On the front line

Lauren Spray, Women & Girls Participation Manager for England Golf, works everyday to get more women into the game and to help golf pros target this demographic. She explains why women could be the key to combating decreasing participation figures.

What does your job involve? 

I look after three strands of the strategy that England Golf have: more players, more members and stronger clubs, so everything I do reflect these. In July we launched a women’s pilot programme with 100 clubs nationally working in 12 counties. This women’s pilot programme is based around ‘Get Into Golf’ and through that we make sure support around these programmes is provided, such as offers like ‘5 for 25’, where five hours coaching is provided for £25. Getting golf clubs to make connections with their local women’s groups, such as looking at school mums or a local chamber of commerce to engage with business women is key. These groups are then offered taster opportunities to have a go at golf and then fed into coaching opportunities. A big thing we are working on is putting in buddies or ambassadors to help with the integration of new players into a club. This can be playing or coaching buddies to take them into the club house afterwards and chat with them – this takes a bit of a burden off the pros and also these are the ladies they are going to be playing with.

Have you noticed any change in the attitude of pros towards getting women into golf? 

Everybody has been really receptive to what we are trying to do. People are now realising that it is such a large group and potential area and that putting on ladies’ specific coaching generically at 10.00am on a Tuesday isn’t enough; the coaches that are more successful are the ones that make sure sessions are available at weekends and after work and are more flexible.

What advice would you give to a golf pro looking to target women clients? 

Speak to your current lady section and understand what their current demographics are and what will fit in with them and what opportunities you currently have through the club. Generally we still see a lot of referrals coming in through women who are related in some way or have a relationship with current members. Think about what the USP of your club is and sell that and make sure that whatever you are offering is reflected back at the club environment. It is really important to retain these women. The women’s section of a club are going to be your salespeople and they are ambassadors for the club and help new members settle in. They are really important.

Understanding the target market is key and this is improving, so understanding the reasons why women participate – is it for health benefits or social? – and making that part of the sessions they deliver.

Should pros be teaching women in different ways than men? 

You have to understand the individual in front of you and just see them as a golfer, regardless of whether they are a man or a women, and adapt your teaching style to them as a person in front of you. Whether it’s a man or a woman, understand their reasons for participating and adapt your style to suit them. I would never give a prescription of how a session should go or what should be delivered; the whole premise of a golf coach is that they are trained to deliver an engaging and enjoyable session to what is in front of them. If they deliver and adapt their sessions to who is in front of them then their customer will keep on coming back, which is very important as some clubs are now tasking pros with membership totals and targets. It is definitely in their best interests to ensure that there is a pathway in place at the golf club from total beginner through to a trail membership and then active member.

Have any specific targets been set for the future in terms of female participation? 

Female participation in the UK currently stands at 15% but I would love to think we could get to somewhere near where are partners are on the Continent like Germany and Sweden are. That would be amazing. However, first off, the task has to be to stop the decline in numbers, which we have started to do, as is shown in Active People Survey (APS) figures. For me, it is about working with lots of different clubs for whom we can help and provide a comprehensive overview of what it is they need to put into place to encourage women. Hopefully through that we see a slowdown in the decline, a stabilisation and then even an increase in the number of women playing golf, which would be fantastic. We have to take small steps.

Golf pros can access information on the England Golf website on the section ‘supporting women and girls golf.’ Here there is a downloadable factsheet which covers 10 different core topic areas, from recruitment and retention to ensuring the listings are written in a women friendly manner. They have been designed so they can be taken into a committee meeting or a discussion around women in golf and they have clear strategies. County development offices of England Golf will be able to provide support on a local level.