Women are taking up golf in greater numbers than ever before. Between 2000 and 2001 alone, the number of women golfers rose from 5 million to more than 6 million, according to the National Golf Foundation. The number of male golfers rose from 18.9 million to 19.7 million. So while men still outnumber women by more than three to one, women are a key target for future growth.

Yet there's also no denying that women still face difficulties in starting — and staying with — the game. Although there are no major studies showing that new women golfers leave the game any faster or sooner than new male golfers, plenty of anecdotal evidence says so.

“The three major reasons I hear for why women don't participate in business golf are they don't have time, they're not good enough, or they're afraid of looking foolish,” says Suzanne Woo, a San Francisco — based real-estate lawyer, founder of BizGolf Dynamics, and author of On Course for Business: Women and Golf. “But golf should be fun. Most people would rather play with a fun beginner than with a great golfer who has no personality.”

Time just might be the most important factor in why women don't stick with the game, according to Jo Ann Hoffman, president of MILO (Meeting Industry Ladies Organization), an association of female golfers in the meetings industry. “Women tend to have more responsibilities beyond work — so their time is at a premium. And golf takes a long time.” Her solution is remarkably straightforward: “We'd like to take away the stigma of playing nine holes instead of 18. Women would play more often — it's easier to find two hours a week than to find four or five — and they'd have more time to practice.”

MILO, founded in 1986, has made great strides for women in the meeting industry. MILO organizes three annual golf events for women meeting professionals: the Meeting Industry Ladies Open (also called MILO), the Meeting Industry Ladies Invitational, and the MILO Institute, which provides three days of intense golf education. In 1997, Club MILO was formed to provide a golf-related membership organization for women in the industry. It now has 500 members.

The Executive Women's Golf Association, founded in 1991, now has more than 17,000 members and hosts an annual championship series and conference and hundreds of local golf events every year through its 100 chapters. Another effective group: Sunriver Women's Golf Forum, which has convened annually at the central Oregon resort since 1997 to share the wisdom of key women in the golf industry about what makes a positive golfing experience for female players, has made “legitimizing and promoting nine-hole rounds” one of its goals for helping to retain women golfers.

What Can You Do?

What can meeting planners learn from groups such as MILO and Sunriver to make their own events more friendly to women? One of Woo's suggestions is to hold tournaments at multicourse resorts, putting together a day of activities for beginners to run at the same time as the 18-hole tournament. “Have a morning clinic followed by an afternoon of nine holes. It makes a comfortable environment for inexperienced golfers of either gender and adds a way to participate for those who can't spare a whole day. Then everyone can get together for the banquet and awards.”

“Write it in the invitation — women invited, or beginners invited — or say handicaps aren't necessary,” she adds. “And make prize categories that women are likely to win — not just the longest drive, but the most accurate drive, or the longest putt.”

Another suggestion: “Make it mandatory that each team has at least one woman on it. Don't put all the women into one foursome,” she adds. “I hate that.”

Cary Broussard, vice president of marketing for Wyndham International Inc.'s Women on Their Way initiative, suggests having someone at the executive level actively encourage women to participate. “It's a nice touch to get someone at that level to send out an e-mail, to show support,” she says. “And make sure to have some prizes that are appropriate for women. If you had spa prizes, or trips, or golf clothes that a woman might want to wear, it would go a long way.”

“My biggest pet peeve,” adds Jalet, “is that at events they always give you a men's shirt. The excuse has always been that there aren't enough women players. But most of the time you can find out ahead of time how many women have signed up, or go by past experience.”

Broussard suggests holding an information session before an event to go over some basic questions.

“Women often don't know what to wear, and that can keep them from attending. If you're a company putting on a golf event, have a pre-event where you review the etiquette, the rules, and appropriate clothing. Incorporate things no one feels comfortable asking, or that the new golfer may not know enough to ask.”

It's also important to remember that there are many male golfers, pros, starters, and caddies who welcome women to the game. “When contemplating mixed events, women often ask me, ‘Do they really want us to play?’” says Woo. “Of course they do. So go out there and have fun!”

Those Men!

Women's top two complaints about golfing with men

  1. Men who hit their tee shots and then drive or walk past the forward tees, forgetting that the women still have to hit — It's rude and disrespectful, and not a way to impress your prospect about how much you value her and her business. A generous gesture is … to get out of the cart and stand on the forward tee with her. She won't feel as rushed as having three guys waiting in their carts for her to hit.

  2. Men who give unsolicited swing advice — It's annoying for women to receive swing tips because they're usually bombarded with them. It's even more annoying when the male player isn't that good or has an ugly swing.

Excerpted from On Course for Business: Women and Golf, by Suzanne Woo, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, 2002