Will women save golf?

Columns - Game Plan

April 12, 2018

Golf has a tendency to exist in a vacuum, one where blinders we sometimes wear with pride make us inattentive to happenings outside the confines of our green fairways. But looking away from one of the most important issues of the day could have calamitous consequences.

2018 may well go down in modern history as the year of the woman and the fight courageous women waged for respect and opportunity. What started as a backlash against a Hollywood movie mogul by mostly privileged women trapped by his influence has spread to other parts of society and is now part of the daily dialogue. It should also be part of the conversations we’re having in golf.

Leading up to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, Erna Solberg, the prime minister of Norway, and Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, wrote that “time is up for discrimination and abuse against women. The time has come for women to thrive.”

They went on to say that “giving women and girls the opportunity to succeed is not only the right thing to do, but can also transform societies and economies.” If that opportunity has transformative global potential, just think what it could do for golf.

More women in leadership roles – on boards, as general managers, as department heads, as executive directors of allied associations – would do wonders for golf. I continue to be dismayed when I see panels composed of middle-aged white men at industry events. What perspectives are we missing that could inform better decision-making? What experiences are we not aware of that could help us fix problems on and off the course? What nuances are we tone deaf to that would make the game, our courses and our facilities more engaging?

We’ll never know until women have the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership abilities. And we won’t know the consequences of those omissions until participation and diversity have dwindled even further. Dare we risk that? Golf’s good-old-boys club took us so far. It’s also one of the reasons momentum has stalled.

There is urgency because, as we have seen dramatic evidence of already this year, women are not content to wait for change to come to them. But are the mostly male leaders of golf and its mostly private clubs prepared to examine their own practices and begin to open the right doors?

Introspection starts close to home. Boards can mandate women fill a minimum number of seats around the table. They can also require that job searches include women (and minorities). General managers can make educational and career-experience opportunities available to women so when management positions become available women and men are competing on a level playing field. Clubs can take the necessary steps to help women stay active in the workplace while raising a family. And without question, clubs can compensate women and men on an equal basis for jobs with similar requirements and responsibility.

Enlightened perspectives should also be customer facing for obvious reasons:

  • Women are driving the global economy – the women’s market is growing at a faster growth rate than men.
  • Women are responsible for $20 trillion U.S. dollars in annual consumer spending.
  • Women have a high level of commitment and loyalty.
  • Women share positive experiences.

But (news flash!) there are considerable barriers that women must overcome to gain the respect and opportunity most men are granted with few questions. Almost 90 percent of countries have one or more gender-based legal restrictions holding back women. Fortunately, those legal restrictions do not exist in the United States. But we all know that there are other barriers that can be onerous and restrictive, and we don’t have to look outside our own organizations to see them. Clubs ignore those hurdles and discriminatory practices at their own peril.

We must realize that recognizing and rewarding women’s potential is critical to the future of golf and golf clubs. We may be swimming against the tide of tradition in some cases, but the best practice seems simply to make the most of everybody’s talents.

The tide has shifted, the momentum has changed. Today’s conversation focuses on broad social change led by women and – yes – men who are speaking out against outdated views that hold all of us back. Helping women make the most of their potential is a job for all of us, and it’s time to get started.

Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. DeLozier joined Global Golf Advisors in 2008 after nine years as the vice president of golf for Pulte Homes. He is a past president of the National Golf Course Owners Association’s board of directors and serves on the PGA of America’s Employers Advisory Council.