Guest writer Amaya Athill discusses the need for new golfers to have a pathway to follow to keep them retained in the game

The pandemic has been a difficult time for many sporting industries, including golf but equally, it has had a particularly interesting impact on the growth of golf. We all saw that when golf courses were re-opened in the UK in April 2021, there was a marked increase in both actual participation in golf but also in general interest from those who had never played before. This was especially the case for us women.

This presented an opportunity for the golfing community to lean in and welcome new women to the game, and they did! I dub 2021 “the year of the taster session”. There were so many individuals, groups, clubs, and organisations hosting golf taster sessions - some of whom have been doing this type of work for a long time (such as the wonderful and others who were inspired by this new wave of excitement by women for golf. It was an incredible movement that I loved to see and even be a part of. You may even have experienced or been to one of these sessions yourself.

However, much like a new year’s resolution, it’s easy for an “interest” in trying something new to fizzle away after the first few weeks if it is not harnessed and supported. While new and fun, taster sessions in isolation may not have the impact of harnessing long-term engagement with golf and the question becomes: how can we ensure meaningful long-term engagement that channels a beginner’s interest to grow into regular social play and perhaps even into membership?

Components for meaningful initial engagement

To answer this question, I’d like to shine a spotlight on the programming utilised by Edgbaston Golf Club in Birmingham. I first heard of the club through my friend Julia Regis. Concerned with the underrepresentation of black women in golf in the UK, describing it as “abysmally low” - an observation true to her experience as a black woman golfer and even more personal to her as currently the only black woman member of her club. Julia decided to be intentional about the ways in which she could get more black women into the game.

She arranged a golf “taster” session at the club for a group of black women in August 2021. As England Golf were celebrating Women and Girls in Golf Week she thought it was a wonderful time to schedule the event as her mission of increasing the participation of black women in golf squarely aligned.

Edgbaston Golf Club
Julia Regis (far left) and the participants of the Golf Taster Session at Edgbaston Golf Club in August 2021 - image credit

Julia’s initial taster session hit on all of the main components that, I believe, allow for meaningful engagement at the onset:

  • Localisation and familiarisation – keeping initiatives local to the participants allows for a level of ease and comfort as they are familiar with the area/surroundings. From the inception, participants of the taster session are engaging with their local club, the coaches of the club, and a member of the club.
  • Strength and safety in numbers – the taster allowed a group of black women, a demographic grossly underrepresented in golf, to bond and share this experience in a “safe space”.
  • Incorporating a social element - by including the “drinks and nibbles” at the end of the initial taster session the participants were able to honestly engage with Julia on their conceptions and misconceptions of golf and have their questions about the sport answered.

A funnel for engagement and retention at Edgbaston Golf Club

So, after the taster session, what next? Well, this is where the structure of Edgbaston Golf Club’s programming comes in:

Stage 1 - “Get into Golf”
The coaches at Edgbaston offered the taster session participants a series of 6-week “get into golf” lessons, introductory golf lessons at subsidised rates, which brought the group together once a week to learn the fundamentals of the game such as, how to grip a club, what the different types of clubs are etc.

Stage 2 - “Improver” sessions
This progressed to a 6-week “improver” course which allows the participants to strike the ball more regularly and begin to venture out on to the course.

Stage 3 - Academy/Individual tuition
This in turn progressed into an Academy course that takes a more focused approach to develop each individual participant’s golf swing and game. Currently, the group is at this Academy stage. As the group has progressed along these 3 stages, the retention rate is currently at 75%!  It is the hope that the group will continue with the Academy coaching and transition into regular social golfers who can independently play a round of golf while continuing to learn.

Edgbaston Golf Club
The Clubhouse at Edgbaston – photo taken by me during my visit in September 2021

The integral role of the coach

While these stages of the process are important, what is also important is the care of the coach (PGA Professional) and the sensitivity of their teaching style. This is especially the case with groups of women from historically underrepresented communities. I had a chance to speak to one of the participants of the Edgbaston taster session turned Academy pupil who had this to say about the coach David Atkins (pictured at the top with the Get into Golf class):

“David Atkins has been brilliant. There is always apprehension about how a white male may interact with a group of black women because it’s so far outside of what we consider his “norm”. However, David has a wonderful way about him and has been respectful and unproblematic in his approach to teaching us. He also makes learning a lot of fun.”

What’s clear to me is that Julia’s targeted initiative and Edgbaston’s offering of lesson packages is a winning combination and a fascinating model. It demonstrates that women are interested in playing golf and not just trying golf and how you engage is the make or break between the two.

Did you start playing golf in 2021 and are you still playing now? What kept you growing in the game? Why do you think others may not have stayed on? Do you know any golf clubs with a similar beginner to member funnel?

Tell Women & Golf about it by dropping them an email here.

Words by Amaya Athill

If you’re interested in this story and would like to connect, you can find me on Instagram at @golf_interrupted. You can also find out more about Edgbaston Golf Club here.

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