Of the 12.8 million adult golfers in the United States–defined by the National Golf Foundation as those 18 and older who play at least eight times a year–about 20 percent are women. However, while many of them might be available to join in business golf events around the country, they often don’t because they are not made to feel welcome.
So many elements can signal to a woman golfer that the organizers weren’t thinking of her in the planning process: The agenda suggest the “guys” will spend the day on the links while the women visit the spa … The chosen course is too challenging, promising a frustrating day … The goodie bag holds a man’s cap and a men’s extra-large golf shirt with a garish logo.
What follows are a number of ways for planners to encourage women attendees to feel welcome at the golf outing.
Watch the wording
Be sure the invitation and other materials that go out to participants address both women and men. Specify that golfers of all abilities are welcome to play.
“Don’t assume that people know what the terms in the invitations and literature mean” says Holly Bell, vice president of special projects for Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., which is famed for its women’s golf programs. “Try to be as explanatory as you can.”
If there will be contests during the tournament, describe them–and let guests know prizes will be offered for both men and women winners. Note from which tees the women and men will play. If a special scoring format will be used to make the day competitive for both high-handicappers and accomplished golfers, explain how it will work and how each person will be able to contribute to the team.
Also, consider using pictures of a man as well as a woman playing the chosen course or wearing the outing’s logoed shirt in the materials, advises Kathi Kelly, director of sales, Southeast, for La Quinta, Calif.-based KSL Resorts Group.
For the fun of it
“It sounds kind of simple,” says Holly Bell, “but we try to stress the whole idea that it’s fun to play, and golf doesn’t have to be about your score and ability. It can be about the friendship and camaraderie that people experience out on the course.”
Whether the goal of the outing being planned is to offer a fun networking event for your group or to raise money for charity, take the individual competitive pressure off everyone by choosing a team format, like a scramble.
According to the United States Golf Association, a scramble comprises teams consisting of four players each. On every hole, the four players tee off, then everyone plays their second shot from where the best drive landed. This process is repeated until the hole is completed; for example, once everyone’s ball is on the green, the golfers all putt from the spot of the ball that landed closest to the cup.
Using a handicap system with a scramble (which the course’s tournament director or director of golf can help arrange) puts golfers of all levels on an even playing field and ensures the more inexperienced players contribute to the team’s final score.
“With these formats, everyone is having fun, and the end result isn’t as important,” says Nancy Matus, event manager for the Executive Women’s Golf Association in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“A woman definitely will contribute to the team and won’t have to play her own ball every time,” adds KSL’s Kathi Kelly, who also helps arrange golf outings for the Starlight Children’s Foundation and the Georgia Chapter of Meeting Professionals International. In a scramble, she notes, women really shine around the greens, and men often let them putt first so they either won’t have to take that shot themselves or they can get a read on how the ball will roll to the hole.
If the group will have a number of beginner women golfers (or, for that matter, beginners of either sex), Kelly suggests arranging a nine-hole mini-tournament for them and an 18-hole event for the more experienced players. “We’ve also provided the beginners with a clinic before they played their nine holes, so they finished at the same time as those who played all 18,” she says. “It takes the anxiety away for those who aren’t used to playing 18 holes.”
Swing to win
If you’re setting up individual contests around the course to add more fun to the day, make sure there’s a male and female winner for each one.
The prizes also should fit the winner. For contests such as longest drive or closest-to-the-pin (the winner’s ball lands closest to the hole within a proscribed number of shots), perhaps offer cigars for the man and a spa basket for the woman. “We once put a bunch of shopping bags about 150 yards out at one hole; the shot closest to the shopping bags won a $500 shopping spree at a local mall,” says Kelly. The prizes also could be gender-neutral: Dinner or proshop gift certificates work very well.
When it comes to a charity or an association event, these contests are great sponsorship opportunities. “We look for sponsors who offer products for women,” says Matus of the 19,000-member EWGA. “We let them show the products and demonstrate them.”
For hole-in-one contests, if the prize is a car, there would be no need to differentiate between the winners, but in the hole-in-one insurance policy, be sure to spell out that women can win by hitting from the forward tees.
Organizers who do want to offer one prize for the men and one for the women for this contest have many ways to go. “We had a fur coat for a hole-in-one contest once, a long time ago,” says Jo Ann Hoffman, president and CEO of the Meetings Industry Ladies Organization and The Golfe, two Bethesda, Md. based groups that sponsor, plan and sanction meetings-industry golf outings. “You could also do a nice tennis bracelet or diamond studs for the women.” For the men, choose a comparably priced item like a nice Tag Heuer or Rolex watch.
