Whilst Women's participation is on the rise in Europe, the UK lags behind as some clubs continue to cling to their "precious traditions".
It was a relatively reasonable request made by Lowri Roberts as she asked if her golf club could allow Full Members of the Ladies Section to play competitively at a time of their choice on a Saturday morning. The morning slot was allocated to the men’s section until 12.30pm. The whole request seems fair enough given that the Ladies involved pay the same full membership as the Men.
However, at the Cottrell Park Golf Club AGM, not everyone agreed with Lowri Robert’s proposal. Votes were cast and the result was a 50/50 split. It was now up to the Chairman to use his casting vote.
His choice was clear-cut. He could have voted for change, a change that the club could have used as a beacon of equality. His other choice was for tradition. Where segregation opens continues and the status quo remains in place. He chose tradition.
Needless to say, when the news broke on Twitter there was some instant reaction. The vast majority being negative towards the decision. The club's Twitter administrator will have no doubt been inundated with comments that will provide plenty of food for thought.
Whilst it is important to stress that the club is fully entitled to continue in whatever way it wishes to proceed, it once again raises the issue of female participation in golf. Do decisions like this put female golfers off from becoming members? Is the idea of "Tradition" actually doing more harm than good for the golfing economy?
The research does not bode well for the UK when we compare female golf participation with the rest of Europe. According to the European Golf Course Owners Association (EGCOA), female participation on the continent is on the rise. In Austria, female golfers make up 35% of all golfers in the country. Just behind Austria are Germany and Switzerland on 34%. These three countries currently hold the gold standard when it comes to female players.
The same could not be said for the United Kingdom. England, Scotland and Wales stand at the bottom of the list. In England, only 14% of clubs membership are women with both Scotland and Wales holding the bottom spot on 12%.
Let that sink in for a moment. Here in the UK, Women’s golf is suffering whilst it is growing everywhere else. Golf’s traditional heartland is losing out.
Golf is very different on the continent. Here women’s golf is embraced. Club opens are mixed, families are encouraged to play together and a love of the game benefits because of that. Values are also different. Tradition is replaced with equality but not for the sake of driving the game towards the 21st Century but also for its economic benefits.
This is key as to understanding why golf clubs in the UK are closing at an alarming rate. The economics are simply not there. Municipals are closing, clubs are going into administration and those that are surviving are heavily dependent on the rise of the nomadic golfer using Teeofftimes websites.
The cold hard truth is that if golf clubs are to survive they need the yearly guaranteed income that membership provides. The continent understands this relatively simple equation. Surely the aim, therefore, is to grow your membership? Women’s membership can help grow any club. However, with things as they currently stand, why would they even want to?
Tradition, where the men rule the club, creates an atmosphere where women don’t feel accepted. However, I bet the clubs love taking their membership fees, only to give them a second-rate service. Tradition and its failure to move with the times, to modernise and evolve, will kill your golf club.
The game is beautiful. Getting that little white ball into the hole in as few shots as possible does not differentiate between creed, colour or sex. It’s not the game's innocence that is at fault, but those who hold the keys to the powerful chambers within. This has to change.
The situation is an easy one to solve. We are all golfers, we all love the game and we all want to play. Our aim has to be to let everyone play and in doing so, everyone will benefit both socially and economically.
The events at Cottrell Park will be played out across the country. Some will hold on to their precious traditions until the end. In doing so, they will drive people away to other clubs who have embraced change. Those clubs will then flourish, become beacons of equality, case studies will be written about how to do it effectively. The others who held onto their traditions with a cold grasp will have golfers, they will be happy for a short time, then they will close as memberships decline with each passing year. They will do so with a foolish pride masked as "tradition". No one wants to see that happen, do they?