By Susan Fornoff
As a journalist and publisher of a women’s golf magazine and website, I evaluate and write about golf courses with a perspective completely different from that of the major men’s publications. They typically discuss the back tees, the cart girl, and the practice facilities. Meanwhile, I talk about the forward tees, the wine list, and the restroom facilities.
Do women represent at least 20 percent of your golfers? If not, you are failing to capture your fair share of an influential segment of the market. And if you don’t know the answer to that question, create a tracking system to do so. If so, congratulate yourself and see if you can use a few new ideas to raise your numbers even higher.
Why would you want to do that? Women spend more than $5 billion a year in the U.S. golf industry and influence another $21 billion in spending. Ninety-two percent of them pass along information on great shopping deals to friends. They are more likely than men to tell their friends when they have a good experience, or a bad one. And they are more likely to bring their family along to the golf course.
Syngenta’s new global study of 14,000 people found that 29 percent of non-golfing females and lapsed players were either interested or very interested in taking up golf in the next two years. The study described this demographic as “golf’s $35-billion opportunity.”
Here are 10 ways to capitalize on this opportunity, from the least expensive to the most expensive:
1. Have a staff meeting right away and get everyone trained on using the gender lens to improve customer service. This may be free, unless you hire a consultant to make the presentation. But it is not necessarily easy. Women want to feel invited, included, and comfortable. One day, I walked into a golf shop by myself to check in, and the man behind the counter complimented me on my sweater. We had a nice chat about golf clothing, and I completely forgot that I was in new surroundings. Smiles are free, welcomes are free, and so is “Is this your first time here?” with a quick tour to orient the newbie.
2. Start capturing customer email addresses and create a special quarterly email for women. Include a photo of a player wearing an outfit she bought in your shop, offer coupons, share what’s new, and list what events might be fun to attend.
3. Designate a wine of the month, and stock it not only in the bar or restaurant, but on the drink cart and at the turn. And not the kind in those 50-milliliter airline bottles, either. Start with a bottle of white and a bottle of red, and see how it goes. Men drink beer, women drink wine. And while I’m on the subject of food and beverage, put some salads and light offerings at the turn and at the 19th hole. Women generally prefer more healthful options than a breakfast burrito and a hot dog.
4. Play golf with your women’s club and lunch with the ladies—and do this regularly. Show the women’s club as much love as possible. On ladies day, give special attention to the tees in play, putting trash cans and benches nearby if possible. Brainstorm for ideas to bring more women to your course; maybe some women would support establishing a second club that plays on weekends, or a co-ed league on summer evenings, or even a golf day or weekend summit full of events of interest to both men and women.
5. Get a female mannequin for the pro shop and dress her in a new outfit every week. Create a dedicated women’s section with everything she might need for the day; don’t make her look through the men’s glove rack to find one that fits her. Display coordinating pieces attractively. Have a sale rack. Make sure there’s a bench where she can try on shoes. Haggin Oaks, a public course in Sacramento, expanded its pro shop into one of the biggest golf stores in Northern California. Last year it added a no-pressure “Style Bar” to encourage shoppers to share their style likes and needs, make an appointment, and arrive to a dressing room full of fashions selected just for them.
6. Take a good look at the restrooms, on the course and off, and upgrade where possible. One director of golf swore to me that his women players noticed and appreciated the two-ply in the ladies room. I’m skeptical. But I oohed and aahed over the marble on-course restrooms at Grand Del Mar and the nice tile at Silverado, and when I see a municipal course that has put some TLC into the restrooms, I feel the love. A new toilet and new sink are not that pricey; one of your regulars may be a plumber, who will do the work in exchange for golf. Start with a basket containing hairspray, deodorant, hand lotion, and sunscreen in the clubhouse loo.
7. Make sure women appear in marketing materials, including on your website, bulletin boards, brochures, social media, and clubhouse art, and then add some welcoming new signs. Make sure there is no place on the course where players will get lost going to the next tee, and clearly mark restrooms. While you’re at it, encourage men to use the restrooms. Oh, the alternatives I’ve seen.
8. Plan your own “Dynamic Duo” two-person scramble and have each twosome represent a famous pair. Think Lewis and Clark, the Carpenters, etc. Afterward, have a “Chips & Dip” or “Wine & Cheese” tasting or contest. Fun two-person scrambles engage both genders and all ages. My husband and I discovered the “Chilly Open” at Grand Elk Golf Club, a late-season, two-person scramble followed by a chili cook-off, and now we won’t miss it. Why wait for groups to schedule tournaments when you can attract new customers with your own? And they don’t have to be “for women”—in fact, in California, there is a group that might sue you for excluding men, so be careful with that.
9. At about the time you’re asking “How can I find the time to do all of this?” hire help. Use the new tracking system to justify the expense of hiring a “Golf Ambassador” or “Golfer Relations Manager” or simply a marketing consultant who will manage all of the steps above and let the community know all about it. More golfers, more F&B, more merchandise sales, more lessons—what is the value of these? Morton Golf hired Linda Reid as part-time golf ambassador for Haggin Oaks last spring and found so much value that she’ll put in more time this year boosting revenue at the company’s other area courses. Private clubs can justify the expense of a “membership director” because she will bring them more members. Why not a public-course equivalent?
10. Add a new set of tees, set at under 5,000 yards, so women have options to “tee it forward.” At Pasatiempo, a tough Alister MacKenzie design in Santa Cruz, Calif., women members worked with Head Professional Ken Woods to place disks cleverly forward at 4,867 yards so as not to mar the course aesthetics, while encouraging an 87-year-old member to continue to play. Woods estimated the cost at $150. Golf course architect Jan Bel Jan (janbeljan.com) is calling tees set at 4,000-4,400 yards “scoring tees” so everyone feels welcome to play them, though the primary target is the slower-swing-speed player. “I spent months coming up with a list of about 20 names—challenge tees, fun tees, precision tees—but they seemed to exclude people,” she says. “This concept has been well received.” Bel Jan has won Design Excellence Recognition from the American Society of Golf Course Architects for her work on Pelican’s Nest Golf Club, a private course in Florida, where women and even single-digit handicap men are enjoying new tees at 4,062 yards. Building a tee complex, she says, costs between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the hilliness of the terrain. And in many cases, the tee can be built into a fairway extension, decreasing the maintenance costs. The work could even be rationed out to three tees a year, and combo tees could be created with the existing forward tees until the new set is completely finished.
Men, if No. 10 sounds extreme, go out and play the back tees without any club that you can hit farther than 140 yards. Is this fun? That’s golf for the average woman, who hits her driver just 140 yards and has no chance of reaching greens in regulation on par 4s and 5s at most courses.
If you can make your golf course fun for her, I guarantee you will have your share of “golf’s $35-billion opportunity.”
Golf 2.0: Connecting With Her Playbook. This is the best source for understanding the gender lens and a must-read before your staff meeting. It’s full of checklists and exercises.
Setting Up Golf Courses for Success is an information-packed, 20-page guide on course design and maintenance from the PGA of America. https://www.pga.org/sites/default/files/assets/library/Player_Development/setting-up-course.pdf
The Right Invitation: Women’s Golf Longitudinal Study Findings. This is a guide to best practices, resulting from research by the National Golf Course Owners’ Association and The Little Family Foundation.
Susan Fornoff of Littleton, Colo., covered golf for the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner before launching her own digital publishing venture for women, housed at GottaGoGolf.com. She is Senior Editor, Women in Golf, for The Grain magazine, and has consulted with golf courses endeavoring to be more women-welcome. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.