What is limiting the growth of women’s golf? In Part 1 of this series, the design of the golf course was discussed. Part 2 will examine how asking the right research questions will help us design better golf courses for women and other shorter hitters. It will also look at how the presence of positive female role models impacts player retention; and finally, how the ability to find quality equipment fit for women can reduce difficulty of the game.
There is a significant lack of meaningful research on women's golf. I propose that if the right research questions were asked, light would be shed on golf course design playability barriers, equipment inadequacies, and numerous other trivialized issues that alone may seem insignificant, but collectively make the game more difficult for women and create a highly impervious barrier to growing the game.
In preparation to write this and other articles, I did database searches for research on women’s golf. I found that scientifically rigorous research that asks the right questions is extremely limited. It is my opinion that research is critically needed to enable us to define and articulate issues with credibility, to defend positions, and to develop improved golf products (courses and equipment) for women golfers.
Unidentified, silent, unscientific, and trivialized problems are much more difficult to address than overtly recognized ones. I suggest that unless these problems are identified, given the proper gravity, talked about, and taken action upon, they will remain lurking year after year and continue to contribute to stagnant growth in participation.
In May 2010, women occupied less than two percent of PGA club professional positions across the United States, and less than one percent of executive leadership positions. Women occupied less than two percent of golf course superintendent positions, golf course architect positions, and club owner positions. These abysmal numbers appear to have spoken loudly enough to compel change, as we have seen some significant shake-up in the industry to be more gender-inclusive.
In 2016-17, we saw the election of Diana Murphy to a second term as USGA President, the R&A opened its doors to women, and Muirfield had a misfire on its gender policy.
Despite the awakening, the continued low percentages of women in golf industry positions may continue to hold back growth potential because a lack of women at the decision-making table limits problem recognition, discussion, and solution development from the female perspective. Furthermore, aspiring young female athletes and businesswomen are often still without club professional, leadership, or golf business role models.
Another barrier that makes the game of golf more difficult for women to play is substandard golf equipment that emphasises fashion rather than function. It seems as if the focus of women's equipment designers is on the hot new colours, fabrics, and feminine form of the equipment rather than how it will function. Only in recent years has women's golf apparel been designed with "technical" fabrics and comfortable cut, but availability of these garments is still limited.
When it comes to golf clubs and shoes for women, accepted bio-mechanical principles are thrown out the door. Golf is a sport that requires balance. Women need shoes that are supportive and stable, not pliable rubber, and golf clubs should have enough strength in the shaft to impact the ball without bowing like a noodle, otherwise it is like hitting a golf ball with a fishing pole while wearing pink flip-flops.
In addition to poorly designed equipment, many clubs do not have a thoughtful purchasing agent for women’s equipment, which often leaves women golfers without equipment (or very limited choice) in the pro-shop that would allow success on the golf course. Poorly designed equipment, a lack of comfortable functional clothing, and limited pro shop product availability and choice are barriers that make the sport more difficult for women to access and play, and may just contribute to attrition of newly recruited female golfers.
Copyright© 2017 by Kari Haug
Click here to read Part 3 of Kari's article.
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