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Golf Is Driving Women Away As Numbers Hit Rock Bottom

Photo: Shaun Teng, One Mustard Seed

Photo: Shaun Teng, One Mustard Seed


It is said that golf was born off the Eastern coast of Scotland, deep in the 15th century. Steadily it grew, until a boom struck in the 1800s. At this time, golf began to spread throughout the British Isles, the British colonies and then across to Europe. Today, the European region is now home to 22% of the world’s total golf supply.  However, whilst the UK is known to be the birthplace of golf, it seems we are desperately lagging behind other European countries when it comes to female participation in the sport.

That is to say, in spite of the UK playing host to an approximate 3,000 golf courses and clubs, where 678,372 people take to the green, only 14% are women. If you take Germany as an opposing example; a wholesome 35% of their 639,137 recorded golfing members are female, and the sport continues to grow rapidly in appeal. Elsewhere Austria (35%), Switzerland (33%), Slovenia (32%) and the Netherlands (32%) follow suit – surpassing the UK’s feeble female count with ease. 


Are We On the Brink of Change?

Remarkably, in May last year, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers based at Muirfield was told it will not host the Open Championship after members chose to vote to continue its men-only policy. The result was narrow – just 3% short of the number needed. Consequently, the last time Muirfield hosted the Open Championship in 2013, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond refused to attend, and current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went on to echo the sentiment – describing the course and its position as “simply indefensible.” The issue was voted upon again on March 14 this year. With the eyes of the world watching, the club reached the two-thirds majority needed for women to become members, it was a decision 273 years in the making.


It appears quite probable that we – or ‘traditional’ golfers more generally – approach female players with suspicion; as if fully committing to equality would be one step too far for a sport steeped in such masculine history


It appears quite probable that we – or ‘traditional’ golfers more generally – approach female players with suspicion; as if fully committing to equality would be one step too far for a sport steeped in such masculine history. Undeniably, debate and limitation breeds animosity and perhaps one of the reasons why the UK has limited female golfers is the simple fact that they just do not feel as though they belong or that they’re welcome.

It’s true to say that there could be any number of reasons why women choose not to play, including career, commitment to family and genuine lack of interest. However, inescapably, 1 in 4 women have claimed that they have experienced ill feeling and poor treatment by men on the course at one time or another.


The Rest of the World: An Australian Case Study

Seemingly, Europe is not alone in such divisive gender participation. A recent report conducted for Golf Australia in 2015, found that whilst golf participation is falling for both genders – the disparity between men and women remains strong and clear nonetheless. When assessed by gender, a slight decline of 0.2% was noted in male players – from 2014 to 2015 – with total numbers falling from 317,058 to 316,267. However, women faced a much bigger drop of 1.5%, decreasing their already limited number from 81,988 to 80,796.  

Though slight, it is a concerning decline that further highlights how few Australian women seem to be connected to the sport. Particularly when you consider that amounts to a difference of 235,471 between the total number of male and female players in 2015.  In fact, Australian women account for just 20% of national members, which drops further to just 17% in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.  Worryingly, there is also huge disparity between male and female junior golfers – with junior boys standing strong with 11,818 participants, in stark contrast to just 2,018 junior girls. Overall, junior participants account for just 3.5% of total golf members across the country.

What Men Can Do

A recent report claimed men can play a huge role in encouraging women to participate in golf; to exercise their potential, free of fear and judgement – if only they would. As it seems one of the top reasons for female golfers taking up the game is due to influence from a male peer. Furthermore, more than 1 in 2 male golfers say their sons often play golf, but just 12% say their daughters play – and why is that? Are fathers taking the time to encourage their daughters, as well as their sons, to join them on the green? 


1 in 4 women have claimed that they have experienced ill feeling and poor treatment by men on the course at one time or another.


Certainly, the report found that only 25% of male golfers are interested in playing casual golf with female counterparts. The same report found only 1 in 2 women who play golf do so because of influence from a male partner – with 78% of male players stating that their partners do not play. 


The Next Generation

Last year, England Golf released statistics stating that the average golf club in England has 25 members under the age of 16, but less than 3 of these will be female. Again, despite having a golf market fit for mass junior participation in the UK, we fall behind numerous European countries – with Turkey achieving the best results for total junior golfers, at 45%

Top 5 junior golf countries:

  • Turkey 45%
  • Greece 32%
  • Serbia 27%
  • Slovakia 24%
  • Latvia 23%

And, despite the UK having an approximate 56,205 junior golfers – junior golfers account for just 8% of those actively participating in the sport. In fact, in a list of 34 countries, this figure was only slightly higher than junior golfers in Germany (7%), Denmark (7%) and the Netherlands (4%.) So, it is clear to see that much more needs to be done in encouraging not only the UK’s women – but our junior players too. If we don’t, the limited participation cycle is likely to continue.


What Can Be Done?

The editor of Women and Golf adds: “In most other European countries golfers join as a family and more often than not, they play golf as a family, hence why countries like Germany and Sweden have a high percentage of female players.” A tactic that markedly increases not only junior golf rates, but female participation too – and an example that the UK and Australia should definitely look to follow. 

It is important to encourage female participation, whether you’re a father of three, a work colleague with a golf hobby or a golf products shop worker advising on the best clubs: we all have to recognise that sport isn’t gender specific, but a personal preference that many girls – and boys – will favour. 

Guest post from Golf Support – written and researched in association with Journalistic.org

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