Are We Losing the Battle for Female Golfers?

By: Nancy Berkley


This is the question Jim Koppenhaver, president and founder of Pellucid Corp., asked at his annual conference at the January 2007 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. (For those who don't know Jim, he is a "tell-it-like-it-is" advisor and consultant in the golf industry with a prior background in consumer marketing; see www.pellucidcorp.com.)    

Indeed, over the last few years, the total number of women golfers has been flat - stubbornly stuck around 6 million and representing about 24 percent of the total number of adult golfers. Jim's presentations are always constructive and his question in the title is a good one.

But I do have problems with his battle metaphor. I don't believe that the golf industry views growing women's golf as a "battle," a word that suggests an overall plan with goals, strategy and a real commitment of energy and financial resources.

Among golf industry associations, only The First Tee lives up to the battle metaphor. Its director, Joe Louis Barrow, stated at Golf 20/20 last November that he was not satisfied with a 34 percent female representation in First Tee programs. He wants 45 percent. I have not heard that battle cry from any other golf industry associations.

When Pellucid reports that the bright spot in female golfers is the junior girl, that's not a surprise to me. This is the predictable outcome of The First Tee's efforts and the excellent media ads they have produced which make it appear that any girl and every girl can play golf. (Not to be overlooked is that the PGA Tour broadcasts these public service First Tee ads.)

Another place where we are not losing the battle is with young women ages 18-29. In 2003, according to NGF survey stats, that demographic represented 15 percent of all women golfers. In 2004, the age bracket jumped to 23 percent. (Pellucid reports 18-34 age segments, so it is difficult to compare reports.) Media coverage by non-golf channels of the fabulous young female golfers on the national stage was probably a source of inspiration for thousands of young women golfers.

The golf industry wears blinders as it generally speaks to those already playing the game, a classic "sales" approach. But the industry needs marketing and must grow the market itself. That requires broad-market media campaigns that reach the golfers who don't read Golf Digest or Golf For Women or watch golf on TV. That's where local news plays its part, and investing in product placements (think: golf clubs) makes sense on sitcom shows. The Golf Channel does not have a "For Women Only" show, but my guess is that the internet video channels will.

Look at the pharmaceutical industry. They haven't stopped marketing through their physician system. Instead, they added a program of national consumer advertising. They want a consumer to go to their doctor and say, "Why don't I take the purple pill?"

I would love to see a full-page Callaway ad with Morgan Pressel in non-golf publications. What if women opened their Bon Appetit and saw an ad for Callaway? (That's not very hard for publisher Conde Nast to do.) I hope women would be tempted to cook the 30-minute dinner and take the 60-minute golf lesson.

At the conference, Jim asked another question: "What can we do to budge frequency?" And he followed that up by asking who wants to keep playing when they don't improve. Answer: Most seasoned women golfers hardly budge their handicaps - and they still keep playing. "Not improving" or "not winning" is not the reason more women don't play more golf. Sure, a brand-new female golfer doesn't want to embarrass herself. But the equipment and instruction is so good now, and the younger women have much better athletic skills (thank you, Title IX), that she will reach a playable expertise level quickly. But she will stick with the game even with only moderate increments in improvement - especially if she doesn't play often.

I have another answer for Jim. Want more young women playing golf? Then why doesn't the golf industry solve the babysitting problem? The tennis industry figured it out and so did the ski industry. And I really don't want to hear that a facility can't supply five-hour babysitters. Try babysitters for three, six or nine holes, or maybe just playing lessons, but figure it out. The lack of child-care solutions is just one more reason why I don't think the golf industry is in battle mode about growing women's golf.

Finally, I want to add that there are some real gaps in tracking women's golf. The NGF currently only reports on "golfers" - those who play nine or 18 holes at least once a year. It does not report on women who only go to golf ranges or play mini-courses. Golf ranges could be winning the battle and moving the frequency needle.

And forget about trying to measure female interest by their apparel purchases in a pro shop. Except for a handful of golf super-stores or a small niche of elite pro shops, most women do just fine buying their golf attire at Lands End or the Gap. The industry doesn't measure these sales.

And, finally: Is the golf industry losing the battle for women golfers? "No," because it's not a battle. BUT, if it was a battle, they could win it.

Jim, next year tell them how!

Nancy Berkley is an expert on women's golf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published in 2003 by the National Golf Foundation, is the industry reference on how-to attract and retain women golfers. She updates her research and best practices on her website www.nancyberkley.com.

Nancy consults with facilities on how they can increase participation and revenues from women golfers and is a frequent speaker at industry events. Nancy also reviews courses for "The Golf Insider," an international golf and travel newsletter, and "Ladies Golf Journey," a golf publication for women. She's contributed articles to "Golf For Women" magazine and is the author of the 2004 PGA Magazine cover story about women golfers.

A respected resource in the golf industry, Nancy participates in Golf 20/20, the annual strategic invitation-only conference sponsored by the PGA Tour, the PGA, the LPGA, and the World Golf Foundation. At the November 2004 Conference, she moderated the panel discussions on player development with a focus on women golfers. She has addressed the National Golf Course Owner's Association at their National Conference as well as at numerous marketing seminars for the PGA and LPGA professionals. Nancy serves as a consultant to the Golden Links Advisory Board of Corporate Meetings & Incentives, a PRIMEDIA Business Publication. Nancy is an experienced golfer and has competed on the Metropolitan Women's Golf Association (N.J., N.Y., Conn.) interclub matches. She's served on the Board and Golf Committees of her golf clubs in Florida and New Jersey.

In 1998, Nancy founded Berkley Consulting and The Woman's Only Guide® to Golf to share her long-time passion for golf and to help grow the game. Prior to working in the golf industry, Nancy was an attorney for a Wall Street firm and then held a number of senior executive positions with Prudential Financial, including Assistant General Counsel and Vice President of Corporate Marketing & Business Integration. Nancy began her professional career as a high school teacher.

Nancy holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Minnesota; a master's degree in teaching from Harvard University Graduate School of Education; and a law degree from Rutgers University School of Law, where she was a member of the Law Review. She is a graduate of the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School.

Nancy describes herself as a bogey golfer and plays on her home courses in Florida and New Jersey. To contact her, write, call or email Nancy at: Nancy Berkley, Berkley Consulting, 242 Eagleton Estates Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 561-776-7243 or at info@nancyberkley.com.


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