This is the question Jim Koppenhaver, President and founder of Pellucid Corp asked at his annual conference at the January 2007 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando last month. (For those who don't know Jim, he is a "tell-it-like-it-is" advisor and consultant in the golf industry with a prior background in consumer marketing. www.pellucidcorp.com)
Indeed, over the last few years, the total number of women golfers has been flat – stubbornly stuck around six million and representing about 24% of the total number of adult golfers. Jim's presentations are always constructive and his question is a good one. But, I do have problems with his battle metaphor
For starters, I do not believe that the golf industry views growing women's golf as a "battle". A battle suggests an overall plan with goals, strategy and a real commitment of energy and financial resources.
Among golf industry associations, only The First Tee really lives up to the battle metaphor. Joe Louis Barrow stated at Golf 20/20 this past November that he was not satisfied with a 34% female representation in First Tee programs. He wants 45%. I have not heard that battle-cry from any other golf industry association. (Golf 20/20, EWGA, Play Golf America and NGCOA all have good women's initiatives, but they lack the challenging goal-setting-objectives that I hear at The First Tee.)
When Pellucid reports that the bright spot in female golfers is the junior girl, that's not a surprise to me. That is the predictable outcome of The First Tee's efforts and the excellent media ads they have produced which make it appear that any girl and every girl can play golf. (The PGA Tour is helpful in that it provides those public service First Tee ads.)
Another place where we are not losing the battle is with young women ages 18-29. In 2003 according to NGF survey stats, the percentage of women golfers age 18-29 represented 15% of all women golfers. In 2004, that age bracket jumped to 23%. (Pellucid reports 18-34 age segments so it is difficult to compare the reports.) Media coverage by non-golf channels of the fabulous young female golfers was probably a source of inspiration to thousands of young women golfers.
The golf industry wears blinders. It generally speaks to those already playing the game, which is a classic "sales" approach. But the industry needs marketing; it must grow the market itself. That requires broad-market media campaigns that reach the golfers that don't read Golf Digest or Golf For Women or watch golf on TV. That's where the local news plays its part and investing in product-placements (think: golf clubs) make sense on sit-com shows. The Golf Channel does not have a "For Women Only" show, but my guess is that an internet-video channel soon will.
Look at the pharmaceutical industry. They haven't stopped marketing through their physician system. They added a program of national consumer advertising. They want a consumer to read the newspaper and then go to their doctor asking, "Why don't I take the purple pill?"
I would love to see a full-page Callaway ad with Morgan Pressel in non-golf publications. What if women opened their Bon Appetit cooking magazine and saw an ad for Callaway? (That's not very hard for Conde Nast publisher to do.) Maybe women would be tempted to cook the 30-minute dinner and take the 60-minute golf lesson.
According to Pellucid, by 2010, over 80% of the all adult golfers -- women and men -- will be over the age of 55. Based on my observations, women over 55 who take up golf for the first time are great golf customers, and if Jim is right, they will quickly find friends who golf which is key for improving frequency. The industry (from the manufacturers to the golf assistant behind the counter) must find new and creative ways to reach the broad-market of potential women golfers and convert them.
At the conference, Jim asked another question: "What can we do to budge frequency?" And he followed that up by asking who wants to keep playing when they don't improve. Answer: most seasoned women golfers hardly budge their handicaps – and they still keep playing. "Not improving" or "not winning" is not the reason more women don't play more golf. Sure, a brand new female golfer doesn't want to embarrass herself, but the equipment and instruction is so good now and the younger women have much better athletic skills (Thank you, Title IX) that she will reach a playable expertise level quickly. Most important, if she is playing with golfers she enjoys, she will stick with the game even with only moderate increments in improvement.
I have a question. Does the industry really want more women playing golf? If so, why doesn't the industry solve the baby-sitting problem? The tennis industry figured it out and so did the ski industry. And, I really don't want to hear that a facility can't supply 5-hour baby-sitters. Try baby-sitters for 3, 6 or 9 holes, maybe just playing lessons, but figure it out. The lack of child-care solutions is just one more reason why I do not think the golf industry is in battle mode about growing women's golf.
Finally, I want to add that there are some real gaps in tracking women's golf. The NGF currently only reports on "golfers" – those who play 9 or 18 holes at least once a year. It does not report on women who only go to golf ranges or play mini-courses. Golf ranges could be winning the battle and moving the frequency needle -- and we just don't know about it.
But forget about trying to measure female interest by their apparel purchases in a pro shops. Except for a hand-full of golf super-stores or a small niche of elite pro shops, most women do just fine buying their golf attire at department stores or at Lands End or the Gap. And, the industry can't measure those sales.
And, finally -- really: Is the golf industry loosing the battle for women golfers? "No," because it's not a battle. BUT, if it was a battle, they could win it. Next year, Jim, tell them how!