As for the contests themselves, Kelly suggests making them a little more random, such as a “closest to the squiggly line” competition (where a wavy line is painted down the middle of the fairway). “Here it’s more luck than skill to land on the squiggly line,” she says. Kelly remembers playing in an event at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Fla., where a sponsor set up a “closest to the beach [sand trap] without going in” contest. “The sponsor sat in the trap all day in a beach chair, with a cooler, pink flamingos, umbrellas and a radio,” she recalls.
When the event is over and it’s time to hand out awards, make sure any trophy going to a woman does not have a man swinging a club on it. Other ideas for female tournament winners include gift certificates for shopping or spa services, or a trip to a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament.
In the bag
The same kind of thought that goes into choosing contest prizes should go into selecting the items to go into the gift bag.
When it comes to golf shirts, no matter the number of women attending, offer one designed especially for them. “I just played in an event that had pink and purple ladies’ shirts, even though there were only about five women playing in a field of 150,” says Kelly. “That makes women feel like they were thought of.”
Likewise, in the women’s bags, in dude a sleeve of balls created for them, like the Wilson LX2 or the Pinnacle Gold Lady.
“It’s also nice to give a little something that can hold a wallet, like a soft bag that can fit in the back of the cart,” says Hoffman of MILO. “And there’s nothing wrong with giving something
Matus of the EGWA always includes a visor or a hat and some lip balm in the giveaway. “Sometimes the sponsors provide more,” she says. “Often we give away socks and cart towels–those are a big hit.”
Dining al fresco
While some players out on the course view a day of golf as an opportunity to let good eating habits fall by the cartside, many women prefer to stick with a more healthful diet. For those participants, try offering boxed-lunch options such as wraps, salads, yogurt and fruit.
“But you do have to have that cookie; our women like chocolate and sugar,” says Matus. She adds, “We try to serve items that are light and easy, so players can walk while they’re eating or sit in the golf cart and eat.”
A great idea from Hoffman of MILO is to wrap sandwich halves separately, allowing players to save a fresh bite for later in the round.
When stocking the beverage cart, keep in mind that, typically, the more women who are playing, the less beer and other alcohol will be consumed. “A lot of women drink water or Gatorade,” notes Hoffman.
Beyond the course
Aside from choosing a course that both women and men will enjoy (for a list of top links, see “where the Women Play,” page 75), the site inspection should go beyond the actual greens into the clubhouse.
For example, is the women’s locker room as nice as the men’s? While many courses are catching on that women need to be catered to as much as the men, some older courses haven’t upgraded their facilities accordingly, and you might find a snazzy men’s room with all the trappings juxtaposed with a women’s room offering the bare essentials.
Also check out the pro shop. Do items for women take up a reasonable portion of the inventory? Are they easy to find? Does the shop sell women’s clubs and balls?
“La Quinta Resort & Club in Palm Springs has one of the biggest pro shops for women I’ve ever seen,” says KSL’s Kelly (La Quinta is a KSL Resort).
Planners also should meet with the director of golf during the site inspection to find out what the course can do to make your outing more enjoyable for women, advises Kelly.
In addition, make sure the course rents women’s clubs and has an adequate supply for the number of women expected for the outing.
WAY TO GO
Planners evaluating a golf course for mixed genders should take a good look at the facilities available out on the fairways.
Nancy Matus, event manager with the Executive Women’s Golf Foundation, says the bathrooms on course are one of the most important elements of her site inspections.
At the high end are the ladies’ rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes. Three facilities are on the course, at the first, ninth/10th and 15th holes (usually, there’s only one, near the ninth hole); for a break from the Orlando heat, all three are air-conditioned (aahhh).
A sponsor might want to consider taking on a course’s bathrooms. At the annual Meetings Industry Ladies Open (the next is at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, April 30 to May 1), the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau traditionally sponsors a ladies’ room on the links, stocking it with items such as sunscreen, Band-Aids, Evian water sprays, tampons, fancy toilet paper and bottled water. Similar consideration could be given to the men’s rooms. * S.B.
As a great value-added option during golf outings, offer participants the opportunity to try some new products and make a purchase, if they so desire. “I have had women call me and say, ‘I need a new set of clubs. Is there any way that I can demo them and buy them on site?'” says Nancy Matus, event manager for the 19,000-member-strong Executive Women’s Golf Association in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
To accommodate such requests, Matus invites golf suppliers to set up displays and demonstrations at the outings she plans, for everything from clothing and gloves to clubs and shoes.
“We’ll have reps from Cutter & Buck apparel, Callaway and Titleist equipment, and Foot Joy shoes come in and talk about what they have for women,” she says. “Women like to shop, let’s face it. And they will buy a product if they can demo it first.” (A vest from Cutter & Buck’s Annika Sorenstam collection is at right.)
Before contacting any equipment or apparel companies, however, coordinate with the course’s pro shop to make sure that it carries the brands you want to showcase. * S.B.