PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

How Do We Get More Women To Play?

By Jerry Tarde Illustrations by Alison Seiffer
January 25, 2012

I have two daughters who have been around golf their whole lives. "Dad, don't tell us you joined another club for old people," Lauren said when we walked into our first social event. She was 8 at the time, nine years ago. "After the tee shot, you can have this game," she said when we went out to play.

Driving the cart was a great inducement at first. A candy bar at the halfway house was the goal, but nine holes--six holes, really--was the maximum attention span. Then her sister started getting under her skin as they locked in the mortal two-step of sibling rivalry.

Lauren is the better skier and rackets player. Sam, a year older, has the edge in field hockey and ice skating--although sitting here at the keyboard, I cringe at the thought of them reading this and refusing to concede that the other one is better at anything. Sam describes herself as "master of nothing, maybe a little above mediocre at everything," which I think is a neat way to throw yourself into life.

Lauren's golf swing is born of a hockey rink, low-slung and more of a hit. Sam goes at the ball like a young Beth Daniel, long and flowing and--I hate to admit--she hits it farther than I do. Last year when she decided that golf might provide her an edge in college admission, she spent a week at Pine Needles taking lessons from Donna Andrews. Sam went out and amazingly shot 90 in her first-ever full round of 18 holes. When she got home to the reality that it was too late to get good enough to be recruitable, she put away the clubs. One Division I college coach told Sam the worst player on her team was a 2-handicapper, and that, as they say, was that.

One other thing I should mention: We're lucky enough to play at a course that has caddies, which you'd think is a good thing, but not to two teenage girls. "Are you kidding! Why would I want a good-looking boy walking around watching me miss the ball?" says Sam. Which really gets to the heart of it: Forget elitist clubs with caddie programs. Social intimidation in many forms is the greatest hurdle for women and girls on the golf course, especially beginners. Male golfers and course staff are often the culprits, sometimes when they don't even mean to be. It's hard for anybody to play in front of an audience.

If my daughters don't play golf, how can I expect rafts of young women to take up the sport and save the day in our current economic malaise? Because that is really what's needed. "Another club for old people" is not a formula for the future. Golf needs to be more inviting to all comers, and top of the priority list is welcoming women and girls.

"A course that treats women with respect creates a trickle-down effect to its members, and, overall, a greater sense of camaraderie and pride," one woman told us in response to a survey (read: Survey: Avid Women Golfers Speak Out

). "Our membership recognizes it's good for business! In an economy where this sport has suffered, and people must make choices on how to spend disposable income, all of us have to act as ambassadors if we are to survive."

on how we treat women golfers at public courses and retail stores. The conclusions are surprising and mixed. We're better than we used to be, but there's a long way to go, baby.

And if you don't want to get on board because it's the right thing to do, do it because it's good for golf. Women control 83 percent of consumer purchases and 91 percent of home buying. About 20 percent of golfers and 25 percent of juniors are female. This new century belongs to our daughters, and wouldn't it be nice if they were golfers.