Golf equality…maybe not quite yet!

By KKP’s Director and Principal consultant (and keen golfer), Clare MacLeod.


It is to be hoped that the increased publicity surrounding this year’s Open Golf Championship leads to increased participation among both men and women on all courses.

We are continually told that golf is in terminal decline, that clubs need to get their act together and that shorter and more fun versions of the sport are needed.

Having been involved in the review of a substantial number of courses and facilities, my perception is that golf clubs are fighting back. Many have, at the very least, ‘bottomed out’ and are starting to show increased membership numbers (underpinning improved finances) despite not necessarily having opted to offer different versions of the sport (not that I am against this).

The number of women who play golf remains stubbornly low (only 15% of golf club membership – a figure lower than many other European countries). There is, arguably, a number of reasons for this and it is also true to say that we women golfers do not necessarily help the cause.

Take the term ‘working women’.  How often have you heard the phrase “we must help working women to play golf?” It is common parlance in many clubs and more importantly some actually mean it! I have real concerns about the use of this term as it implies that it is not common for women to work. In case you hadn’t spotted it, this is the 21st Century, women (alongside men) are educated to within an inch of their life, have career choices and the UK (in general) has really high employment rates. I don’t recall the term ‘working men’ being bandied about in the same vein.

Whilst certainly not the only factor, perhaps one step in the right direction is to look at competition opportunity and the doggedly stubborn view that ‘ladies’ should have competition days in midweek and if lucky an alternative day at a weekend (as long as it does not interfere with men’s competition). Are we not all golfers (who just happen to play off different tees…for that matter, why do we play off different tees)?

For the key Board competitions  (and following an 8-hour day at work for approximately eight weeks of the year) I can rush out of work, hope there is no traffic en route, get to the club, pull all my gear out of the car (hoping that I have remembered everything) run into the changing rooms to put on my shoes (can’t be seen putting them on in the car park as it is bad form), sign in (well I would do but the pro has left for the day) put my money in the box, meet my partner (who has deigned to play late) and stride of onto the first tee feeling as refreshed and ready as Rory McIlroy was on the first hole of Royal Portrush.

During August, we have to hope that there are no other players on the course as we do not wish to be delayed by slow play as the light is starting to fade (and particularly as I live in the North West, this is mixed with cloud and drizzle). Stories persist that rounds of golf have been known to finish illuminated by car headlights! Great for storytelling but not good if you are someone who wants to play her best, whatever your handicap!

Do I play my best golf…no, do I feel part of an inclusive club,…no, is there any solution… yes, of course there is.

A local golf club recently celebrated the fact that it allowed women to play in the men’s weekend competition in order to get their cards marked – a change championed by one particular member. It, however, begs the question in respect of whether we should be calling it a men’s competition or just ‘the competition day’.  Should we really be celebrating (rather than simply saying ‘about time’) what is an essentially minor and long overdue change…apparently yes.

Over two years ago, the club at which I play offered to do the same – it was the ladies who declined. Consequently, in a few weeks when we go to alternative day playing (we are fortunate in that I have found another female worker who can play at a weekend) I can play in the comp whilst all my mates play recreationally.

Are we really going to offend men’s sensibilities if we play alongside them and even let them mark our card? This does not yet necessarily mean joint competitions (that may be a step too far for even the egalitarian liberal men who play the game). Perhaps this is best tagged as a ‘distant dream’ for most of us.

We are all aware that events such as the Women’s Football World Cup and the Netball World Cup raise the profile of women’s sport and have a real impact on both men and women. As I travel up and down the country going about my business, I see women playing netball and football as part and parcel of everyday life. By consigning women to playing golf competitions midweek, we effectively hide the sport away from the general public, allowing some men to perpetuate the unequal status quo.

It is a right as a golfer to be able to play golf in competitions at a weekend regardless of gender. This one small step could have enormous repercussions across the sector…other ideas to follow.

Next week – membership fees!


6 August 2019