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Women in golf – progress and opportunity

June is Women’s Golf Month. Launched in 2005 by the PGA of America with the support of the LPGA and the NGCOA, it’s a month-long celebration and promotion of women in golf.

The month started with a bang (or should I say bell), with Women’s Golf Day founder Elisa Gaudet, along with Callaway Golf and Topgolf ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. This year, Women’s Golf Day saw close to 1,000 golf facilities around the world hosting a variety of golf events involving tens of thousands of women who play the game or want to. I spoke to Ms. Gaudet this morning as she was preparing for a round of golf at Pebble Beach, a reward she decided to provide herself after their most successful Women’s Golf Day ever.

Just seven years ago, in 2014, the proportion of all golf participants (on/off-course combined) who were women was 27%. Since then, the volume of female participants has grown by 43% — from 8 million on and off-course to now almost 11.5 million, positively shifting the female/male ratio to 31:69. And yet, most of that growth has happened away from the course – the number of females (age 6+) playing on-course is up only 300K over that same seven-year timeframe (+5%).

Fortunately, the female/male balance on-course seems certain to shift in the future, as more than a third of 6- to 17-year-old players are now female, up (incredibly) from 14% back in 1986, when we first began measuring golf participation on an annual basis. That’s better representation than every other age group by a significant margin. And yet the opportunity for growth is still there among adults. Among the 17 million Americans who express the highest level of interest in taking up the “green grass” game, 37% are women – more than 50% higher than their actual proportion on-course today.

That’s six million prospective women golfers who promotions like Women’s Golf Month and Women’s Golf Day aim to activate. But getting new golfers from the couch to the course is just the first step. NGF’s research has repeatedly shown that unless we provide an improved beginning golfer experience our conversion rate from “trial” to “commitment” will remain far below what it could be.

Beginners generally walk away from golf for two main reasons. One, because they never get comfortable around the golf course or other golfers. And, two, because they don’t feel they play well enough to enjoy the game, nor do they experience enough “shot euphoria” (which is especially true for lapsed females).

Back to Elisa Gaudet. I asked who she was playing Pebble with today and she said, “I don’t know. Whoever they pair me with. I’m a single.” Wow. Hats off. Imagine creating legions of women golfers like Elisa who have the level of comfort and confidence needed to face one of the toughest tests in golf, in the presence of strangers, probably men.

No. Not strangers. Not men. Fellow golfers.

Joseph Beditz
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