Feature image: Stacy Lewis and Lynne Doughtie, Chairman and CEO of KPMG
A recent article in the New York Times on June 14, 2017, caught my attention and it wasn’t in the sports section and never mentioned golf. The title was “The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women.”
The message of the Times article was that women have a hard time getting their opinions heard in board rooms especially when there is only one woman at the table. My experience as corporate lawyer and executive confirmed this fact. I learned how to deal with this reality: Where to sit at the table, how to begin each sentence, and much more.
But then I immediately thought about women’s golf because women have a hard time getting heard at golf facilities also. I have been on the governing boards of golf facilities and on numerous committees – and many times I was the only woman at the table. Over the years, I have had to use leadership skills (the same ones from the corporate world) to improve the experience for women golfers at golf facilities and on the course.
Out of the total 30,000 golf professionals (including instructors) in The PGA and LPGA in the U.S., only about 2000 are women – that’s less than 10 percent. Translate that to a governing board of 10 people, and only one would be a woman. Most women golfers reading this have probably never played golf at a facility where a woman was the Director of Golf, confirming that golf is really still a “man’s world.”
But, I always admit that women golfers are a challenging marketing segment. Many women are too easily intimidated by men on the golf course who complain that women play too slowly (which they don’t). Women fear embarrassing themselves with poor shots clearly visible to their playing partners and men’s foursomes near them (as if men never had bad shots). In addition, many women don’t have time for 18-hole rounds of golf and many courses don’t encourage nine-hole rounds. And, many (not all!) golf directors don’t help women find compatible playing partners or use friendly, fun tournament formats like three-hole scrambles for new golfers.
I sympathize with these responses and validate them as real problems. But I would rather roll up my sleeves to solve the problems than wringing my hands about them – and you can’t do both at the same time. The reality I have come to over the last decade is that women themselves must be better leaders and change-makers at golf facilities. They can’t just sit back and wait for change to happen.
This is a particularly good environment to address women’s golf leadership. At the end of each June, the LPGA Tour features the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. As part of the tournament, KPMG, a major worldwide accounting and consulting firm, holds a women’s leadership conference.
In September, the LPGA has the first “Indy Women in Tech” tournament highlighting women working in the technology industry in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Olympic Committee recently confirmed that future Olympics in 2024 and 2028 will not only include women’s golf but also more women’s competitions.
In November 2018, Suzy Whaley, currently Vice President of The PGA of America, will become the first female President of The PGA. On a personal level, in 2003, Suzy wrote the introduction to my book “Women Welcome Here.” That is going to make my “History of Women’s Golf Timeline”.
With all that as background, I have some advice for women who want to be better leaders for women’s golf – both increasing the number of women golfers and the environment at golf facilities that encourages more women to learn the game. The following is the last chapter (I think the most important!) of the book I wrote back in 2003. The chapter was titled “Advice for Women Golfers – And It’s Not How to Hit the Ball.” I have since re-titled that article on my website: “My Leadership Advice for Women Golfers”.
My Leadership Advice for Women Golfers
The key to getting things done at a golf course or club is to have designated representatives and some form of women’s golf organization – formal or informal. Even if there are just a few women trying to get a program organized, designate a spokesperson – or some interim officer that can communicate with the leadership of the course or organizations involved. Nothing is more frustrating to most golf professionals and less likely to produce change than a dozen women proposing individual suggestions to the pro shop.
Think Beyond Selfish
There are many different ways for women to enjoy this game. You may be a competitive golfer, even though most women are not. You may like 18 holes, while an increasing number of women prefer nine. You may like the new instructor, and others don’t. Your role as a leader is to balance your interest with the interest of different segments and somehow make sure that more women golf more and enjoy it more.
