Why targeting women could lead to real profits

With the UK having one of the lowest female golfing participation rates in Europe, Andy Brown spoke to some of those in the industry looking to reverse this trend and heard what a great untapped revenue source PGA pros are missing out on.

For governing bodies seeking to increase participation to golf clubs and pros looking to boost their revenue, there is one major demographic that should be targeted; women. Despite making up just over half of the population of the United Kingdom statistics from Sport England show that the average membership split in golf clubs is just 15 per cent female, but of those women who are members over 60 per cent play once a week. The hard part is getting women into a club in the first place and then retaining them for long enough for them to become established members.

Graphs-SexOver the last two years this issue has gained increased publicity and more work is being done by golf clubs and professionals across the country looking to increase their female membership base, although it is still not nearly enough. With participation being one of the biggest issues affecting the game at the moment – GOLF RETAILING’s own survey found that over 50 per cent of the golf pros questioned named participation as the biggest single issue affecting their businesses – just what can golf pros do to attract more women clients?

Syngenta, the agriculture company, released a comprehensive report in 2014 called ‘The Opportunity to Grow Golf: Female Participation’ which surveyed over 1,500 females and found that non-golfing women viewed the game as slow, expensive, a game for older men, a game where membership was required and expensive. Simon Elsworth, Head of Turf and Landscape at Syngenta says that the research around women in golf was, “very large scale – we talked to 3,500 people and tried to understand from the point of view of not only golfers but those who had left the game for some reason and those who were active but didn’t play the game.”

The research highlighted that women and juniors are the two biggest opportunities to grow the game in the UK and that they are linked; attract women and they will usually also introduce their children to the game. Syngenta continued with their research and partnered with Alastair Spink, a PGA Pro and Head Coach of love.golf whose work on women in golf dovetailed with the results of their own research.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.11.22Through his golf club, Fynn Valley in Suffolk, Spink has been responsible for introducing over 300 women to golf and is so passionate about the subject that he has gone back to university to study a Masters in Sports Coaching, specialising in how people learn. Spink explains that he first became interested in getting women into golf when, “In our golf club in Fynn Valley we were seeing two trends: numbers of female members were going down and our average age of members was going up, so two trends which aren’t going to lead to long-term success.” This inspired Spink to create ‘Here Come The Girls’ which has many of the same principles as his and Syngenta’s new initiative, love.golf. What exactly is different about his projects which helps to attract women?

Spink is keen to stress that there is no easy answer to the problem of female participation, but there are certainly some key differences to his approach compared to the majority of the industry. One of these is that the coaching isn’t done on a one on one basis and doesn’t take place on the range. “The research says that a group will learn much better if they are all actively involved and we can get them playing first and then introduce the skills,” explains Spink. “That’s really important as it makes it active, social and quick; women generally don’t have the same amount of time, so the activity needs to be active and done within an hour to an hour and a half, and playing on a golf course was a real key for that.”

Several times during our conversation Spink refers to creating an experience – it is clear that he believes that to attract women clients and then retain them much more needs to be do done than simply putting on a few taster lessons. The women involved in his projects learn together as a group by playing on a golf course. “They find out what the game is all about by playing it,” says Spink. “I can stand there and say ‘this is what a chip looks like’ and demonstrate it, but if they have a go at it themselves they will see what it really is about in the context of the game.”

Getting a ‘buy in’ from the club also has a huge impact on success or not: research has revealed that a strict dress code – women generally don’t want to ‘dress up’ to relax – and unwelcoming attitude from a club has a massive impact on female participation. Simon Elsworth from Syngenta believes that the demand is there, it is simply that the offerings from golf clubs and pros haven’t met what women actually want. “We spoke to some of the coaches involved in the pilot of love.golf and one of them said their club has 400 members and 50 of these are women, but when they have taster and introduction to golf sessions the split is 50-50,” says Elsworth. “The women don’t complete for some reason though, they drift away, so there’s something about needing a different way to introduce the game and the club level to make sure they feel welcome and comfortable.”

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That different approach is what love.golf is trying to do. Currently in a pilot stage with 15 different pros from around the country, Elsworth and Spink hope to launch nationwide next year as a franchise opportunity for golf pros. Spink is very passionate about the project and the wider issue of female participation. He believes that this area is one that can provide a real ‘win’ for golf pros. “I have visited lots of golf clubs and I think pros are having to change as the clubs are demanding more from them and they have to prove their worth much more than in the past,” he comments. “Traditionally the coach was sat in a shop and perhaps didn’t have much communication with the club, whereas now they are more integrated within the club and they are being asked to show their value.”

Attracting more women into their golf club and retaining them would certainly be a good way for golf pros to prove their worth. While to achieve this golf pros will need the help and support of their club, they are the frontline and can make a real difference. Spink has experienced this first-hand, with 67 per cent of those women who attended an initial coaching session at Fyn Valley going onto have further coaching. The pride is clear in his voice when he says this, and even more so when he mentions that the golf club won a country event this year and that two out of the six members of the team actually started through Here Come the Girls; proof there can be a real pathway from beginner to committed club member.

So, what final bit of advice would Spink give to golf pros looking to attract more female clients? There’s an audible silence as he thinks hard about the question before replying, “A coach that has a better understanding of their potential clients will be able to offer a better experience, and just using a coffee morning to get them isn’t enough. It is important to be passionate about it and get really involved with the groups and work with them. Having knowledge about what women want and how they can deliver it is vital.”

The full Syngenta report can be viewed here: http://sterf.golf.se/Media/Get/1741/the-opportunity-to-grow-golf-female-participation.pdf

Any pros interested in joining love.golf can contact Alastair on: Alastair@love.golf