Opinion

Women and children first

“Why do members hate us juniors so much?” he asked.

I was taken aback for a moment, as I pondered this rather unexpected question.

It turns out that the club where he recently took up a junior membership had begun restricting the availability of tee times for juniors, making it extremely difficult for him and other junior members to get on the course, especially on weekends.  When he did get on the course, many of the older members would turn up their noses to the juniors, or roll their eyes at the group, etc.  In general, he told me, it wasn’t a very welcoming atmosphere.

“We just want to learn the game, and have fun,” he said. “It’s not like we are making trouble, or anything. We play by the rules, repair our divots and wave people through. But they [older members] still frown at us.”

That same week, I was playing golf at a public course with a mate of mine, when we came across a lone woman golfer sitting at a teebox, waiting to hit. There was a bit of a backup ahead, as a few groups in front of us (all men, by the way) were all playing extremely slowly.

She immediately suggested that my partner and I play through. When I offered that we might as well join up and play together, she smiled politely but declined.  “I’m just getting into the game,” she said in a rather embarrassed tone. “I just joined at [a private club] and I need to get better before I play with anyone. I don’t want to make anyone upset.” (Her swing, I discovered later, was FAR better than any of the players in front of us. She was also a very quick and capable player.)

Is this really happening? In this day and age? Are club members still so entrenched in old-fashioned ideals that we don’t welcome anyone and everyone keen to take up this fantastic game of ours? Are we really alienating women and junior golfers?

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: Women and junior golfers are THE future of golf. Plain and simple. Without them, a club simply cannot survive in the modern world.

As the product of an extremely supportive American-based junior golf program, I am continually puzzled (and disgusted at times) about the lack of real support that many Australian golfers afford to today’s young players. Sure, many club websites and brochures claim to welcome juniors with open arms, but when it comes right down to it, it is the members themselves who are responsible to roll out the welcome mat.

With a strong junior membership or contingent, a club can look forward to decades of revenues, income and future membership numbers.  Likewise, women represent the fastest-growing segment in golf. You’ll see more and more products and services (and clubs) targeting women and junior golfers in the near future. There is a reason why: they are the future.

Junior golf in Australia has endured its share of ups and downs. Years ago, Greg Norman captured the hearts and dreams of Australia’s juniors, catapulting golf to the top-of-mind for many of our youngsters.  The rise in interest – combined with strong support by clubs — led to players like Adam Scott, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley climbing up the ranks to take the world stage. Not coincidentally, club membership following that time was strong and healthy.

But then junior golf faltered for a while. Increased competition from other sports like Cricket, AFL, Tennis and Swimming–in addition to things like video games and other “cool” activities– have led to a gentle decline in junior participation numbers.  And, not coincidentally, club numbers (in general) have also followed that decline.

Yes, there have been other factors at play. But at the end of the day, juniors and women golfers are a critical part of golf, and they need to be welcomed to the course with wide open arms.

So the next time you see a junior or woman (or any beginner, for that matter) teeing off in front of you, remember that he or she may be the next Adam Scott or Karrie Webb– and that they hold the key to the future health of your club, and of Australian golf in general.

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