It’s A Family Affair!

By Mary Jo Knudson

Take a look at most golf courses, and what do you see? A lot of men out golfing! The statistics may vary, but there are upwards of 25-million golfers in the United States. Only about 6 million of those are women. Additionally, according to the National Golf Foundation, a child has a .4-percent likelihood of becoming a golfer if neither parent plays, 26 percent if one parent golfs, but if both parents are golfers, the likelihood increases to 38 percent.. This finding leads to three main questions:

·         How to grow the sport to include more women?
·         How to “grow” new golfers?
·         How to engage families to golf?

There are many reasons why people don’t golf, including time, money, golf-course rules, concerns about ability, and the perceptions about traditional golf. It’s up to parks and recreation professionals to remove these barriers, change the way golf looks, and make the golf course an inviting place!

Wine, Women & Golf
In 2016, Brooktree Golf Course in Owatonna, Minn., created two events and a weekly special to bring more women, children, and families to the course.

The first venture was aimed at the beginner or non-golfer, and focused on the social aspect of the game (as opposed to the competitive aspect). The first session was held on June 7—National Women’s Golf Day—and participants were invited to register for one of two hour-long time blocks. The selling point was there was to be no scoring and no pressure—just some etiquette and a few helpful hints. It was not intended as a “lesson”—just pure fun!

Logisitics and lessons: The program was scheduled during a time when nine holes were normally shut down before league play. This ensured there was no pressure regarding the speed of play. Three holes were selected that were close to each other with straight, wide fairways and minimal hazards. An hour was scheduled for the three holes, but an hour and a half is recommended.

Upon arrival, participants were greeted, introduced to each other, and shown to the first tee. They were given USGA’s Golf Etiquette 101 handouts, which were reviewed briefly before play began. Cart rules and etiquette also were discussed. Then participants were split into three groups.

Golfers were given a logo ball and a few tees. They could bring their own clubs, or use rental clubs free of charge. The intent was to have the ladies walk, but they were given the option of using a cart. In the end, half walked with a pull cart, while the other half took power carts.

Each foursome consisted of three beginners and one experienced golfer (we used a staff person, but a volunteer would work). If a participant had a question, or wanted a hint, we provided that, but mostly let them play on their own.

The fee was $10 for 3 holes and a glass of wine in the restaurant when they were finished.

Results: This program was a huge hit and will be scheduled more frequently in the future. The format was also made available for private events. For example, one female insurance agent set up monthly outings for clients. We may even give Boys, Beers & Bogies a try, too!

Daddy & Me Or Mommy & Me
This could also have been named Grandpa & Me, or any version of an adult-and-child event. The selling point was breaking up the boredom of merely putting in the backyard and encouraging residents to come out and play “real golf.” As with the women’s event, there was no pressure, no scoring, and no lessons, with just a slight intro to etiquette.

Logistics and lessons: Again, the event was scheduled during a time gap before league play, and the same three, relatively easy holes were selected. While an hour was scheduled for the three holes, I quickly learned, it was not nearly enough for all of the “whiffs.” To help move things along, children alternated shots with parents for the third hole. This allowed the kids to see that even if Daddy is a good golfer and hits the ball really far, he can’t hit it as far using the junior clubs. (A good lesson for parents too!)  At least one hole with alternate shots is recommended for a successful outing.

This adult-child event was set up for ages three to six. Youngsters brought their own junior, or yes, even plastic clubs. Each golfer was given a colored ball, a couple of tees, and a “Snoopy and Friends Rules of Golf” booklet to take home.

Upon arrival, each pairing had a cart waiting for them, with a welcome sign and their names printed on the sign—the same as at course tournaments. This provided many photo ops! We only used the carts to get to the holes, then the adults became caddies, and the carts were parked until the players were finished.

When everyone arrived at the first tee, golfers were given four rules before dividing into groups:

·         No running
·         No yelling
·         Listen
·         Pay attention.

We offered a short etiquette lesson (such as who hits first and a reminder not to make fun if a golfer misses the ball). Each foursome had a staff member along.

The fee was $10 for three holes, two hot dogs, and two bags of chips. The restaurant even set up a hot dog buffet for participants, which they thought was a big deal!

Results: This program was huge! Once it was filled, kids had to be turned away. This event will be scheduled regularly this year, and older age groups also will be invited to participate.

Family Sunday Funday
On many courses, a standing rule is that children under 10 are not allowed, but how will golf grow if kids don’t start early? Typically, the course is not very busy on Sunday afternoons, so this was a perfect time. After 2 p.m., adults and children age five and up may golf nine holes for $15 per pair. A cart is $5. The only restriction is that each parent and child needs to have their own clubs. Many families took advantage of this deal, and the program will continue this year.

With all of the positive feedback we received regarding these events, we can’t help but think these programs were really needed in the community. Even members were excited because we were bringing new faces to the golf course.

As with any new programming, we had successes and learned some important things, especially if you don’t try, you won’t know if the program is successful or not!

Mary Jo Knudson is the Recreation Superintendent for the city of Owatonna (Minn.) Parks & Recreation and the Clubhouse Manager, Brooktree Golf Course. Reach her at