With Mother’s Day just around the corner, perhaps the best gift we could give Mom—or a wife, daughter, niece, grandmother, or any other woman—is more and better access to golf. But a quick review of the current research on women and golf paints a less than rosy picture.
Search “women’s golf research” on the internet and a raft of unpromising studies appear. According to one, done by former British Curtis Cup golfer Sue Shapcott—who is now both a teaching professional and a doctoral student in Educational psychology at Arizona State—women are all but destined to fail at golf. It’s in their heads before they pick up a club.
Shapcott’s study, which is the focus of an article in the May 2012 issue of Golf Digest, shows that women golfers perceive themselves as unsuccessful. Many women don’t work on their games because they don’t think it will help them get better. No surprise they don’t stick with it very long.
Another recent study, this one done by Golf Datatech derived from their database of serious golfers (that’s a minimum of 12 rounds a year), reinforces the common reasons women—in this case, remember, passionate golfers—don’t play more: cost, time, and family constraints. The study found that while half the U.S. population is female, less than 25% of the total golf population is female, quite a disconnect. Besides the three reasons cited above, there is a fourth: golf courses are oriented toward men. And that’s a big turn-off to women.
There is hope, and more important, action plans to change such perceptions. One of the most concrete set of instructions for making women feel more comfortable in golf comes from a study published earlier this year called “The Right Invitation: 2011 Women’s Golf Longitudinal Research.” The survey, sanctioned by the National Golf Course Owners Association and funded by the Little Family Foundation, identified a series of best practices that clubs should adopt to make women feel more comfortable. They are:
- Four or more sets of tees, with the forward most set of tees ideally under 4,500 yards (up to 4,800 yards is considered), all of which would allow golfers to reach greens in regulation
- A golf shop of at least 500 square feet with a solid selection of well-displayed women’s clothing and equipment and a dedicated women’s department
- A staff of both men and women employed in the golf shop
- Abundant directional signage on the golf course
- Greeters present at the facility entry/starting area
- Ample drinking water available at a minimum of three tees per nine holes
- Both men and women staff available for golf instruction
- The availability of childcare.
Clubs that adopted those practices registered better overall profit per round, as well as higher merchandise and food/beverage sales. To say nothing of happier customers.
And what about out on the course? How to make women more at ease? The single most effective strategy is having the proper sets of tees to match women’s strength and abilities. Arthur D. Little and Jann E. Leeming, the powers behind the aforementioned Little Family Foundation, have spent years trying to determine just how long is “too long” for women golfers. Basing their research on the average tee shot of 140 yards, a course should be 4,200 yards. (Note that this total length is 30 times the average drive, which is a good rule of thumb for all golfers, male and female, amateur and pro. Think about it!)
“The problem is that there are very few 4,200-yard golf courses in the United States, never mind the world,” Little writes. “As a result, most women golfers do not have the choice of a set of tees that gives them a fair chance to hit greens in regulation and thus give them the opportunity to score well.”
Which gets us back to the best Mother’s Day gift we could give women golfers (present and future): Courses that both fit their skills and make them feel comfortable. It’s probably a tall order, but if private-club members start asking for an appropriately measured set of tees, and if public- and resort-course guests pressed for smart tees and even smarter practices, everyone would win.
Happy, golf-playing moms is a gift that will last much longer than any bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates.