It's time to focus on the brilliant things that are happening in women's golfApril 12, 2018 The Scoop
The enthusiasm and drive behind programmes like Girls Golf Rocks prove that it isn’t all doom and gloom for ladies' golf, writes Harriet Shephard
Statistics about golf participation are pretty gloomy really. Particularly the ones about how many women and girls play.
A survey taken in 2016 showed that out of England’s 678,372 registered golfers, only 14% of them are female.
It doesn’t sound that great does it?
If you paid too much attention to these figures you’d be under the impression that no girls play in the UK and apparently, nobody really cares or is doing anything to change that.
Which is quite depressing.
However, the scenes I witnessed on a sunny day at Rudding Park, North Yorkshire, gave completely the opposite impression.
Here 22 extremely energetic girls, some as young as 5, had gathered for a Girls Golf Rocks taster session.
Lead by PGA pro Steph Davies, the room was packed as she launched straight into an ice-breaking exercise that was designed to get them talking to each other.
Some of them were quiet and nervous. As I certainly would be if I just been dropped at a new place to try quite a difficult-looking sport for the very first time.
But after a few minutes it was impossible to tell who were the ones who had come and alone and who were with friends.
This is the first time that Rudding Park have ran the scheme. Steph told me that she wants the girls to gain some friends out of it, as well as an insight into what golf is all about.
She said: “I think it’s important to give girls the opportunity to learn and play together. Because I didn’t enjoy golf until I found a friend to play with, who was the only other girl who played here when I was a junior.”
The environment also definitely helped put them at ease.
The upstairs at the academy was once a restaurant, but now it’s an indoor practice area that’s been decorated with graffiti and neon signs.
If it wasn’t for the views of the immaculate course under the cloudless blue sky, nothing about the venue fitted with the perceived idea of a stuffy golf club. It was all far too cool.
Then we moved to the range, where the new golfers had a quick and simple demonstration of how to hold the club and an explanation of why they shouldn’t be trying to hit it too hard (still one of the biggest mistakes I make every time).
Then the speaker was wheeled in, the music started and it was straight into hitting balls. This was unstructured, a bit raucous and all about having fun.
If anyone in the bays next to us had come to escape for a quiet half hour, they would be in for a bit of a shock…
But it didn’t seem to be that type place of all.
Steph told me: “Our club is only about 25 years old. This means that we don’t have older members who joined when they were young and are maybe a bit resistant to change. So it feels a bit more modern and ladies have always been able to play in all our competitions.”
At first, some of the girls were hitting clean air more often than the ball (I know how that feels). But after half an hour they had got the hang of it.
They were helped by the professionals and also the Girls Golf Rocks ambassadors; girls from the county team who come to help out at the sessions.
Then they had chance to grab a quick burger from the BBQ, before moving on to some crazy golf challenges on the putting green. Accompanied by more music and cartwheels of course.
Nine-year-old Eve told me that she really wanted to carry on with the sessions, which are being offered for just £14 for five lessons.
She said: “I really like that it has got lots of girls together, because it’s normally mainly boys who play golf. But this has shown other girls that we can do it as well.”
They were clearly all loving it and having a brilliant time.
The next five sessions will cover putting and chipping, before they are take part in a par 3 competition in the summer.
Steph was thrilled with the turnout and the reaction to the taster.
She said: “It’s so rewarding, the girls faces then made it for me, they were all really happy.”
“It helps that it’s just girls I think. When I was learning I was with all boys and it was all about who could hit it furthest, which obviously I never had a chance of winning.”
“It’s important to get more girls playing and spread the word that it’s not an old man sport. It’s a very social game and it helps build confidence.”
“With most sports you are lucky if you carry it on into your 40s, but with golf you can play it your whole life and if you start it early then you have more of a chance of enjoying it.”
Many signed up for the lessons as soon as the session was over, with more expected to sign up over the next few days.
In just two hours they had basically managed to convert this group of girls into golfers. Judging from this reaction, it was actually hard to believe that this is an area of the game which is struggling.
If all it takes is a basket of balls and some friendly tuition, plus music and burgers thrown in for some extra motivation, there’s no reason why our clubs shouldn’t be packed with junior girls.
When we hear so much about how the game is struggling or how unfriendly golf clubs can be, we should probably remember that this isn’t the full story.
With Girls Golf Rocks and similar initiatives being rolled out across the summer, plus the countless clubs that are working tirelessly to get more woman and girls into the game, perhaps we don’t have that much to worry about after all.
The few hours I spent at Rudding Park proved just how easy it can be to get girls playing and genuinely enjoying golf.
After all, there’s lots of reasons for girls to love golf; it’s just about encouraging them to try it.
To find a Girls Golf Rocks programme near you visit the Girls Golf Rocks website.