In recent years, the world of golf has seen a remarkable increase in the number of female golfers. Breaking away from the centuries-old notion of golf being a men's sport, women are making their way to the fairways, fully prepared with suitable apparel and equipment. According to one study, in 2019, only 15% of the adult golfers on 9 and 18 hole courses were women.
In 2022, this percentage rose to 20%, showing women's increasing interest in the sport. Experts predict that this percentage will only go up, and the future of ladies golf is bright.
While this is something every female golf enthusiast should celebrate, the question is, what took so long for women to show interest in such a prestigious sport, and why are more women playing golf now? The answer lies in the troublesome history of women's golf, so let's take a look at it.
History Of Women’s Golf
The history of women's golf is a tale of resilience and determination. Being a sport dominated by men, female golfers fought tirelessly for equal opportunities. In the 19th century, no golf course allowed women to play or even enter the premises, simply because they believed women weren't strong enough to hit sturdy shots. Women even faced discrimination when it came to attending golf tournaments. They were often turned back, and on the rare occasions when granted entrance, the authorities asked them to use the back door.
The establishment of the women's golf associations, including the Ladies' Golf Union in 1893 and the Women's Golf Association of America in 1896, played a crucial role in advocating women's rights and promoting golf amongst them. The lack of support and finances, however, made it difficult for these organisations to function efficiently.
With renowned golfers like Harry Vardon saying, "Women have no business playing golf,” it is obvious that the fight for equality was long and tiring. Women spent a hundred years proving to the world that they deserve to play golf as much as men, and it wasn't until the mid-20th century that things started to go in a positive direction for female golfers. More opportunities opened up for women, prestigious golf clubs extended membership eligibility to them, yet challenges such as limited sponsorships and endorsements, unequal media coverage, and unequal golf course setups still persisted.
Now that you know why it took women so long to take interest in golf, it is time to answer the second one, why are women playing golf more than ever now?
Reasons Why More Women Are Playing Golf Now
Increased Visibility & Representation
Ever since the Scots invented the game in the 15th century, it has been considered a men's game, leading to negative stereotypes surrounding women's golf and a need for greater visibility of accomplished female golfers. The lack of media coverage for women's golf can be demonstrated by the fact that, in 2008, Donna Lopiano, the former CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, openly stated that major sports networks like NBC pay significant amounts to the PGA for media rights to broadcast men's golf tournaments, while the LPGA had to pay those networks to air women's leagues.
However, from 2011 to 2019, there has been a positive shift in the media's attitude towards ladies golf. According to Nielsen Sports, in these years, television coverage of the LPGA Tour increased by 32%. In 2019, the LPGA tournaments were broadcasted live in over 175 countries, helping women realise they can also play golf.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have also highlighted the accomplishments of remarkable female golfers like Annika Sörenstam, Lorena Ochoa, and Jin Young Ko, encouraging young ladies to grab their clubs and tees to play golf.
Accesses to training and coaching
Golf requires a lot of precision and skill. To play well, one must learn the fundamentals and practice the game regularly. From the beginning, men had access to the best golf academies and tutors who helped them polish their skills. Women, on the other hand, did not have any proper coaches or golf schools.
In recent years, many golf academies have started offering golf lessons exclusively for ladies. These schools have female coaches trained through the Teaching and Club Professional (T&CP) membership program, who provide mentorship to aspiring women golfers. With better opportunities to learn the game, more and more women are showing interest in golf.
Promotion of inclusivity
In the past, women were not considered equal to men. Even when the golf clubs opened their doors to women, they made them feel unwelcome, discouraging them from participating in the sport. But things have changed for the better now. Many well-known politicians and celebrities have come out to support women's golf. In 2008, the "no women" policy of London's prestigious White's Club led UK's former prime minister David Cameron to give up his membership in protest. In 2016, the Scottish golf club Muirfield received a lot of criticism and lost its rights to host British Opens after denying membership for women. About the incident, the men's golf champion Rory McIlroy said, "In this day and age, where you've got women that are the leaders of certain industries and women that are heads of state, and not to be able to join a golf course? I mean, it's obscene. Like, it's ridiculous."
Celebrities are also making efforts to increase women's number on golf courses. In an interview, Niall Horan, who recently started his own golf management company said, "I'm particularly excited to try and get more young girls into the game as I feel this is a huge opportunity to grow numbers in the sport. These girls are just as gifted but don't generally get the plaudits they deserve, and that's what we're trying to showcase here. They're so talented and they deserve all the money and TV time." Being a part of the famous British boy band One Direction, Nial is idolised by millions of girls across the world, seeing him talking and appreciating female golfers is encouraging more and more ladies to take up the sport.
Increased Prize Money
The surge in the popularity of golf amongst women has a lot to do with the increased sponsorships and prize money for professional female golfers. The AIG British Women's Open 2021 announced a massive increase of $1.3 million in the prize fund, making it $5.8 million for the season. Then in 2022, the major championship again surprised the world by increasing the prize money by 26% to $7.3 million.As for 2023, the British Women Open will be held from 10th August to 13th August and have a prize purse of a whopping $10 million. In 2022, the oldest professional golf association in America, LPGA, set a new record by distributing $85.7 million amongst the season's players. In 2023, the LPGA will be awarding $101.4 million prize money, which is the highest of all times. Greater rewards and better earning opportunities are encouraging women to take up the sport as their profession.
Improved Venue Quality
From not having access to golf courses to playing on the most prestigious course in the world, women have come a long way. Golf courses- big and small- are making efforts to accommodate female golf players. These include practice areas designed for women, forward tees, and shorter carriers.
The women’s golf majors are also being hosted at prestigious venues that no one had dreamed of. The AIG British Women's Open 2023 will be played at the world’s most highly regarded Walton Heath Golf Club. Similarly, the US Women's Opens will take place at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California for the first time in golf history. The future venues for such tournaments are also quite noble and prestigious, luring women to practise and play better to get a chance to showcase their skills in stunning fields.
Health Benefits Associated with playing golf
Playing a 9 or 18 holes golf course has several health benefits. The key factors contributing to these benefits are mental stimulation and physical activity involved in the game. Golf requires a lot of walking. According to a study, walking around the golf course with a golf bag and equipment, they burn up to 720 calories. Golf also improves blood circulation and improves cardiac health. Being a weight-bearing activity, it produces lean muscle mass and improves bone health as well. Since golf is played in serene environments, it releases endorphins, promoting the feeling of well-being and reducing anxiety. A study reveals that golfers are often mentally strong, more flexible and have better reaction time than normal individuals- in short, the game offers incredible health benefits and this is one of the many reasons why more and more amateurs are now interested in playing golf.
With an increasing number of ladies showing interest in the sport, the future for women's golf is brighter than ever. The centuries-long fight for equality has finally paved the way for younger generations to see golf as a game for all and not only men. Every female golfer who easily gets access to the best coaching lessons and golf courses must respect the struggle of pioneering female golfers and celebrate every moment they spend on the greens- as it is a reminder of how the world is evolving and seeing women as men's equal.