'Being a golfer is nothing to do with age, gender or athletic ability - you've simply got to ‘get' it
There are about 25,000 more female golfers in Holland than there are in England.
Am I horrified, surprised or even bothered?
Should I be any of the above?
Is the fact that less than 15% of British golfers are getting changed in the ladies’ locker room a matter for concern? Are we a downtrodden suffragette minority in the sport that we love? Should we be chaining ourselves to the barriers lining the 18th fairway at Carnoustie on the final day of the Men’s Open next July?
If I were to write a blog trying to encourage young women to take up the game that I’m hooked on, can I honestly say that it would have persuaded the 21-year-old GolfPeach to move her hip rotations from the dance floor to the range? So far there are more questions than answers!
So it’s about time I made a confession…
As a 21-year old chemistry undergraduate I actually lived in St Andrews.
The local pub for my hall of residence was the Jigger Inn, a mere lob wedge away from the most famous 17th green in the world. Not only did I study at the ‘home of golf’ for three hazy years but I was a sporty type too. I played hockey, tennis and lacrosse. I loved athletics, swimming and skiing and I carried on with many of these activities well into adult life until I discovered… wait for it, mountaineering!
Yep, just five years ago I was hacking my way up to the summit of the Eiger without a snowflake of interest in golf.
It’s not like I hadn’t had the opportunity to play, I just didn’t have the wish or the will.
So where did the urge to play suddenly come from? That’s the big question.
There have been times in the four years since I first wrapped my hands around the grip of a club when I wished I had started playing decades ago. Imagine how good I would be now!
The truth is that I just didn’t want to play a sport that I considered dull, boring and unathletic.
It wasn’t that I felt frozen out of a male-dominated preserve, I just thought that golf was actually meant for old men. The old boys were welcome to it.
The first absolute requirement of a golfer is nothing to do with age, gender or athletic ability – you have simply got to ‘get it’.
Maybe I’d have ‘got it’ earlier if my dad had played golf. Charley Hull and Georgia Hall, currently Britain’s top female players, strode the fairways alongside their fathers from an early age.
I would love to hear their input on recruiting people into the game. I suspect they would say that not only did they have a vital ‘genetic’ connection to the game, they had a trusted man to shepherd them kindly past any untrusting men (or women) whenever they hit a fresh-air shot or left their bag on the wrong side of the green.
Golfers are terrible tut-tutters. Once we learn the finer points of etiquette, we are not slow to make damning judgments of anyone that so much as breathes on the line of our putt.
But I am still new enough to the game to remember that terrifying transition from the practice area to the very first tee. We’ve got to treat learners on the course with the same understanding and respect that we (hopefully) do on the road.
Of course, there are still some men who wouldn’t let women or teenagers behind the wheel of a car! It will take a lot more than a woman getting a locker at Muirfield to change the chauvinistic attitudes carved into the stonework of some old stately club houses.
I don’t have a story to tell in that respect. Our golf club has a healthy mixed membership and I’m happy to report that I arrive to a warm welcome whether I am with my husband or not. I also give as good as I get when the banter starts to fly.
However, I would like to see more juniors on the course. We have clinics during school holidays but what I really love is when I see one of the members just strolling down to the range with their children. As a mum, it is truly one of the greatest pleasures in my life to tee it up with my boys.
By the same token, those boys are two of the biggest reasons why I didn’t have chance to discover golf until quite recently. Mums and working women quite often just don’t have five hours to spare.
One of the chief initiatives aimed at dragging the sport kicking and screaming into the 21st century is to find playable short versions of the game.
Golf already puts up some unavoidable barriers. Kids need nothing more than a semi-deflated football and a few square metres of playground for a kick-around. But golf requires space, time, equipment and qualified supervision and tuition. It doesn’t come cheap either.
So how did I find a way past my time constraints, my natural aversion to this aging misogynist’s stroll, and a fear of failure? How did I get to the point where I ‘got’ it?
If I ever stood any chance at all of convincing the student GolfPeach to give golf a go all those years ago, my best bet would be to show her everything that I’ve got out of it.
If only she could see what a reasonably stylish, intelligent, athletic and successful woman of independent means was now getting back from golf in terms of exhilaration, involvement and challenges.
Or if she knew about the friends and contacts I’ve made or witnessed the simply stunning golf venues I’ve visited, then maybe she would have taken up the sport.
I took up golf because my husband had a passion for it that I wanted to understand. But I was nobody’s golf widow, I actually play more than him now!
Naturally, I thought it would be easier to master than it is. But I was fresh down from the top of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn so I was ready for a challenge, and the time was ripe with the boys heading to university and my business allowing me some professional flexibility.
I now play three or four times a week in truly mixed company. I’ve partnered men and women, kids and pensioners, high handicappers and pros. I’ve won and lost to all. It is the most inclusive sport I’ve ever experienced and the only one that has ever made me punch the air or cry out loud.
So, do I regret not starting in my student days? Not really. From what I can recall my student days were fun as they were.
But would I like to do more to influence young women to take up golf? The answer is only if they really want to.
The women’s game will only become healthier if it is played by fresh blood that is stirred by all that this strange old game offers. They need to be open to the challenges to the mind and body, the tests of temperament and nerve and by the lessons in self-improvement and self-confidence.
That’s my personal experience, but what is yours?
Do you agree that learning to love golf is about somehow ‘getting’ the mysteries and magic that lie beneath its rather lofty, dowdy image?
How did you ‘get’ golf? Are these social media platforms the secret route to spreading the message wider and younger?
Did you know that there are more than 13 million Instagram posts tagged #golf… twice as many as #tennis, very nearly as many as #cycling? For my next blog I would like to explore that social media reach and how it might be extended beyond the fairways and into the world of bloggers.
After all, golf is all about getting it further, right?
Mum, wife, business woman and golfer… but not always in that order since I took up golf four years ago. Passionately hooked on a game I thought looked boring until I got the bug. Handicap 18 and falling, I think! Range junkie – can get through 100 balls in a session! – and I play as many times a week as my working life allows. Member at Bearwood Lakes Golf Club, one of the most beautiful courses in the UK (when I play well!). All our holidays are now golfing holidays. Biggest golfing regret – I went to uni in St Andrews and never held a club!