Could making women feel welcome be the answer to the ongoing handicap debate? Competition secretary at Chorley Golf Club, Janet shares her story.

Some people love it, some people hate it; our recent series of articles have highlighted just how divided golfers are when it comes to the World Handicap System. And the debate gets even more heated when you throw in the topic of increasing the handicap limit.

But this week, we heard from Janet, Competition secretary and former Captain at Chorley Golf Club, who shared a different side of the story.

Janet told us: “I don’t think there is a magic solution, but our friendly and holistic approach seems to have worked.

“Support from all the ladies’ section is key.”

After running a ladies’ academy for five years, Chorley Golf Club more than doubled their female membership. And they put that down to making women feel comfortable at the club. That’s something that could go some way to addressing some of the issues the new World Handicap System seems to be creating: pace of play, lack of interest in competitions and unfriendly divisions in ladies’ section.

“If people are taught correctly to keep up with the game in front, handicap is irrelevant when it comes to pace of play. We’ve also used the past two years to get Academy ladies up to speed by having rules quiz nights and sharing pace of play pointers.

“The handicap limit increase has helped more mature ladies play competitively and not be stuck at 36 forever. For new ladies this gives them a number to work from to try and get their handicap down. 

“And from our experience, there is an even spread of higher and lower handicap players winning competitions.”

How Chorley Golf Club doubled women's membership

Here’s how Chorley Golf Club opened their doors to more than 40 new women members:

In 2015 we found our lady member numbers down to 42 so we decided to run an Academy to bring in new lady members.

We ran a taster session one evening early in April. We found ladies in driving ranges, shops, cafes, through flyers in local shops … anywhere we could get a conversation going! They could wear trainers, jeans etc and all equipment was supplied. Ladies were given 10 minutes on the putting green, short game just hitting a ball, shown round the clubhouse and finally over tea and biscuit asked who would like to attend group lessons.

These were a block of eight lessons with a pro. We split ladies into times to suit them – working (evening), retired (anytime), those with kids ( early evening). From approximately 20 we would get about 80-90% sign up so no more than six per group. But ladies could also switch times if they wished. Again, all equipment was supplied. They could also come up to use our practice facilities in this time. This also got them used to the environment. We encouraged each group to also start a WhatsApp group chat. The friendships formed and support given is still seen out on the course every day. 

Basically, we tried to get them comfortable around the clubhouse and keep things casual.

Once the block of lessons ended, they could then sign up to a three-month trial membership for £100 and were also given a ‘Buddy’.

This was the single most important thing we did.

The buddy would take them out on the course to help them understand the rules and etiquette. The buddy could also introduce them to other members when they were up at the club. The new ladies would at this point have to invest in some equipment so we had a very successful Pre Loved board where members could advertise old equipment that would get the ladies started. Over the years I think some equipment has changed hands several times!

Dress code was implemented at this point and also a ‘What’s in my Bag’ session was an eye opener!  Why would you need two different size tees and what’s a ‘Driver’ anyway? We would also walk them onto the course to explain rules around a tee box, hazard/ditch and bunker one evening.

All a very strange new world and language when you’ve never heard it before! 

Towards the end of the trial most were ready to put cards in for their handicap and they could then take out a full membership which we discounted by £200 the first year.

We ran this Academy for five years. We got five to six full members at the end of each year so a great success for us. We only paused the Academy due to Covid. Our ladies section is now 85 across all ages and handicaps up to 48. 

All down to the friendly reputation we now have.

We'll be sharing more stories soon ... so watch this space! In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think. Email me at [email protected].