It wasn’t all that long ago that a sign stood outside the clubhouse of a very notable club that read ‘No dogs or women allowed. Thankfully, times and attitudes have changed since women were banned from clubhouses, or told they could only play at certain times on weekends. Yet golf still has a long way to go.
Women make up 50 per cent of the UK population, yet just 16 per cent of the nation’s golfers. Just a fifth of the members of the Golf Club Managers Association are female, and there are even fewer female greenkeepers. On tour, there’s a five-fold difference in prize money between the PGA and LPGA Tours.
Things are improving, though. The R&A launched its Women in Golf Charter, part of its drive to increase the number of women and girls playing golf and working within the industry. It also hiked the prize money for the Women’s Open by 40 per cent, with R&A chief Martin Slumbers saying: “This is an important first step and we know it will take time to move closer to achieving parity with the men’s game.”
Figures claim that tapping into a “significant latent demand among non-golfing women” could persuade as many as 37 million prospective new female players to take up the game, bringing an extra £28 billion into the global golf industry.
To gauge the current status of the women’s game – on tour and at club level – we spoke to four key players who really know what’s happening – arguably the greatest female golfer of all time, Annika Sorenstam, Solheim Cup Captain Catriona Matthew, Major winner Georgia Hall and LET star Amy Boulden. Their views on what women’s golf has achieved – and what else can still be done – makes for fascinating reading...
How do you see the women’s game at the professional level?
AS It’s very strong. It’s a global game, it’s exciting, we play everywhere, and I think the players represent themselves well. They’re approachable, fun, and great athletes.
GH The LPGA is probably the best it’s ever been; well run, you’re well looked after with amazing events nearly every week… and it’s good news that the LET joined forces with the LPGA last year. Could it be better? Yes, of course, with bigger prize funds and more tournaments for the LET, but it’s getting better every year.
CM Following the joint LET venture with the LPGA, we were in a pretty strong position at the start of the year and then Covid-19 came. I think the LET’s close links with the LPGA can only help if only to get some more tournaments. But overall I’d say it’s in a good position and hopefully, by mid-to-late spring things will start getting back to normal if the vaccines kick in, enabling both tours to push on. OK, the LET probably won’t be playing for the biggest of purses, but I hope it’s something we can build on.
AB I think the women’s game is in a great position. The support from people like Justin Rose with the Rose Ladies Series was amazing and I can see the women’s game only growing from this point. I’m excited.
How about at the club level?
AS I’m heavily involved with coaching junior players and I think it’s super healthy. As far as junior girls’ participation is concerned, 16 years ago it was less than 20 per cent of our juniors, but that’s now up to 34 per cent. While there’s room for more growth, there’s some great initiatives and we certainly take pride in what the Annika Foundation does to inspire these young girls. It’s important to get them in early and plant that seed.
GH The R&A have a great scheme where they’re trying to find the next generation. I went to St Andrew's last year and there must have been 40 girls who’d taken up the game. I spent an hour with them, they were five to 10-year-olds, and it was great to answer their questions. When I was younger, I never saw that many girls taking up the game. Hopefully, the combination of the 2019 Solheim Cup, British players like myself, and seeing more women’s golf on TV will inspire even more to get down to the driving range.
AB The programmes put in place now by the golf unions – compared to when I was growing up – are amazing. Juniors have a lot more opportunities.
How important is it to have female role models?
AS It’s critical. By seeing their heroes playing, they’ll start to dream. It’s important, too, to have girl groups because it can be intimidating for girls around boys, who can hit it so much further. Girls want to be with other girls, they feel more comfortable.
GH It’s very important; growing up, I looked up to quite a few players. At 2019’s AIG Women’s Open at Woburn, I’d never seen so many young girls come out to support me and then wait for my autograph at the end. It’s important, too, to take time to meet all of them – you want to give a good impression and if I can get more girls involved and playing the game, that would be awesome. Who knows, say in 20 years, there’ll be a lot more British players on tour as a result.
CM It’s very important. At the moment, we’ve got Georgia, Charley, Bronte Law, and Jodi Ewart Shadoff, with more coming through; if you see people doing well it inspires you to do well, but if you’ve got nobody to follow it’s harder for you to get on. It definitely pushes you on.
AB I used to love going to watch the Women’s British Open with my parents when I was younger and following all my favourite players. It’s so inspiring. I remember when Laura Davies gave me her visor one year (I still have it!) – to be playing on Tour with them now is crazy. There are many girls out on tour who will fill that role for the next generation with the likes of Georgia Hall and Mel Reid, then you have the girls who can hit it miles like Anne van Dam and Emily Pedersen.
How can the women’s game grow?
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