By Marvol Barnard, PGA
I was recently invited to speak at the PGA Southwest Section’s Teaching and Coaching Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. In preparation for the presentation, Teaching and Reaching the Recreational Golfer, I sought out statistics on my favorite golf demographic – women. In my busy teaching business, women make up about 80 percent of my clientele, and I’ve made it my career’s focus to bring women into the game, and more importantly, to keep them in the game.
According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2018, women made up 24 percent of all golfers. This trend is increasing slightly each year according to statistics, but I have a sense the number is actually higher. At my facility, women make up approximately 30 percent of golf participation, and this number grows annually due to the attraction and retention efforts that we have put in place.
Women make up 35 percent of beginner golfers, indicating they are very willing to learn, and they are actively seeking instruction in order to play. This presents tremendous opportunities for golf range operators to increase lesson income, equipment sales, and food and beverage revenue, not to mention the revenue from golfers practicing their new-found skills. For facilities with golf courses, increased play from this group can positively affect the bottom line.
How do golf professionals attract women to golf, and keep them in the game? It’s quite simple -invite them! At my facility in Arizona and at my recent summer position in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I’ve hosted several “Invite Her” events with tremendous success. “Invite Her” is an industry initiative launched in 2018, designed to invite women into the game, whether they are lapsed golfers, new to golf, or merely interested in the game. The events were very popular and well-attended, and in every case, brought new women into the game. By simply encouraging the women at the facility to invite a friend, and creating a few hours of fun golf and social activities, we easily doubled the female golf participation.
Once women are comfortable being at the facility, I offer several learning programs from which to choose: LPGA Golf 101, Get Golf Ready, and Operation 36. Operation 36 has proven to be very successful with women as a way to learn the game on the golf course and have immediate success.
In addition, it is important to offer “next steps” to women, as they are often interested in continuing their golfing journey. A mistake I made early in my career was to offer beginner lessons and then expect women to begin playing, but I noted many didn’t do so. Filling in my programming “gaps” became imperative, and is the secret of keeping women in the game once they’ve stepped through the door.
Next-step programs include “My Golf Coach,” “Play Smart Golf,” “Get Out and Go Golfing,” and other programs that take place on the range, as well as the golf course itself. For stand-alone ranges, golf-like training can occur by hitting shots to different targets and “playing a golf course” virtually. (I often do this when our golf course is filled to the brim with winter visitors!)
Next is designing playing programs for women that are low in stress and high in fun. A very successful program at our facility is the Ladies Nine and Wine, which began with eight beginner golfers and now boasts over five hundred women on the mailing list. This group is the foundation of other playing opportunities like “Friday Fun League,” a group wanting to play more formal golf but still without competitive stress, and the “Hot Walkers,” an 18-hole group walking for exercise.
Above all, I’ve found that women are very attracted by the social opportunities that golf provides. Each year, I send out a survey to my female clients, asking them why they play golf. Number one by a large margin is always to “Play with friends/social.” I’ve taken that information very seriously as I create programs to engage women in the game. I creatively name my instructional clinics so everyone knows they are going to have fun while learning. “Chips and Sips” is a very popular class, with short game instruction and a glass of wine afterward. “Drive for Show” is popular with this group, as is “Jingle and Mingle” and other holiday-themed events. Because the social aspect is so important to this group, creative marketing and programming helps bring women out who otherwise might be reluctant or nervous about trying golf.
Attracting women to golf is as easy as an invitation. Keeping them in the game involves understanding what they want and then offering creative learning opportunities that satisfy those needs. The face of golf is changing, and this important demographic is critical to the future of the game. So, go “Invite Them!”
Marvol Barnard is the National President of the LPGA Professionals and a member of the PGA of America. As the LPGA’s National President, she leads an organization of over 1,800 female golf professionals who serve in every aspect of the golf industry. Known for her innovative programming, Marvol is the recipient of the 2018 PGA National Player Development Award, the 2016 LPGA Teacher of the Year Award, and the Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award, among other notable achievements.
Marvol’s focus and passion is on growing the game of golf for women, and she has brought golf to countless women throughout her career. She and her husband Sam live in Green Valley, Arizona, where Marvol serves as the Director of Instruction at Haven Golf Course. In her spare time, Marvol is pursuing a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Northern Arizona University.