Can the UK increase women's participation in golf?

by Maura Hutchinson

We might be the home of golf but the UK is lagging behind other European countries with female participation in the sport. So what’s keeping women off the greens and what if anything can be done to encourage them to take up and regularly play the sport?

Despite having around 3,000 clubs in the UK and Ireland a 2013 study published by KPMG found only 14% of the 1.2 million golf club members are female. In Germany, where golf is quickly gaining appeal it’s a different story, with 35% of the country’s 660,000 recorded members being women.

While the study showed the overall participation of female golfers in Europe increased in 2013, it is still mainly a sport dominated by men, representing an astounding 63% of the market.

In recent years the golfing industry has tried in vain to establish how to attract this untapped market. Research and reports have been published, female apparel and equipment has been designed but the issue of maintaining the interest of women in the sport, after an initial few rounds, doesn’t seem to have been solved.

Many theories can be looked at to answer the question of why. A report by Women in the Golf Industry (WIGI) from 2005 found that the reason many former female golfers left the sport was because “entry barriers were too high.” WIGI concluded that this had nothing to do with money but more to do with the attitudes they faced and what needed to be done to make women feel more comfortable and ultimately welcomed on the course.
However, it doesn’t seem much has changed in the last decade. A point that was driven home last year during the Open Championship as the war waged on about whether or not men-only golf clubs should remain. With the President of the R&A, Peter Dawson taking considerable heat for stating, “For some people, it’s a way of life that they rather like."

While only 1% of the golf clubs in the UK have a single-sex membership policy many believe it’s not the number that matters, but the message their very existence conveys.

“While it may be lawful for private member clubs to remain men-only, it is clearly damaging to the sport’s reputation,” CEO of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, Sue Tibballs explained. “A number of golfing bodies are working very hard to break down the traditional perceptions of the sport and encourage a new generation of female participants, and these clubs do nothing to help that cause.”

And it seems this next generation of female golfers in the UK might be in trouble already. With England Golf, the governing body for amateur golf in England releasing statistics last year showing that the average club in England has 25 under-16 members, less than 3 of which are girls.

So what can be done to boost these numbers and urge more women to continue with the sport? Across the country organisations are working hard to increase female participation in golf and educate course owners and staff on how to better support this lucrative market.

The recruiting group, Hays understands the need for more women to learn and enjoy the game, as it presents a great networking resource for professionals. In 2012 the company began its “Golf for Girls” initiative.

“We were hugely pleased with the success of the Golf for the Girls networking programme last year,” says Hays Director Georgina Casas. The company, along with City Golf invited a group of women to partake in a programme of tutorials and practice rounds before their inaugural Women’s Golf Day last May.

Casas told the Telegraph at the time, “We wanted to set up something across all sectors to engage female talent and we were inundated with applications.”

The success of Golf for Girls has made Hays and City Golf team up for the second year with the hope that women will feel confident enough to start holding meetings on the golf course, just like their male counterparts.

Another positive sign comes from the County Golf Partnerships (CGP) who report that 54,000 people were inspired to “Get into golf” last summer, 35% of which were women. While this information shows a promising 47% increase from the summer of 2012, the key will be getting these new players to continue hitting the course.