional shared with me a perspective that I thought was interesting, but I continue to muddle around in my mind if it his reasoning is valid.

There is no recreational sport, i.e., baseball, football, basketball, soccer, etc. where men and women participate jointly in that activity. My immediate counter was his examples were all team sports to which they countered that the separation of genders was predominant also in individual sports, i.e., billiards, gymnastics, ice skating, martial arts, skiing, tennis, and weight lighting.   They noted that there were no mixed gender events in the Olympics save for couples Ice Dancing.

I somehow can’t grasp or accept the concept of separate but equal.

Is there Hope?

Mr. Dana Garmany stated, “Golf will become gender diverse based on generational changes. Inevitably it will happen when those who are now under 45 take over the club’s governance. Let’s hope we can move the needle before then.”

The efforts of Ms. Pam Swensen, Chief Executive Officer of Executive Women’s Golf Association and Ms. Nancy Berkley, Berkley Golf Consulting who advocates “more women playing more golf” are laudatory.   It is praiseworthy that three women are in the rota to head major trade associations: Ms. Diane Murphy, President of USGA, Ms. Suzy Whaley, PGA of America and Ms. Jan Bel Jan, American Society of Golf Course Architects.

It is  also noteworthy that Top Golf patrons are 32% female and they are launching at each facility lesson programs to attract new female entrants to the game.

So what can be done to support their efforts?


Capitalism creates, and capitalism devours the weak. The fact that many PGA Professionals can‘t find employment is a good, not a bad thing. Many were attracted to the game based on their ability to play, have failed to acquire meaningful business skills, and serve large parts of the day like a McDonald’s $8 per hour processing customers.

I speculate by coincidence or perhaps even an indirect correlation, the percentage of women who play golf is very similar to the number of females employed at golf courses through America – 22%.

It is my opinion that education of women in the business of golf is sorely lacking. It is my belief that merging the teaching and educational aspects of the LPGA with the PGA of America curriculum would benefit the golf industry.   Each member of the LPGA would be given a provisional PGA membership contingent on passing the Level 1 – Academic Requirements. The professional aptitude test either be waived or set at 170 for 36 holes to qualify – from the forward tees.

While I realize this will never happen, oh do I believe it should. There are many barriers, and in my opinion, the largest hurdle maybe gaining acceptance from women.

On several occasions throughout my career I have participated in dinner meetings advocating the consolidation of Women’s and Men’s Golf Associations.   There need to be only one within each State.   From these discussions, it was clear that women preferred separate but equal.

Golf is about hospitality and entertainment. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being given lip service by grumpy old men who are ill qualified to manage a golf facility professionally and who cite uncontrollable factors as the reasons for the financial struggles many golf courses are facing.

Women’s golf will grow when more women are employed at golf courses and not until.

That is my opinion. What is yours?   Comment below.

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  1.    Reply

    Reading this again a few years later. Some changes have taken place. As you mentioned, the blending of golf associations, the PGA certification for LPGA teaching professionals Women in the Golf Industry (WIGI) has strong leadership and membership – Jan Bel Jan and Suzy Whaley (both members) are now president of their high profile associations. With their visibility and platforms I anticipate the dial will continue to turn. Please continue being an advocate.

  2.    Reply

    Jim – one more comment to clarify a reference you made about our success in the Phoenix market with facilities supporting women’s programming. We certainly DO NOT have the same challenge we did 15 years ago in lining up women’s/mixed events. When inquiring about 9-hole outings, no one looks at me anymore like I have three heads! We have built a wonderful rapport with numerous golf facilities and PGA professionals – we tend to support those who “get it.”

    Happy to provide shout outs to (clearly and happily it’s more than one):
    ASU Karsten Golf Club – Derek Crawford
    Biltmore Golf Club – Dick Bates
    Camelback Golf Club -Shiloh Hagey
    Continental Golf Course
    Cornado Golf Course – Eric Planeta
    Desert Highlands – Doug Westcott
    Gainey Ranch Golf Club – Jim Murphy, Matt Anzalone, Trey Lewis
    Grayhawk Golf Club – Tracy Hail
    Kierland Golf Club – Nancy Dickens, Jeremy Hornbeck
    Legacy Golf Club – Rich Strozewski, Craig Renshaw
    Mountain Shadows – Jeff Jones, Brian Obillo
    Orangetree Golf Resort- Scott Musgrave
    Phoenician Golf Club -Ryan McKay
    Scottsdale’s Silverado Golf Club – Mike Elmore
    Starfire Golf Course – Jason Brill
    Talking Stick Golf Club
    Troon North – Mike Friend, Doug Hammer
    Tuscany Falls at PebbleCreek – Bill Barnard, Ronnie Decker