The revolution in women’s participation

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 8, 2022 10:17

Rates of golf participation by women have soared since the pandemic started, and this is leading to new levels of female engagement, from social media influencers trying the game for the first time to PGA professionals becoming full-time greenkeepers.

The pandemic has meant that the male / female ratio in UK golf participation has changed exponentially, as female participation at UK golf courses more than tripled between 2019 and 2020, with nearly 1.5 million women playing at least one full round of golf in 2020.

The number of women golfers grew from just over 400,000 to 1.46 million – and from 14 percent of all golfers to 28 percent – in that time, according to figures from SMS.

Female newcomers to golf at a taster event at Gleneagles last summer. Pic Kenny Smith, Kenny Smith Photography
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Similarly, an audit of European Tour Destinations’ 30 golf venues around the world has found that there has been a significant increase in memberships since the pandemic began, with a major shift towards younger and female golfers.

The signs are clearly showing that golf can no longer be described as a man’s game.

Last summer Walton Heath Golf Club welcomed 17 female social media influencers of different ages and backgrounds for an introduction to love.golf, a group coaching experience for women, with coaches Jo Taylor and Hannah Crump, plus lunch and post-experience mocktails.

Jemma Overing, golf events and sales manager at Walton Heath, commented: “This was a unique experience for Walton Heath, having never hosted such an event in the past.

“We were pleased that the influencers enjoyed their experience at the club, and it was great to hear that some of them might now consider playing more golf in the future.”

The influencer event also provided a platform for Walton Heath to demonstrate its commitment to The R&A Women in Golf Charter. Jemma added: “Walton Heath was one of the first clubs to sign up to the Women in Golf Charter, and we are committed to supporting the development of the women’s game at every level.”

Participant and influencer Elspeth Van Der Hole said: “I love trying new things and use exercise as therapy to work on my mental health, boost my mood and make new friends, so something like this is perfect for me.”

The event followed a group of 19 female newcomers to the sport enjoying a love.golf taster event at Gleneagles a few days earlier.

It was led by Gleneagles’ PGA National Academy manager, Matthew Reid, and PGA professional, Gilbert Hepburn, and there was even a surprise visit from Catriona Matthew, returning to the 850-acre Perthshire estate, scene of the famous European Solheim Cup victory she orchestrated as captain in 2019.

Last summer Walton Heath Golf Club welcomed social media influencers to a group coaching experience for women.

Andrew Jowett, Gleneagles’ PGA head of golf, said: “Every woman who took part signed up to a follow-on programme, which is the best feedback we could have wished for.”

Participant, Aileen Grant, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed it and it has given me the confidence to take my very limited golf journey a bit further.

“Catriona Matthew being there was such a lovely touch and a nice surprise for all the ladies in attendance.”

Last summer also saw the return of ‘Women and Girls in Golf Week’.

Lauren Spray, England Golf’s women and girls in golf manager, commented: “Our aim was to raise awareness of the female side of the game.

“And, with the support and collaboration of a committed group from within the golf industry as well as the wider golfing public, we succeeded.

“We’re already looking forward to the 2022 campaign which will once again coincide with the staging of the AIG Women’s Open.”

The increase in female participation may also be having a knock-on effect of more women working in the golf industry – including the male-dominated area of greenkeeping.

Former Wales Golf academy player Rhian Barton took up greenkeeping at the start of the pandemic to give her more time to practice to try and qualify for the Ladies European Tour, and complete her PGA club professional qualifications. She has now taken up the profession full-time and last autumn the 22-year-old from Wrexham won the Toro Young Student Greenkeeper of the Year Award.

She also recommends greenkeeping as a profession for girls and women to take up, saying, “I can do everything the men can do, and just as well, but not many girls think of it as a profession they can go into.”

“It feels really good to have won this award, it caps off a really good year for me,” she explained.

Rhian Barton

“I have volunteered at three big golf tournaments, started part-time on the match day groundstaff at Wembley and got a new job as assistant greenkeeper at The Wisley Golf Club in Surrey.

“I started greenkeeping because it gave me more time to play and practice than being a club professional and I would still like to get back into playing more competitive golf.

“But greenkeeping is my main priority now because I enjoy it so much. I want to make my way and become a head greenkeeper, but I also want to be involved in tournament golf.

“My ultimate ambition would be to become an agronomist on one of the golf tours as that would combine greenkeeping with professional golf.”

Barton got into the Wales Golf North Academy at 14, her biggest achievements being the Welsh girl representative at the Under 16’s Junior British Open and also representing Wales at the European Young Masters in 2015.

She took her PGA club pro qualifications at Carden Park, getting her final qualifications this year, while playing with limited success on the LET Access Tour.

“I was chatting to one of the greenkeepers at Carden Park when I was assistant pro there, they finished early so I thought I could practice more,” said Barton.

“I was doing long hours in the shop so I could not play as much as I wanted to. I did not have a great year on the LET Access Tour and that is expensive and hard to fund, then there was an enforced break because of Covid.

“I started working more on the golf course, really enjoyed it and thought that might be the route for me.

“I do not see why other women do not do it, I think part of the problem is the level of recognition that this job is out there for them.

“Greenkeeping is seen as male-dominated, but that has never been a problem for me. At all my clubs I was the only girl, then the same with the North Wales squad at my age, so it did not faze me to go into a male-dominated area.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 8, 2022 10:17
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1 Comment

  1. Jason Ross (He/Him) January 9, 14:45

    Great news for the game.

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