Detailed new research has revealed what the UK’s women golfers – and prospective players – want in a golf club. Exclusively for W&G, Ben Evans looks at the findings and the potential for clubs and courses to build their customer base by becoming female and family-friendly.

What does the female golfer want from her club or golf course?

The hospitality industry has long-understood the point of such a question and has a solution for it – listening to the customer, understanding their needs and offering high standards of service.

During the global economic downturn, golf clubs began to recognise the long-term value of members and the need to treat all golfers as customers. The pace of change may be slow, but there is a growing realisation that clubs and courses can retain and attract golfers if they offer them the facilities they want, the service they expect and an experience that will bring them back.

The relatively low level of female participation in the UK compared to some Continental European markets (women account for around 15% of registered golfers in England and Scotland, according to the European Golf Association) also offers the golf business an opportunity to grow the game.

Taking a leaf out of the hospitality industry’s book, the point many golf clubs and courses might need to start at is a better understanding of their customers, including females and families.

Some of the answers may be found in a new piece of market research. Golf course supply company Syngenta commissioned GfK, one of the top four market research companies in the world, to undertake a comprehensive study of UK golfers and, importantly, non-golfers. The purpose was to better understand what players and prospects wanted, share the results with golf courses and offer solutions for the long-term sustainability of golf as a sport and business.

The ‘Growing Golf in the UK’ survey questioned 3,500 UK residents aged 15 and over including 1,477 golfers and 2,145 non-golfers and lapsed players. Participants were questioned on a wide variety of related subjects including social demographics and family, other sports and hobbies, membership type, courses played, prevailing club culture, use of technology and smartphones, dress codes, playing habits, pace of play, spending at the club, customer care, club facilities and standard of course condition.

There are a few uncomfortable findings. For example, 23% of male and female respondents recalled “no experience of being treated like a valued customer” at their golf club and up to 50% of golfers said they sometimes feel intimidated by other members as well as club staff.

The need for the better understanding of current and future female golfers is evident in the survey. One of the most eye-catching findings was that of all the non-players who said they were interested in taking up golf, more than half are women; 56%, in fact.

Given that the total latent demand for golf (non-golfers who said they would be interested in taking up golf) among men and women aged 15-64 years is estimated to be 8.5 million, this is a significant indicator. Realistically, of course, there are many factors that can also put these non-playing females off – cost, time, not knowing how to get started and lack of family and friends playing. However, the point is that women are interested in golf.

So what would encourage potential female players to give golf a try? Easy access to affordable golf lessons was the number one answer (55%) followed by beginner-only mornings (49%). Significantly, 47% of non-playing females said they would be encouraged to try golf if with friends and family.

What about current women golfers? The results revealed:

-       75% of women said they would play less if their friends stopped playing

-       67% prefer to play with only family and friends

-       48% said their children play golf.

The responses reflect women’s preference to play with friends and family, and their strategic important in introducing children to the game.

Eric Brown, Global Turf Business Manager of Syngenta, was encouraged by the survey findings and sees clear opportunities for clubs through a customer-focused approach to women’s and family golf.

He said: “While some of the findings may not come as a surprise to golf clubs – we know golfers always want good course conditions – a number of key themes emerged that are important and relevant to clubs. Specifically, customers talked about their desire for relaxed, family-friendly facilities.

“The research clearly highlights that women prefer to play with friends and family, and this is important for clubs to understand in terms of how they retain existing female players and create opportunities for new players. The findings also suggest an important link between females and juniors, and women nurturing young golfers.

“The importance of access to affordable coaching for new players is also evident and this is something golf courses can look to. However, it’s important to think about the whole customer experience – you don’t want to lose female customers who have participated on a starter coaching course because they’re not given a friendly welcome in the clubhouse.”

Eric Brown continued: “Ultimately, the objective of the research wasn’t to highlight golf’s shortcomings, but to offer potential solutions to help golf clubs and courses better understand their customers and deliver enjoyable, memorable golf experiences on a day-to-day basis.”

Encouragingly, much is happening in golf development. England Golf Partnership, Golf Development Wales and clubgolf Scotland have all been investing in reaching out to new players as well as retaining existing golfers.

Forward-thinking companies are making an impact. Crown Golf and BGL Golf are examples of golf course operators that drive business through a proactive approach to encouraging new golfers.

Groups such as De Vere have introduced flexible membership packages that are geared to the needs of the customer, and the customer’s whole family. In terms of coaching, there are a number of innovative PGA Professionals establishing impressive regional academy programmes to encourage new players in their area.

Golf is changing and the Syngenta survey offers insights and market intelligence as well as solutions for clubs and courses. It also makes it clear that there is a significant opportunity to grow the women’s game and encourage family participation.

“It’s good for every business to listen to their customers and understand their wants and needs,” added Eric Brown. “We hope golf clubs and courses will be able to use some of these findings to inform their own decisions and develop customer-centric solutions and services to encourage more women to play golf.”

Read the full article including case studies in the March/April issue of Women & Golf


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