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Big-Time Women’s Golf’s is Here As Golf Finds Itself ‘in the Rough’

Tom Amsel. pg 2jpgA Boomer’s Journal

By Tom Anselm

Today (June 5)  I will be out and about on the exclusive and difficult St. Louis Country Club golf course covering the opening practice rounds of some of the best amateur woman golfers in both the United States and Great Britain and Ireland.  They will be squaring off for real tomorrow in hopes of claiming The 38th Curtis Cup.  In our next issue we will have some of the actual, real-live results, both from the event and from my quest to find that perfectly shaded area from which to observe said goings-on.

This all comes at a time when the game of golf can be described as ‘in transition’ at best and ‘in the rough’ at worst.  A recent article by Bloomberg News reports that, according to the National Golf Foundation, last year the sport lost 400,000 players.  This includes the number of men quitting at 650,000.  What the heck kind of math produces that number, you may ask?

Well,  the difference comes from a growth of some 250,000 women taking up the game. Which just might be a thing golf marketers  need to look at as they plan their sports future.

Some of the experienced local course professionals I talked to gave me some insight into this conundrum.

One said that he sees growth, steady not spiking, in the number of women making tee times.  They want to be with their friends, be comfortable with their group and their league.  He sees them as more social golfers than competitors.

He added that the women really want to be in a foursome that affords them friendships and that, unlike the guys, their approach to the game was not so much beating the other person. This can be taken to the extent that if one of their foursome can’t make it, they may all cancel.  But was quick to point out that he still sees the competitiveness.

Ellen Port, the past amateur champion golfer and  St. Louis native who is the captain of the USA team, told me that she sees golf for women on a flat plane of growth overall.

“We may be losing them to other sports, with the popularity of golf waning.  Plus, golf takes time to play and play well, and, honestly, women have a lot of other things to do,” commented Ms. Port.  “But once they try it and find a group they like (again, the social aspect), they could be players for life.”

Another of the local pros seconds that view, noting there are a  number of women golfers who fill his  leagues nicely. In fact, they many times want to run their own leagues, which he has no problem with. And  he added that they are reliable, loyal, and respectful of the course. What more could a course manager want, anyway?

Some have mentioned that there could be a generational shift that has had a negative impact on the game’s growth.  Guys who were in their sixtiess ten years ago and getting out every day  are not so active today.  Others who were playing frequently in their twenties are now tending to the responsibilities of the child-rearing years, and it has become near-impossible to find the two essential things one needs to play golf- time and money.  They may come back to the game, but it will take a decade or so for this to happen.

And there is also  the element of “The Hero”.  Who are kids looking up to in the game of golf these days? Who do they emulate?  Some say there are no really dominant superstars in the game, that every event can yield a new set of names on the leaderboard from one week to the next.  The demise of the Once and Future King, Tiger Woods, has meant a drop-off of interest among African-American kids.

And when you look at a professional match on TV, it is obvious that there are few if any young men of color playing. Unless you count those from other countries, mostly the Pacific regions, of which the same can be said of the women’s game on the professional level.  As an illustration of this sea change, and as strictly an observation, it must be said that 4 of the 8 players on the USA team have Asian surnames.

However, in seeming contradiction to the Tiger-reference above, one of the young women is African-American. So go figure.

With these observations in mind, not to mention the phenomenon of the fewest rounds of golf played since 1995, golf courses closing nationwide, youth turning to other pursuits, (like their handheld devices!), what is in store for the golf world in years to come?

To quote my  granddaughters… “I have no clue.” On the positive side, those who play now have a better chance of getting good value, open times for play, and courses in great shape due to no overuse. And  I do see some light at the end of the 394-yard par 4 first hole, Preparatory, at St. Louis Country Club. (See what I did there… it looks like a tunnel?  Ugh.)

Maybe these talented young ladies of the Curtis Cup teams will serve to put a charge in local golf interest for the female persuasion. It is a top-level event, after all. I suppose only future tee-times will tell.

In the meantime, I will continue to encourage my progeny, boy and girl alike, to learn the game. There exists great opportunities for recreation, competition and possibly even advanced education, especially for the girls.

And hopefully, by the time they reach my age, they can all break 80.


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