Hannah Wagner, 25, of Woodstock, was ebullient as she waited to take her place on the range at the Charlie Yates Golf Course at East Lake. She was among 10 public relations professionals who ranged in age from 23 to 55. All women.
She once took golf for college credit but learned nothing more than how to hold a club.
“That was pretty much it,” she said, laughing.
This time would be different, though. This time she was learning to do something with her husband. This time learning the game promised her a place on the course where corporate deals are cut.
“In the business world if you don’t know how to play golf, you’re left out of a lot of conversations,” she said. “I think it allows for more common ground between you and your boss, something more to talk about other than work.”
While facilitating deals isn’t exactly the motivating factor behind The PGA of America’s efforts to increase women’s participation and retention in the game, the benefit isn’t being lost on women like Wagner.
In fact, of the 1,000 career women surveyed recently from the Executive Women’s Golf Association database of women golfers, 73 percent agree that golf has helped them develop new relationships and allowed them to network in their business. Fifty-four percent said golf has helped them be more assertive in the workplace and at home, and 22 percent of executive women golfers have closed business deals on the golf course.
Get Golf Ready, the class Wagner and her colleagues recently signed up for, is the golf industry’s version of an “on-ramp” to the game, said Sandy Cross, director of the PGA’s women’s and new market initiatives.
“Through research, we found there are millions of women interested in the game of golf, yet they remain unengaged,” Cross said. “Why? Because no one is telling them that this game is in fact for them and that they are welcome and invited to participate.”
It used to be the majority of golf’s consumer marketing and golf course programming and events were geared toward men, who make up 80 percent of golf’s current customer base. Get Golf Ready, a series of five group lessons that promise to teach participants everything they need to know to get started playing the game, is changing that.
“We want to welcome women and introduce them to the joys of the game and the personal and professional benefits it will afford them if they engage.” Cross said. “This will require a transformation of the customer-service model within the golf industry in order to make it much more inviting to women and responsive to a woman’s value set.”
Daryl Batey, The PGA’s player development regional manager for the Georgia and Atlanta markets, said the efforts are paying off.
Not only are women requesting more repeat courses, they’re signing up for more courses and clinics.
“The feedback from surveys has been very positive,” he said.
Batey, who has more than a decade as PGA head professional at Charlie Yates, said that “because women think and act differently than men,” making golf courses more user-friendly will mean changing the way they think and adding the things important to women such as cleaner locker rooms and better stocked golf shops.
“If you treat a woman right, they are going to tell somebody and they will come back,” Batey said.
Each of the five Get Golf Ready sessions typically runs 1 1/2 hours and includes hands-on instruction, rules, chipping and pitching, and playing the game.
Since launching Get Golf Ready at Charlie Yates last year, Batey said the course has offered four classes of 15 women each. Of the 148 courses in the region, which covers 13 metro Atlanta counties, 40 are involved in the initiative to recruit and retain more women.
Asked about the reason for the focus on women, Cross said the industry could no longer afford to ignore half the population.
“I liken this to the realization that Lego toys had. For decades they catered to, and built products, for only 50 percent of the youth market: boys,” she said. “They came to the realization that they could no longer sustain their business with that model and launched Lego Friends, which is girl-centric and is allowing them to gain share.”
Cross said that the golf industry initially succeeded catering only to men but to grow as an industry it has to get to know women in the same way. But she said, “We aren’t just focusing on women because inclusion is important. We are focusing on women because it makes good business sense.”
Cross said participation in the game has dropped 20 percent over the past five years.
“Women are key to turning that around,” she said.
On the range the other night at Charlie Yates, Jeremy Story and Jeff Dunovant led Wagner and her colleagues the Jackson Spalding agency through some basics: how to schedule a tee time and buy practice balls. Half of them worked on their chip shot, the other half on their full swing.
Maggie Daley, 23, of Atlanta, admitted knowing “absolutely nothing” about the game.
“It’s such an intimidating game with The Masters and prestige,” she said. “It just seems like something you can’t do.”
An hour later, Daley said she found herself wondering why she hadn’t signed up sooner.
“We were told that by the last lesson we would learn all the basics necessary to get out there on the golf course, and I believe them,” she said. “I am already looking forward to the next lesson.”