Establish Regular Communications And Over-communicate
Don’t wait for a problem to arise, think ahead and be pro-active. Set up regular informational meetings with the pro staff (informal – over breakfast, lunch or cocktails) and the women representing various segments of your women’s golf community. Make it an open discussion – ask: “What’s working well, what’s not. Together: Count the customers – how many are playing, taking lessons and improving? How can we make our golf experience even better? How are we measuring our success? Communicate regularly with your fellow women golfers through newsletters and bulletin boards.
When It Comes To Complaints – Do Your Research
There will surely be complaints and problems. But before you bring a problem to the staff make sure you have done your research. Is this a one-person issue or is it bigger? Are two women complaining that they can’t play on a Tuesday, or are there fifty? In my experience, most one-person issues are personality driven. As a golf leader among your women colleagues, don’t ask the professionals to solve these kinds of problems. Maybe they have some advice, but try to deal with it woman-to-woman first. Most golf professionals and managers don’t like to or want to discipline their customers.
Use Your Best Communication Skills
It’s much better to say, “How can we help the staff handle all the pairings on a Friday morning?” rather than “Why couldn’t they get the bags on the right cart last week?”. Don’t shy away from demanding customer service, but do it without putting the staff on the defensive.
Be a Public Relations Partner
Whether it’s the locker room bulletin board or the local newspaper, be proactive in figuring out the best way to communicate with your fellow women golfers and the larger community. Women golfers bring so many skills with them from their professional backgrounds. There are writers and computer wizards and creative artists. Most golf professionals and managers, on the other hand, came to golf because of their golf skill – not because they know how to take photos for the newspaper, write a press release about a charity event. Take a role in helping your facility spread the word that this is a “Women Welcome Here” facility.
Be a Mentor
Take new women golfers under your wing. It generally requires about five to ten on-course friendly, coaching, mentoring experiences offered by a seasoned golfer to a new golfer before that new golfer feels comfortable to go out on the course on her own. Think about how to be a good mentor and encourage your friends to be mentors also.
Promote Women for Leadership Roles
Figure out what’s the best (and most politically effective) plan of action is to get women on the governing boards and important committees of your golf facility or association. Most women-friendly courses have women-friendly top management. I personally have observed that three women on a committee can perform magic – whether it’s a committee of 7 or 77.
Stay Focused, Be Patient And Have A Plan
Don’t have too many projects in any one year. Concentrate on a few at a time. Make a multi-year plan (at least three years) on growing women’s golf and measure your progress. What gets measured, gets done! There are many reasons why a program might not work in the first year – such as a six-person-scramble format, but with a little patience and tinkering, the program could become very successful in year two or three. Encourage the staff to be patient with you.
If All Else Fails, Move On
If you have tried to lead positive change at your golf facility or organization, and continually meet with resistance, move on. There are many golf facilities that want your business and know how to welcome you to the game.
The bottom line is women must be leaders and advocates for women’s golf at their golf courses and facilities because if they don’t, no one else will.
Nancy Berkley is an expert on women’s golf, and junior-girls golf in the U.S. A special interest of hers is encouraging women to enjoy golf with their business colleagues, clients, and friends. Nancy is a member of the World Golf Foundation Women’s Committee and a member of the National Golf Foundation. Nancy is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University, Rutgers Law School and has a degree from the Professional Management Program of Harvard Business School.
Nancy is an active golfer at Frenchman’s Creek Beach and Country Club, her home course in Palm Beach Gardens Florida, where she plays both social and competitive golf. Her current Handicap Index on the USGA GHIN system is 17.5. Describing herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential, Nancy shares news about women’s golf – along with her opinions on berkleygolfconsulting.com and nancyberkley.com. She attended the 2013 Solheim Cup in Colorado and the 2015 Solheim Cup in Germany and is looking forward to on-site reporting from the Solheim Cup in Iowa in August 2017.
Portions of the above article appeared as “Advice to Women Golfers – And, It’s Not How to Hit a Ball” Originally published as the final chapter of “Women Welcome Here: A Guide to Growing Women’s Golf” by Nancy Berkley (NGF 2003). See www.nancyberkley.com for the original article.