If you’re anything like me, you’ve always thought of golf as a bit of a boys’ club and a sport for old people. At least, that’s how I felt until I went to the driving range with my old roommate — not only did I see a plethora of cute young men, but also woke up the next morning completely sore thanks to my numerous (and not-so-great) golf swings. While today I certainly don’t play golf as often as I’d like, it’s not nearly as intimidating to me as it once was.

And that’s exactly the image the golf industry is trying to expel with it’s latest endeavor, Get Golf Ready. Levo League recently caught up with Sandy Cross, director of women’s and new market initiatives at The PGA of America, about why women don’t golf, why more women should and busting that boys’ club image.

Get Golf Ready Women and Golfing

Why should women golf?
There are countless reasons why women should golf! From personal to professional, the game can afford you so much. Just think of the time in the great outdoors, the calories burned, the quality time with loved ones, the rapport you can build with clients and prospects, the deals you truly can close, and the joy that comes from hitting that little white ball into the air! Oh, and there are some really cute golf clothes and shoes, too, contrary to popular belief. Even golf dresses and skirt capris are being unveiled for 2013! You may have to hunt just a little to find what suits your fancy, but it’s out there. Lastly, but by no means least, golf opens you up to a whole new world of travel and resort destinations you may not have previously considered, and with golf resorts often comes a spa! Now what’s not to love about that?

What can women gain professionally from learning how to golf?
Golf is a confidence-builder and a door-opener for career-minded women. Carrying yourself with grace and poise on the golf course in the company of colleagues, clients and prospects will pay dividends on your career path and in building your book of business. There aren’t many settings where you can spend such a significant amount of quality time with individuals that are important to your career and business development. Over the course of a round of golf, you’ll get to know your playing partners much better on a personal level, which makes developing and conducting a long-term business relationship with them so much easier and more enjoyable.  Having the basic skills and etiquette knowledge required to comfortably navigate a golf course will put you in conversations and into a consideration set you weren’t previously in. You’ll start to get invited to company golf leagues, events and client outings and that’s where bonds begin to get built and business gets done.

Golf, particularly in business, has a reputation of being a boys’ club. How does The PGA combat that?
Yes, unfortunately that reputation does exist, but it continues to wane. The PGA of America and the golf industry at large have undertaken a strategic initiative called “Connecting With Her” to transform golf’s customer service model and make it significantly more friendly and welcoming to women. Recent research shows there are tens of millions of women interested in playing golf, but they don’t feel welcome and haven’t been invited to participate. PGA Professionals nationwide are beginning to audit their golf facilities and the programming, products and services offered to ensure they’re responding most effectively to what women value, including time, friendship, learning, a welcoming environment and a great retail experience.

More specifically, the golf industry’s signature program, called Get Golf Ready, has been designed in a manner that really resonates with women. In fact, 60 percent of the participants are female. Get Golf Ready is a series of group lessons you can enjoy with friends or family at a great entry level price point, typically around $99. You’ll get from the clubhouse to the golf course in five fun and easy sessions, including how to navigate a golf facility, what to wear, what’s in your bag, basic skills, etiquette, rules, keeping score and even getting out on the course to play a few holes! The PGA of America has been collaborating with corporations around the country to implement Get Golf Ready for their employees. This effort helps erode the boys’ club reputation while affording employees a lifetime of benefits — relationship and team-building, leadership development, business generation and health and wellness.

The most recent data I could find shows that the number of female golf players is about 22 percent. Why don’t more women golf?
We collaborate with the National Golf Foundation to source golf industry data. Their records indicate there are nearly 5 million female golfers in the United States, which represents 19.3 percent of all golfers.  Again, the reasons more women don’t golf are “the usual suspects” — time, perceived cost, lack of knowledge, difficulty, not feeling welcome, and spouse or significant other doesn’t play.

Have you noticed – or do you anticipate – more women getting involved in golf after Augusta admitted its first two female members, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, this past August?
While I can’t say I’ve noticed an impact on participation just yet, Augusta National Golf Club’s admission of the first female members in its 80-year history has without question done wonders for the landscape of women’s golf in the U.S. across races and ethnicities. Golf is an aspirational sport, so for women to see that such an iconic golf facility, steeped in great history and tradition and owning one of golf’s major championships, has recognized the value and power of the women’s demographic is without question a significant milestone for the sport of golf. This material change to Augusta’s previous male-only tradition has brought a lot of positive energy and attention to our sport.  Conversations, awareness and consideration that didn’t previously exist around golf for many women now do.  Those are necessary precursors to product trial, customer acquisition and retention that the golf industry is seeking with women.

For someone who’s only picked up a golf club a handful of times (like me!) what are some tips or resources to consider before I attempt to play the game?
A great first step is to find a PGA or LPGA Professional in your local community who you can take an individual or group lesson with. You will be able to find some professionals who will loan or rent you golf equipment for the lesson if you’re not ready to invest in your own just yet. Go to the Instruction section of PGA.com or the Teaching & Club Pros section of LPGA.com to start your search. Take a look at GetGolfReady.com as well if you’d like to start with a series of group lessons. Some other great pathways into the game, particularly for business and networking purposes, include EWGA, Ladies Links Fore Golf and Women on Course.

Do you think of golf as a “boys’ club”? Tell us in the comments!