We explore why more than a third of girls disconnect from sport before they reach their teens and how we can support young girls in golf.

I read an interesting article this week by the Well HQ about National School Sport Week. This year, the annual initiative is focused on belonging, ensuring there’s a place for every young person in school sport.

But as the article very articulately explained, we need to make some changes to ensure that supporting every child means supporting girls too.

And that means addressing the shocking statistic that 66% of girls drop out of sport before they reach puberty.

That figure is crazy.

That means if you take a class of 30 girls, almost 20 will stop playing sport when they reach the age of around 11 or 12.

I couldn’t find any statistics on what that number looks like in golf specifically. But I’d hazard a guess that it may be worse. Especially given how many young girls (under 11) participate in golf to start with.

Why do girls drop out of sport?

According to the Well HQ article, girls disconnect from sport because it simply isn’t designed for them.

And I agree.

A lot of sports ­– golf included – are male sports by default. Everything from culture to kit is geared up for men, and women and girls must try to fit in.

And that got me thinking. Do we all still think of golf as a man’s sport, with women fighting their way in?

It feels that way to me, and that’s exactly what needs to change.

Supporting girls in golf

I think the idea that girls and women are somehow a novelty in golf is fundamental to the issues the game faces with female participation.

And changing a few basics to make girls feel more comfortable and accepted in the game could go a long way to addressing that.

Things like toilets on the course. And not just because we can’t pee behind a tree quite as easily as men can. But because when you’re on your period, it can be a complete and utter nightmare.

I’m 32 and not at all shy when it comes to toilet and period talk. But I was when I was a teenager. And that’s exactly when girls leave the game.

And golf clothes. The very fact that the average pro shop contains approximately 2.5 pieces of women’s golf clothes and never in your size is enough to make anyone feel like they shouldn’t really be there.

I can’t tell you the number of times as a junior golfer I squashed my boobs into a boy’s polo shirt to play in team matches. Or wore a badly fitting outfit for golf simply because I was too scared to bend the rules.

Let’s face it, none of those experiences had me running to my friends to tell them how cool golf was.

We either need to address those issues, or adjust the rules to let girls (and boys for that matter) wear what they feel comfortable in. I’m not saying we scrap the dress code altogether. I know it’s a tradition that makes the game what is it.  

But we all know that what you wear impacts how you feel. And making sure we’ve thought about women and girls and their clothes goes a long way to making them feel comfortable.  

Even this week, I received an email from my golf club with an updated dress code. “Great”, I thought. “Maybe they’re allowing hoodies?”. I opened the email only to see the attachment was titled “Men’s dress code”. Despite having a fairly active women’s section, there was no mention of we should or shouldn’t wear whatsoever.

Did they forget, or don’t we matter?  

More opportunities for girls

The only real way to change the attitude of the sport is to get more females involved in the game.

And that starts with more opportunities for young girls.

In recognition of National School Sport Week, the Golf Foundation has launched a new campaign to introduce golf – in any capacity – to primary schools across the UK.

It runs until March 2023 and I think it’s a great way to get more girls started in the game.

What I also hope is that by introducing girls to golf at a much younger age, they’ll feel more confident in their place in the sport as they get older. So that hopefully when they reach their teens, they won’t be put off by some of the things I talked about earlier.

Not a quick fix

Ultimately, it’s attitudes that need to change.

Women and girls deserve a place in golf without feeling they somehow have to change to fit in.

It’s not a man’s sport. It’s a sport for everyone. We just don’t treat it like that sometimes.

What do you think – how can we support young girls to stay in golf? Share your thoughts by emailing [email protected].