Here’s how a tee system based on ability, not gender, has helped grow Sidcup Golf Club's junior section and make the club more inclusive.
You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Sidcup Golf Club before. It’s a nine-hole club nestled between schools, houses and a local park in South East London. It’s the sort of golf club that as you’re driving to it, you think: “How can there be a golf club here?”.
But don’t be fooled. It’s a tricky course, with tight fairways, strategically placed bunkers and greens well-guarded by water. The modern clubhouse has a packed social schedule. And after just a few minutes of chatting with General Manager, David, and Carli, the Membership Director, it’s clear that this is a club that genuinely values accessibility and inclusivity.
In two years, Sidcup Golf Club has introduced a new tee system, started a women's academy and buddy system for new members, signed the Women in Golf charter, and implemented shorter blue tees.
They’ve now got a thriving junior section, they’re welcoming more women through the doors and the club is buzzing.
There’s a lot the industry could learn from this hidden gem of a club.
Introducing ability tees
In March this year, Sidcup Golf Club introduced a new tee system based on ability, not gender.
They still have red, yellow and white tees, just not in the traditional sense.
Now, each set of tees has been rated for both men and women, meaning that anyone can play from any tee and submit a card for handicap purposes.
“The new system gives every golfer a choice of length and difficulty. So women don’t have to play from the reds and men don’t have to play from the yellow or white tees,” Carli tells me. “It means anyone can play from the tee box that best suits them and their game.”
And, so far, it’s been well received. But not for all the reasons you may think.
“Some of our longer-hitting women have been enjoying the challenge of playing from the yellow and white tees. And some of our senior men have liked playing from the red tees. For them, it means shorter carries and a bit of a shorter walk, which really suits them.
“But who it’s really benefited most are the juniors. In the past, junior boys had to get their handicaps from the yellows or whites. But the course was difficult for them, especially the younger ones.
“Now they can get their handicaps from the red tees, it’s far more enjoyable. And for the first time ever, our junior section is full.”
“All of the members have commented on how brilliant it is to see a lot of youngsters at the club again. It’s really promising for the future,” added David.
The club has also introduced blue tees to help to encourage beginners and junior golfers.
David explained: “From the blue tees, the course is too short to be officially rated, which is a shame. But having that option for new golfers, juniors and even some of our older members has been great. It’s really opened the course up to more people who might have struggled to play otherwise.”
A drive towards inclusivity
When I asked Carli and David what drove the decision to implement the new tee system, the answer was simple: inclusivity.
“Ultimately, we wanted to be more inclusive. And one of the ways we think we can achieve that is to give everyone different options that suit their level of ability,” David explained.
“As a nine-hole course, we want to offer more challenging playing options to our women's section whilst making it less challenging for our senior players. We also wanted our less experienced male juniors to be able to gain their handicaps and play competitions from the red tees. This was previously not permitted as the reds were only rated for women and girls.”
It’s no secret that the nature of golf clubs tends to be that implementing new ideas can be a slow process. But it sounds like the board and members at Sidcup Golf Club are embracing change quite rapidly.
“Once members understood the concept of the ability tees, they’ve been very supportive of what we want to achieve over the next few years”, Carli told me.
“But changing attitudes and breaking the habit of seeing the tees as either men’s or women’s will of course take time,” commented David.
“Our members are generally forward-thinking, and with time, we hope people will adopt the new system more and more. Our competitions are still played from the red tees for women and white tees for men, but we will be looking to phase that out over the next year or so.”
Sidcup Golf Club has also introduced a "second club" membership category, available for women who are already members elsewhere but are looking for somewhere local to hone their skills. If you'd like more information, please visit sidcupgolfclub.com.
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