Reflecting on an opinion piece written over six years ago, Editor Emma Ballard still believes golf clubs are missing the mark when it comes to recruiting women to membership

Before working for Women & Golf, some of you may know that I used to work for a PR and Marketing agency Medi8 Golf. It was during my time there that my passion to promote, evaluate and be quite vocal about issues in women’s golf from club to elite level really started to develop.

Alongside my regular role working with golf brands and organisations on their social media strategies, I would spend some of my free time writing articles for any publications that would be willing to publish them. Unsurprisingly, two of them that accepted were Women & Golf and Lady Golfer.

It was while thinking about writing this blog that I decided to revisit a topic that I first wrote about back in 2017 for Lady Golfer (I plan to revisit a completely different issue next week too).

Is it time to stop trying to recruit 20-40 year olds? That was the very stark headline. You can read the full article here.

At the time of writing the article I was 33, so I felt pretty well placed to be passing comment on this area and it’s something that I believe is relevant today.

Women's golf participation on the rise

As we know, after nearly two decades of actively trying to recruit more women and girls into the game, it was a pandemic that produced the biggest boost in playing figures. So whilst we now have more women actively playing, we still lag massively behind men and at club level on average women still only make up 13% of the membership (this hasn’t been impacted across the board since Covid).

With the increase in participation, it feels like there has been a shift in the women golfer demographic, a wider age spread, a younger (20-40 year olds) golfer or maybe that’s just what Instagram has led me to believe. I say that because it’s difficult to actually quantify this when a lot of these new golfers are casual players rather than members.

So let's take look at golf club membership specifically.

At the Hampshire Ladies Golf meeting I attended in April, the figures showed that the average age of a female member was 66.2 years old and that 82% of women members were over the age of 41. Looking specifically at 18-40 year olds, they made up approximately 4%, so around 200 women are golf club members in the county of Hampshire.

That’s quite an eye-opening figure when you think about it. Now, this could produce two cases – one that it provides a fantastic opportunity to target a latent market, breathe new (young) blood into golf clubs and a new revenue stream or that it shows that this age group is the hardest to convert into membership and your marketing pounds would be better spent elsewhere.

Ultimately, we want women of all ages playing golf, it’s not about excluding anyone. However when it comes to precious marketing spend (which a lot of golf clubs don’t even have), is it really wise to be targeting a market that is at a time of their lives where time feels and, in many cases, is more precious, jobs and family life are much more full on and, if we’re honest, you need time and an amount of dedication to play golf.

Two general target markets

My belief remains the same as it did back in 2017. Golf clubs should be actively trying to recruit junior players (which I know that they are already doing), so that they build up a skill set which they can use to either play golf for a lifetime or, if when they are older and have to step away are able to return to the sport at a time to suit them.

We then need to look at women over 40, I am using this as a ballpark figure, it could be slightly younger or older. Those that may have a bit more time and potentially the income needed to invest in a golf club membership. It’s my opinion that this remains a largely untapped market in women’s golf as we continue to look to recruit the 20+ year old golfer, who as this example shows is less likely to commit to golf club membership.

Let’s take Hampshire as an example, the county has a population of over 1.8 million of which 51% are female, roughly 250,000 women sit in the 40 to 65 year old age group. Surely with the potential that they have a least one friend or family member who may already play, this provides the greatest opportunity (along with recruiting girls) to get more women playing and converting into golf club membership.

By no means, using the clickbait title, do I think that 20-40 year olds are a lost cause but it's time to be realistic when it comes to golf club membership and increasing average female membership up from 13%. No great progress has been made in the last six years, so something needs to change. What better time than now?

What are your thoughts? I am always interested to hear other people's opinions. Email me here.