Date: Wed 11 Dec 2013

Women’s Golf Part I: Leveling the Playing Field – One Tee at a Time

By Kari Haug, EIGCA Associate Member

Kari Haug

In recent years, the focus of many “grow the game” initiatives for women has been on promoting the game through golf clinics, private lessons, improved pro shop customer service, and social events. The PGA has made a good effort to improve the golf experience for women through its Golf 2.0 “Connecting with Her Playbook” program, but despite these efforts, women’s golf participation rates have remained stagnant at around twenty percent.

Although the Golf 2.0 Playbook program has made a huge stride forward in recognizing the powerful influence of women in the future growth of the game, and has made some solid recommendations for introducing women to the game, it doesn't fully address the other half of the equation: keeping women in the game. Research shows that for every male golfer that leaves the game, three women players are lost. In my opinion, the inattention to retention of women golfers is a significant oversight in nearly all efforts to grow the game for women, and there are two fundamental remedial issues that should be addressed to help keep women playing the game:

  1. Design golf courses that are as enjoyable for women to play as they are for men, and
  2. Increase the presence of women in all sectors of the golf industry, especially in leadership positions.

Tee elevation comparison

Part I of this article will provide golf course design recommendations to improve the on-course golf experience for women. Part II will discuss how increasing the presence of women in all fields of the golf industry and governing bodies would help to improve retention of women golfers.

While everyone runs around trying to figure out how to fix women’s golf, the fact that golf courses don’t function properly for women is the elephant in the room. It is time to take an honest look at golf course design as a major factor that affects enjoyment of the game for women. A golf course that is playable and of appropriate length for women can level the playing field, contribute to player satisfaction, and help reduce attrition of women golfers.

While everyone runs around trying to figure out how to fix women’s golf, the fact that golf courses don’t function properly for women is the elephant in the room.

One of the Golf 2.0 “Connecting with Her Playbook” recommendations for improving course set-up for women is to: “mow a portion of turf on or near the fairway at a lower height of cut and place tee markers at this location.” The Playbook recommendation continues: “It is most important to make that sure the forward tee locations don’t look like an afterthought.” Unfortunately, the best way to make sure a tee box does look like an afterthought is to simply mow a patch of the fairway and put down some markers! A thoughtfully designed tee is one that is located in the proper playable location by a credentialed and thoughtful golf course architect. In addition, all tees (even those meant for women) should be constructed with proper size, drainage, grasses, soils, and irrigation.

Designing golf courses for a wide range of golf abilities is multifaceted, but a good place to start is with appropriate course length. A course that is too long, with forward tees that are poorly located, with insurmountable hazards, and driving angles that shunt the ball across slopes into long rough can turn an enjoyable day at the golf course into an exhausting endeavor. This is especially true if one considers the natural strength differential between men and women and the fact that courses historically were designed only with the strength of men in mind. On the other hand, courses designed to provide women with equally playable tee locations, with strategic, attractive, and visible views of landing areas, could provide a lifetime of great golf experiences that can help convert beginner golfers into life-long patrons who may even introduce the next generation to the game.

“Leveling the playing field” means providing everyone equal advantages and disadvantages in sporting events. In relation to women’s golf, this can be realized by providing equal choice, access, inclusiveness, playability, challenge and charm on the golf course. Factors that significantly affect the playability of the course are: tee location, size, and elevation; whether or not the tee is reasonably level, close to amenities, and free of overhanging branches; has equitable visibility of the landing area, angle of play, distance to dogleg turning points, distance to hazards, trajectory considerations, and limited forced carry distance; and finally, good drainage and turf growth conditions. When back tees are designed, these factors are carefully considered. In addition, the back tees are graduated to provide a range of three to four choices in course length, usually ranging from 6,000 yards to 7,000 yards.

Afterthough fairway tee

Afterthough fairway tee

In contrast, forward tee installation is often an afterthought and usually only one tee choice is provided. A single tee choice assumes that all women hit drivers the same distance – an incorrect assumption. This lack of choice limits access for women to play a graduated course length that would provide the distance and strategic challenges necessary for game development. If the playing field were truly leveled, there would be a minimum of two tee choices as recommended by the women’s golf trailblazer, Alice Dye, decades ago; and in modern times, there would preferably be three tee choices.

In order to improve player satisfaction on the golf course, the first initiative should be to ensure that course length is manageable for women. A good, playable tee complex for women golfers would include three graduated tees at approximately 4,900 yards, 5,300 yards, and 5,700 yards. Collegiate, pro and scratch women golfers can usually play from one of the 6,000+ yard tees. A manageable course length starting with a well-designed tee complex is a necessary first step toward creating course designs with strategic elements that can make the game as much fun for women as it is for men.

This article was originally published in Golf Arizona Magazine November 2013-January 2014 -

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