Can the UK Increase Female Participation in Golf?
Of the 678,372 golfers in the UK, just 14% are women
It is said that golf was born off the Eastern coast of Scotland, deep in the 15th century. Steadily it grew, until a boom struck in the 1800s. At this time, golf began to spread throughout the British Isles, the British colonies and then across to Europe. Today, the European region is now home to 22% of the world’s total golf supply.
However, whilst the UK is known to be the birthplace of golf, it seems we are desperately lagging behind other European countries when it comes to female participation in the sport.
That is to say, in spite of the UK playing host to an approximate 3,000 golf courses and clubs, where 678,372 people take to the green, only 14% are women. If you take Germany as an opposing example; a wholesome 35% of their 639,137 recorded golfing members are female, and the sport continues to grow rapidly in appeal. Elsewhere Austria (35%), Switzerland (33%), Slovenia (32%) and the Netherlands (32%) follow suit – surpassing the UK’s feeble female count with ease.
Are We On the Brink of Change?
Quite remarkably – and sadly - it doesn’t seem that all that much has changed in recent years. Take the issues surrounding the Open Championship for example. As recent as last year, Muirfield golf club was told it will not host the Open Championship after members voted to continue its men-only policy. Yes, the result was narrow – just 3% short of the number needed – but the result nonetheless conveyed a message. Perhaps we are still somewhat hesitant about how we feel regarding women on the green. We – or ‘traditional’ golfers more generally – are suspicious; as if fully committing to equality would be one step too far for a sport steeped in such masculine history.
Last time Muirfield hosted the Open Championship in 2013, Scotland’s First Minister refused to attend and current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went on to echo the sentiment describing the course and its gender position as “simply indefensible.” Indeed, whilst only 1% of the UK’s golf clubs have a single sex policy today, it’s not really the current percentage that matters. It’s the message that transcends any number. It’s the debate, and the very need for one at all, that remains the key issue in many people’s minds.
A consequence of such debate and limitation no doubt breeds animosity and perhaps one of the reasons the UK has such a limited number of female golfers is the simple fact that they just do not feel that they belong or that they’re welcome. After all this time, it remains a male-dominated sport and it requires the efforts of both genders to make needed change.
What Men Can Do
A recent report claimed men can play a huge role in encouraging women to participate in golf; to exercise their potential, free of fear and judgement: if only they would. As it seems one of the top reasons for female golfers taking up the game is due to influence from a male peer. Furthermore, more than 1 in 2 male golfers say their sons often play golf, but just 12% say their daughters play – and why is that? Are fathers taking the time to encourage their daughters, as well as their sons, to join them on the green?
Certainly, the report found that only a quarter of male golfers are interested in playing casual golf with female counterparts. The same report found only 1 in 2 women who play golf do so because of influence from a male partner – with 78% of male players stating that their partners do not play.
Certainly, there could be a number of reasons why women do not play including work, family commitments or genuine lack of interest - but it’s also likely that husbands and boyfriends alike will simply assume that it is a sport for men and men only and will not attempt to encourage or entice their spouse to join them. Indeed, 1 in 4 women have admitted that they have experienced ill feeling and poor treatment by men on the course at one time or another.
The editor of Women and Golf adds: “In most other European countries golfers join as a family and more often than not, they play golf as a family, hence why countries like Germany and Sweden have a high percentage of female players.” – Something that the UK is evidently lacking.
The Next Generation
If we don’t act now, it seems the next generation of female golfers in the UK will suffer. Last year, England Golf released statistics stating that the average golf club in England has 25 members under the age of 16, but less than 3 of these will be female. Again, despite having a golf market fit for mass junior participation in the UK, we fall behind numerous European countries – with Turkey achieving the best results for junior golfers at 45%.
Top 5 junior golf countries:
And, despite the UK having an approximate 56,205 junior golfers – junior golfers account for just 8% of those actively participating in the sport. In fact, in a list of 34 countries, this figure was only slightly higher than junior golfers in Germany (7%), Denmark (7%) and the Netherlands (4%.) So, it is clear to see that much more needs to be done in encouraging not only the UK’s women – but our junior players too. If we don’t, the limited participation cycle is likely to continue.
What Can Be Done? And, Are We Already Doing It?
Organisations are working hard to increase female participation in golf, such as the Golf for Girls campaign set up by Hays Recruitment and #ThisGirlGolfs – a campaign inspired by Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign that aims to breakthrough stereotypes; to show the world that golf is a game for all. We also need to educate course owners and staff on how better to encourage and support female players, to remove animosity and to normalise the appearance of women on the green; it’s paramount.
A positive sign that we’re on the right track comes from the County Golf Partnership (CGP) who have reported that 54,000 people were inspired to get into golf in summer 2015 – 35% of which were women. However, though this information shows an increase of 47% on past summers, the key is to actually get those potential new players hitting the course.
It is important to encourage female participation, whether you’re a father of three, a work colleague with a golf hobby or a golf products shop worker advising on the best clubs: we all have to recognise that sport isn’t gender specific, but a personal preference that many girls – and boys – will favour.
‘Article written by https://golfsupport.com/ Golf Support and researched in association with Journalistic’
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By Mike Valverde