Why are women leaving the game?

Although businesswomen understand that golfing is a good way to build ties with clients, that's not enough to maintain their interest in the game, according to the most recent survey from the National Golf Foundation (www.ngf.org). While men tend to embrace the game for the long term, the numbers and proportion of women playing golf are shrinking: In 1999, about 5.1 million women hit the links in the United States, which is significantly lower than the year before, when about 5.75 million played.

Why? Some golf courses simply aren't female friendly, say some observers. Others restrict times when women can play, based on the assumption that they will slow down the field. Sara Hume, executive director of the Executive Women's Golf Association and a longtime enthusiast, says the negative vibes are subtle. “Whether you're walking into a clubhouse or out on the course, it's not an environment that makes you feel comfortable, particularly if you're alone.”

Many women also have not achieved a comfort level with the game because they have not been exposed to it. Apparently intimidated by golf's sometimes arcane etiquette and by the assumption that men are better players, Hume and other avid women golfers agree that many are reluctant to take up a set of clubs.

“I'm a 33 handicap, which means I'm not a good player. A guy who has an eight or 10 handicap doesn't want to play with people like me,” confirms Dawn O'Day Foster, executive director of Fairfax, Va. — based International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading. She says she's often the only woman playing in her society's tournaments.

Some women feel more at ease playing with other women, which was one reason the EWGA and the Meeting Industry Ladies Organization (www.clubmilo.com) were formed — to provide chances to learn from other women golfers in a business setting.

But time poverty is also a liability. A round takes hours, and playing well demands practice. “Many women don't just have a job or a family, they have both,” says Jo Ann Hoffman, MILO president. “Add golf … and there just aren't enough hours in the day.”