Academic report shows huge potential for clubs via women golfers

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 27, 2018 13:01

A major new R&A commissioned study by the International Institute for Golf Education, based at the University Centre Myerscough, has confirmed the huge potential female golfers offer to golf clubs.

“Many countries are seeing a fall in the number of both males and females playing golf and the research report analyses the factors which affect whole family participation in the sport, including women and girls, and details a number of useful practical recommendations for national golf bodies and golf clubs to help them encourage more women and girls to play,” said a spokesman for The R&A.

“A significant growth opportunity exists for golf if it can attract more women, girls and families into playing the sport more often.”

The key themes identified in Women’s, Girls’, and Family Participation in Golf: An Overview of Existing Research (2018), which brings together the findings of existing academic and industry research with the individual views of a wide-ranging group of golf experts, and was produced by Dr John Fry and Philip Hall, include:

  • The importance of establishing the optimum environment for family participation by being aware of the make-up of the modern family
  • A direct link between equality in sports participation and wider measures of gender equality such as women in influential decision-making positions in golf
  • That parents are the chief factor underpinning families’ likelihood to play golf and that their motivations for their children taking part include having fun, improving health and developing friendships
  • The increasing desire for golf to provide opportunities for socialising and to be adaptable and flexible given the time and cost constraints placed on the modern family
  • The need for the sport to evolve to meet the demands of contemporary society and for clubs to encourage memorable events for their customers, as that memory itself or the ‘experience’, is increasingly replacing the ‘product’ of playing golf.

‘A legacy of traditional perceptions of a ‘stereotypical’ golfer still exists – typically older middle class white males,’ states the report.

‘The golf industry should look to challenge these perceptions through developments, such as dress codes and by offering a range of activities for family golfers.

‘The spatial layout of golf courses can impact on enjoyment levels amongst beginner golfers. Many women and juniors experience ‘statistical discrimination’, where an individual stereotype becomes misapplied to the group, and they are treated as if they possess those qualities and characteristics, regardless of their individual abilities. Adopting course types and set up appropriate for the playing standard of the golfer can help reduce difficulties and frustrations for family participation.

‘Changes in the golf industry are often subject to resistance from various groups, which may be detrimental to long term participation. There is a balance to be achieved between providing for the established members, that have been loyal to the club over multiple years, and new members who may move from club to club. Greater awareness and focus on a club’s target market is important in this regard.

‘Golf should look to encourage memorable events for their customers, as that memory itself, or the ‘experience’, is starting to becomes the product. Consumers are now more likely to wear experiences as ‘badges of honour’, indicating that there is greater value in what one can achieve, as opposed to what one can possess. Golf clubs are advised to consider their unique story based around their history and traditions.

‘Research indicates that family friendly leisure facilities should include priority parking, provision of an affordable and available crèche to encourage families with younger children, ‘play areas’ within the facility enabling children to engage in informal play within sight of their parents. ‘Alternative’ leisure programmes aimed at engaging families could also include activities for parents and guardians, family-based classes and / tuition, family open days, and reductions on fees / subsidised passes for families. Research has also shown importance placed on the quality of facilities, such as on course toilets and drinking water.’

Dr John Fry said: “The report brings together for the first time in one place the key academic and industry research articles conducted on family sports participation.

“The process involved searching scientific databases containing more than one million citations, peer-reviewed research papers and selecting the most appropriate evidence based studies that can help underpin strategies to increase participation in golf.

“The research is supplemented with case studies of best practice, analysis from a number of industry experts and offers a series of practical actions which golf clubs can adopt.”

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A, said: “The research demonstrates there is a tremendous opportunity for golf to grow its participation numbers and generate more income if it can attract more women, girls and families into playing the sport.

“We know that more work needs to be done to achieve this outcome at a time when there are concerns about declining participation levels and this report provides useful actions and guidance for our affiliates and clubs that can lead to tangible, positive outcomes for golf.”

The full report can be accessed here:


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 27, 2018 13:01
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  1. Andrew February 28, 12:19

    Hi Abbie, I understand EG’s position. However, the ongoing DCLG’s NPPF consultation needs to include specific guidance in relation to underused golf courses so that local planning authorities engage positively with struggling golf clubs…..currently they don’t, which means that golf clubs either go bust or they spend copious amounts of money (they don’t have) hiring planning consultants and land promoters to spend months (normally years) persuading local planning authorities to engage.
    Guidance from the DCLG is essential and they will only listen to the governing bodies.

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  2. Abbie February 28, 12:14

    I don’t think there is any doubt that the facility mix needs to improve, which is backed up by the numbers using these more modern/fun/experience focused facilities. As independent businesses, clubs and facilities need to determine what is right for them and take the appropriate action – we provide access to insight and tools that will help inform some of these decisions, but ultimately the club/facility are in control of how they utilise this information and wherever appropriate, implement change.

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  3. Andrew February 28, 12:09

    At the risk of becoming even more boring by repeating my view: the English golfing infrastructure is not fit for purpose. Several hundred of the 1900 full length courses need to go and be replaced by compact and fun golf themed centres such as Topgolf, Toptracer ranges and “3 Hammers type” centres. Until England Golf and possibly the R&A take responsibility for amending England’s golfing infrastructure to match supply with demand as, in my humble opinion, I have outlined on numerous occasions, golf in England will continue to decline leading to golf club/business failures.
    The solution is not rocket science, but only EG and the R&A have the clout to persuade Government to apply the required planning guidance to local authority planning authorities, they need to become proactive to get the great game of golf back to growth.

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  4. Peter February 28, 12:02

    Retail is one area where the ladies do themselves no favours. I’ve worked with a broad spectrum of clubs and the only one where ladies retail worked was the one that went almost 100% ladies but even they were somewhat frustrated by the demand for discount and waiting for “sale” time. Their buying habits seem just not to be the same, on the whole, as the men. But this is one area where generational change is already and hopefully will continue to be for the better. As for footgolf, the less said better. If we do golf well we won’t need it and that will be a good thing, but that’s just my opinion and I know others will disagree!

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  5. Philip February 28, 11:57

    Some great points Peter, definitely golf as a product needs a couple of more variations to sell itself to younger individuals, footgolf does really well at golf clubs and is wether clubs like it or not an adaptation of golf. More access to female role models is something myself and John found during the research. A good example of getting more females into golf would be how many local clubs stock female clothing, probably not many if any that doesn’t create a welcoming environment where female members feel valued! The marketing of golf also needs tobe addressed a serious image change is needed quickly, golf needs to sell itself and I think a really well thought out marketing campaign could do wonders for the game.

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  6. Peter February 28, 11:47

    We’ve been talking about this as an industry for over 15 years now and a good number of clubs have done some fantastic work and yet the participation figures have remained stubbornly resistant to change. That suggests that we might be trying to solve the unsolvable or that our product is so fundamentally flawed that the change has got to be transformational and probably lead by a younger generation. And I suspect that the lack of TV coverage and female role models is not helping.

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  7. Abbie February 28, 01:16

    So much good practice within this report, with plenty of clubs doing some awesome work – all the answers are out there, with the research to back it up…all about implementation now!

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