Date: January 12, 2007
Author: Alistair Hogg

Building Bridges to golf participation

By Alistair Hogg The forthcoming MFS Women&aposs Australian Open is not only a chance to showcase the world&aposs best female golfers, but also a valuable marketing opportunity to draw new fans to the game. Women&aposs golf has been static in recent years, but the return of our national championship and the arrival of the world&aposs elite on our doorstep might just provide the kick-start the sport needed. Patricia Bridges OBE believes the tournament is a key component of increasing participation levels, but also said that golf faces many challenges as administrators seek to generate more interest in the game. “Golf is a difficult game to &aposprogress&apos, being time consuming, plus there is the expense of equipment and club membership fees where necessary,” she said “The sport has depended on volunteers to promote it in the past, but it needs to attract younger devotees – perhaps former/retired professionals in the women&aposs ranks such as Shani Waugh.” In addition to coaxing former players back into promotional or game development roles, Mrs Bridges believes the media plays a key role in golf awareness and progression. While most media sources focus on players in professional events, she thinks there are many opportunities out there to highlight the &aposreal&apos issues at the heart of women&aposs golf. “Human interest factors are the best means of promoting the involvement of women.” “In most clubs, women use the facilities more regularly than men, and sponsors should be encouraged to promote products appealing to women.” In addition to seeking a greater level of participation from women, Mrs Bridges also holds a strong belief that a significant amount of golf development will occur at grassroots level and we need to nurture that. “The junior foundations (eg. Jack Newton&aposs) have done a great service in attracting youngsters to the sport,” she said. “[We need to] create junior competitions for boys and girls to fraternise and establish support for each other so team activities become important, rather than emphasising individual participation.” This is where clubs come into the picture as facilitators of the game, allowing youngsters to get a taste of golf and hopefully turn it into a life-long passion. But there are a number of obstacles standing in the way of the game booming at junior levels. Membership fees, cost of equipment, course exclusivity and the historical reluctance to change within the sport all make it difficult to encourage participation. “Clubs are largely private, although some seek income from trade days rather than depending on club fees. Members can be insular, happy to play the game within their boundaries,” Mrs Bridges said. “The game could be simplified at club level, (re: handicapping, course rating etc.) to make it more attractive and boost involvement, but that is really a local problem, to break away from the yoke of many conditions enforced by national organisations.” In the past, golf has typically been viewed as a socially exclusive past time which makes it difficult to encourage youngsters to pick up a club and ball. However as the game changes and Golf Australia continues to push forward, participation at all levels is expected to soar. Golf Australia has introduced a junior golf framework in addition to various golf participation programs designed to take the game to all corners of the community. All people, regardless of their background, should have the same opportunities to play this great game. And with tournaments such as the rejuvenated MFS Women&aposs Australian Open allowing fans to watch the world&aposs best in their backyard, the future is looking distinctly brighter.