Winning Over the Woman Golfer

By: Nancy Berkley


With the Augusta Masters almost here and Tiger Woodsback on the scene, men's golf will be dominating the news. In light of these events, I was very pleased that John Paul Newport, who authors a weekly column in the Wall Street Journal weekend edition, chose to write about woman's golf in the March 27-28, 2010 issue.

(The article, entitled "Golf Searches for Its Feminine Side," is available online until April 3 for WSJ non-subscribers at http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052748704094104575143772046834464-lMyQjAxMTAwMDIwNzEyNDcyWj.html.)

Newport closes his article with a quote from me from the interview we had a few days earlier. Basically, it repeats what I have been saying for quite some time, which is that the golf industry hasn't begun to reach the level of customer service toward women that is going to bring more of us into the game.
Why has teaching customer service for women golfers been such a hurdle for the PGA of America? I don't think it is intentional, just more of an oversight from an industry that is 99% male.

Learning how to treat women golfers falls through the cracks of the association's golf professional training program. Although the training materials include excellent guidelines for how to deal with customers in general, the criteria aimed specifically at women golfers is pretty slim. Perhaps the PGA would like to think that ALL golfers are equal and avoid getting into the gender issue, which can sometimes feel like walking into a swamp. But the truth is that golf does need to do more for its feminine side.
The Wall Street Journal article also cited a new study underwritten by the John D. Little Foundation and conducted by Jon Last, president of Sports and Leisure Research Group for the National Golf Course Owners Association. The study confirms what I have been preaching. Very interesting was the study's conclusion that women would be prepared to pay a premium price for a course that offered them excellent customer service.

On the subject of customer service: About six months ago, I prepared a 30-minute segment for aspiring golf professionals in the PGA apprentice program. The segment was entitled "Winning over the Woman Golfer." I concentrated on specific tactics that golf professionals need to know. It was nice to read that much of what I suggested was reconfirmed in the John D. Little study.
Let me share with you some of the customer relations tactics that I think make a difference. The first is a list of what is NOT fun, friendly and relaxing for women golfers. This is what women say, feel or think:

I don't want to have to hit from a tee over a big hazard.
I don't want fast players behind always rushing me.
I don't want a five-hour round and miss work or a carpool.
I don't want to embarrass myself as a beginner.
I don't want to be scolded by a ranger - or my playing partners.
I don't want hot dogs to be the only snack on the food cart.
I don't want to talk about last night's football game.
I don't want to talk about all the new clubs and shafts that are out.
I don't want to spend too much money on golf . . . at first.

The second is a list of simple "Cures and Fixes - Giving the Female Golfer What She Wants and Needs":

Create opportunities where women can meet other women.
Provide clear guidelines for beginners about when they can feel comfortable on a course. Include all the "culture" rules.
Create alternative tees and drop areas.
Always spend time on introductions at any women's events.
Pick tournaments that are team-based and fun.
Provide 50-yard markers in the middle of the fairway.
Let women pick friends as cart-mates - but put that twosome with other women they might not know as a way to make new friends.
Be creative: try new things but always involve women in the planning.
Include rangers and starters in training programs.
Clean the restrooms . . . Often!

Finally, I think that women golfers - especially new golfers - just don't know when they are good enough to go out on the course, so they hang back. Golf professionals have to a better job of making sure that women know what they need to know and maybe even have milestones like the old Red Cross Swimming Test. And the golf instructors (99% male) have to spend more time on the course with women providing good-playing lessons. Playing a short round from the 100-yard markers would be a great way to begin.

For those women looking for guidelines on when they are ready to go out on the course here is "Nancy's Are You Ready?" Test. To play a "round" of golf on a regulation golf course, women golfers should be able to (most of the time):

Take only one practice swing.
Hit a ball at least 90 to 100 yards off the tee most of the time.
Hit a middle-iron or hybrid at least 75 yards on the fairway.
Hit out of a bunker in three or less attempts.
Know the clubs to use when within 50 yards from the flagstick.
Know green and bunker etiquette.
Know when to pick up your ball and pocket it.
Know the basics of a par-3, -4 and -5 and how to keep score.
Most important - a pace of play test: be able to play nine holes by yourself in 90 minutes or less - and 18 holes in less than three hours. This helps women understand the pace of play between shots, which is what usually slows them up.

June is the American Express Women's Golf Month. Go to www.playgolfamerica.com (http://www.playgolfamerica.com/index.cfm?action=wgw). The courses participating are not yet listed on the website, so ask your local facility about it and encourage them to participate. They should offer some free clinics and special golf events throughout the month - just for women. Suzy Whaley, the newly elected member of the PGA of America's Board of Directors (and the second woman on the board) co-chairs the month-long event with Nancy Lopez and Donna Richardson Joyner.

To all the women out there and to all the courses looking for new and happy female customers, get started now and train your staff for top customer service. Help them find their feminine side. Winning over women golfers is do-able, profitable and good for everyone.

For professionals looking for more help OR for women themselves who want to help their golf professionals be better golf professionals for them, see my list of "Women Friendly Best Practices" on my website at www.nancyberkley.com (http://www.nancyberkley.com/676303.html).

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women. She is a resource for golf-industry trends and is speaks frequently at golf industry conferences. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.nancyberkley.com. She is also the author of the NGF publication: "Insider's Guide to Careers in the Golf Industry." She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on her new site: www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned as a teenager and loved. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.


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