GOLF clubs in Lancashire are being challenged to help the sport appeal to a new generation of female players – who have never known a world without the internet or mobile phones.
The first county conference on how clubs can attract more female players heard a call to arms to reverse a worrying trend of falling numbers and an ageing profile among women golfers.
The free event at Mytton Fold Golf Club, near Blackburn, was fully subscribed with more than 250 delegates representing 90 clubs from across the county – reflecting the enthusiasm to embrace a new way of working to help get more girls and ladies out onto the fairways.
The day-long conference was the result of a unique collaboration between the Lancashire Union of Golf Clubs, the Lancashire Ladies County Golf Association, England Golf, the Golf Foundation and the R&A.
Lancashire Golf Development Group secretary Phil Harvey urged clubs to break away from the stereotyping of golf so that it can become more relevant to women who are already juggling the demands of family and work or to a younger generation who may be put off by club rules, such as dress codes.
He told the conference: “We know that the age profile of the sport is dominated by the over 50s and 60s but we need to appeal to the under 50s. Many of our present women golfers will not be playing in the next 10 years, so where is the next generation of players coming from?
“And if the women’s game continues to decline, eventually there will be a knock-on effect for the men, too, as membership fees rise to offset falling numbers. Ultimately that will threaten the very future of the sport and its clubs.”
The conference supported a series of high-profile presentations with a practical blueprint for the clubs to follow with advice including:
- Create a two-year pathway from beginner to full club membership
- Ensure a mentoring and buddy system is in place to welcome newcomers
- Try short course and short format events
- Create a marketing plan targeting women, highlighting the sport’s health, lifestyle and social benefits
- Engage with social media to promote what the club and sport has to offer
- Review the rules and governance of the club to ensure a minimum 20 per cent female representation on the board, plus the appointment of girls and women ambassadors
- Provide weekend play and competitions, including gender free events
- Review membership offers to ensure they are family friendly
- Ensure customer service is fit for the 21st century
- Get the whole club involved in making the changes
World governing body, the R&A, which is introducing a special women’s charter in 2018, was represented by Jackie Davidson, assistant director of golf development, while Nick Pink, chief executive of England Golf which oversees the amateur game in this country, also delivered a keynote speech.
Dr John Fry, from Myerscough College, who has undertaken a major research project about the perception of golf and clubs from a female viewpoint, stressed that the sport needed to accept the need for change.
“The experience economy means people are far more aware of their surroundings so, for example, they are prepared to pay a bit extra for a coffee in somewhere like Costa,” he said. “So clubs need to think about the whole experience, not just whether the ball rolls well on the greens, with ideas like priority parking for families, a safe area for children while their parents are at the club or activities for the parents themselves.
“A golf club should be like a community hub, offering the kind of personalised welcome that you might get when joining a gym – they need to be a relaxing and fun place to be, rather than a place where people feel they are struggling to fit in!”
Speakers at the hugely successful event also included social media sensation, the JazzyGolfer (real name Jasmine), who offered a perspective of golf from a 21st century 20-something, and marketing expert Emma Ballard, of Media8.
Jasmine, who only took up the sport 12 months ago, warned that golf is in danger of missing out on potential players.
“This is a sport that can be fun for everyone, but there have been times when I have been left to feel like an outsider or very uncomfortable,” she said.
“We need to make clubs more welcoming. It is not all clubs but probably more than we want to admit. This is a great opportunity for the sport – but there is no room for men only parts of a clubhouse while I was once told I couldn’t play at a club because of what I was wearing – even though they had invited me there!
“Clubs need to make the right appeal to a generation who spend their time on social media rather than watching TV or reading newspapers, and provide the kind of offers, playing formats and environment that will attract them.”
Clubs are now being offered a range of support to drive the initiative forward with workshops, marketing and social media advice and grant support available.
Pictured is The JazzyGolfer, Jasmine, who told the Lancashire county conference that golf was in danger of missing out on a whole generation of potential players.