Get women into golf: Here come the girls
Suffolk-based PGA professional Alastair Spink got the idea for ‘Here Come The Girls’ from standing on the range watching various men and women hitting some balls, with the end result being the woman leaving disheartened or uninterested – and often both.
The project began in 2011 and, so far, 250 women have tried the sport with 70 per cent still playing.
Most of the coaching isn’t done from the safety of the driving range. Rather you are sent out on the course on the first day and the thinking is based on social learning theories and group support which help to break down many of the barriers and perceptions that may stop women from participating in the first place.
How did the project come about?
I was coaching full time and I spent a lot of time watching people come and go and what I tended to see was a male-dominated territory.
The norm was for the guy to have a go and for the partner/wife to watch.
And then she makes the biggest mistake saying ‘can I have a go?’ and the guy, who has hit it all over the shop, turns into Butch Harmon and relays every piece of technical information he has ever received over the years.
Whether she wants to hear it or not, and it is all said in negative tones, it ends in complete confusion and she goes away thinking maybe golf isn’t for me.
I reflected on what my teaching methods were and thought I’m going to do something completely different and that was when Here Come The Girls was born.
What is the difference to your usual set of lessons?
I grew up at a very traditional club and there is a time and a place for it but it can’t be the norm.
The first session will be two hours, some time chatting and finding out where everybody is in terms of playing before, have they had a good or bad previous experience in golf and their perceptions of other sports.
It’s not a gender thing, we’ll do the same with the men.
Then they will hit some balls on the range and I tell them that we are going to go out and play on the short course at which point I am met with worried faces.
How involved do you get at this point?
I’ll go through the safety aspects of the range but then I’m very clear that I won’t say anything for 10 minutes.
It is dependent on those 10 minutes on what we will do next.
I’ll offer a bit of encouragement for those struggling to hit the ball but I will still keep quiet.
I’m yet in three years to come across anyone who continues to miss it. They find their own way. Then they are elated that they have done it, they know the feeling of missing it and then hitting it. I don’t know how they are feeling.
And then on to the course?
We are so lucky at Fynn Valley (near Ipswich) that we’ve got a par 3 course which is 50 yards away. They are on a high from the range and then we are away.
The greens are superb but everything is just flat and the first few holes are 100 yards max. We’ll let them have a go for a couple of holes and just go through the basic stuff of where to stand and who plays first. Then I just want them to get a feel for it, get some confidence so that they drive home thinking that they can’t wait for next week.
Golf clubs need to consider what lens they view their club through and consider when women can play and their access to the course at the right time. Your advert has women in jeans and trainers which isn’t the usual look for ‘traditional’ golfers?
We have attracted a younger demographic with the average age somewhere in the low to mid 40s. When we started we targeted only through Twitter and the nature of the poster is very much pointed in one direction – four women in trainers making a stance.
Some clubs will have traditional values and I have got no issue with that but we are competing with other sports and, when we advertise, I always send an email the week before saying don’t worry what you wear, jeans and trainers, sweatshirts are fine.
But I still get people ringing up and asking if I’m sure that’s alright.
There is a great line in the Syngenta report that says ‘Women don’t want to dress up to relax’.
There are enough things to worry about.
The project is aimed at beginners so how do you keep people involved at the end of it?
After a few weeks there is the choice to get the whole group back and we get a little bit more technical and concentrate on what’s needed or we have reunion sessions.
Around 40 have have gone on to join clubs which isn’t great and I used to take offence at that but now I just think playing nomadic golf where you play lots of different courses is how more people want to the play the game.
How much is time a factor?
Golf clubs need to consider what lens they view their club through and consider when women can play and their access to the course at the right time.
If you are going to get a group of younger women to play golf then you have to make sure you allow time for them to play golf in the evenings and weekends.
Time is massive for all of us but a lot of younger women won’t have time to play 18 holes.
Of the first 100 to go through our project they completed a journal of their experience and one of the big things to come out of it is that they had an hour to practise so 18 holes won’t be an option.
When you first start you are going to hit a lot of shots so it is tiring.
There is no hard-and-fast rule to play nine or 18 and that is the benefit of playing the par 3.