NEARLY EVERY insurance/financial services meeting professional sooner or later has to deal with planning some kind of golf event. Which is fine for the guys — almost 20 million of whom are golfers, according to the National Golf Foundation. But far fewer women are wielding clubs, which can put them at a disadvantage when planning golf outings, says Sharon P. Chapman, CMP, a meeting planner with Berkshire Life in Pittsfield, Mass.
“It's very important for female meeting professionals to understand the game,” she says. “You need to understand the time it takes to play and the handicaps, so you can make it fair and equitable for all players when you're doing a Captain and a Crew, a scramble, or a two-ball best.” You also need to learn the jargon — a shot-gun start has nothing to do with hunting pheasants, and preferred lies aren't what you tell your sweetie when he asks where you went on your last girls' night out. “It's all critical to putting on a good,” says Chapman. “Golfers have high expectations, and it's up to you to make sure they enjoy the game.”
What better way to learn the game than to play it? Yet women seem hesitant to pick up a club, though more are heading toward the course than in the past. But women who give it a try sometimes find more of an obstacle course than a good time.
Sand Traps Are the Easy Part
The 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 identified several challenges women golfers face: finding time to play; lack of confidence in their abilities; finding supportive learning environments; finding enjoyable practice and playing opportunities; and overcoming the belief that golf is a “man's game.”
The best place to do your research if you want to make an event woman-friendly is the facility where the event will be held. Look for women instructors, women pros, women rangers, women starters, and other women on staff. Often it's the little things — bathrooms (both at the clubhouse and throughout the course), hair dryers and cosmetic trays in the locker rooms, a nice selection of women's clothing and equipment in the pro shop — that tell you a lot about the resort's emphasis.
Even at a female-friendly facility, women golfers face challenges. Says Chapman, a longtime golfer, “The biggest challenge I face as a woman golfer is the attitude I sometimes get. Some men don't think women can play as well or as fast as they can. The truth is, women have been taught to play fast because for many years, women weren't allowed on the golf course before 2 p.m. so as not to ‘hold up’ the men golfers. We may not have the really low handicaps, but our pace of play is quicker.”
Attitudes take time to change, but change is coming, says Connie Jalet, sales executive with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, who has been golfing for 20 years. “The attitude of the staff is probably the biggest thing. For instance, you'll still find marshals who just assume it's the women who are holding people up, when in reality, if the men have bets on their game, they may be the ones taking longer to line up their putts.”
Adds Chapman, “My mom was a golfer, and when I first started, she gave me some great advice: ‘If you can't be good, be quick. No one will ever mind playing golf with you if you move along and show the proper etiquette on the course.”
Women also tend to have more responsibility outside work, putting their time at a premium. And golf takes a long time. Jo Ann Hoffman, president of the Meeting Industry Ladies Organization, Bethesda, Md., has a straightforward solution to this barrier: “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.”
When asked why she thinks we don't see more women golfers, Chapman has a one-word answer: “intimidation.” Chapman continues: “Most women are afraid of holding a team back. We go out to have fun and get some fresh air. Men go out to compete and win.”
Her solution? “My rule of thumb for a golf social event is to get a cart and a cooler with some beer. Pop a beer on the first hole to loosen up your swing, then just go out to have fun. Remember, it's OK to miss a shot. If we never missed a shot, we'd be on the pro circuit.”
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