I received a phone call the other day from a very frustrated junior golfer.

“Why do members hate us juniors so much?” he asked.

I was taken aback for a moment, as I pondered this rather unexpected question.

It turns out that the club where he recently took up a junior membership had begun restricting the availability of tee times for juniors, making it extremely difficult for him and other junior members to get on the course, especially on weekends.  When he did get on the course, many of the older members would turn up their noses to the juniors, or roll their eyes at the group, etc.  In general, he told me, it wasn’t a very welcoming atmosphere.

“We just want to learn the game, and have fun,” he said. “It’s not like we are making trouble, or anything. We play by the rules, repair our divots and wave people through. But they [older members] still frown at us.”

That same week, I was playing golf at a public course with a mate of mine, when we came across a lone woman golfer sitting at a teebox, waiting to hit. There was a bit of a backup ahead, as a few groups in front of us (all men, by the way) were all playing extremely slowly.

She immediately suggested that my partner and I play through. When I offered that we might as well join up and play together, she smiled politely but declined.  “I’m just getting into the game,” she said in a rather embarrassed tone. “I just joined at [a private club] and I need to get better before I play with anyone. I don’t want to make anyone upset.” (Her swing, I discovered later, was FAR better than any of the players in front of us. She was also a very quick and capable player.)

Is this really happening? In this day and age? Are club members still so entrenched in old-fashioned ideals that we don’t welcome anyone and everyone keen to take up this fantastic game of ours? Are we really alienating women and junior golfers?

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: Women and junior golfers are THE future of golf. Plain and simple. Without them, a club simply cannot survive in the modern world.

As the product of an extremely supportive American-based junior golf program, I am continually puzzled (and disgusted at times) about the lack of real support that many Australian golfers afford to today’s young players. Sure, many club websites and brochures claim to welcome juniors with open arms, but when it comes right down to it, it is the members themselves who are responsible to roll out the welcome mat.

With a strong junior membership or contingent, a club can look forward to decades of revenues, income and future membership numbers.  Likewise, women represent the fastest-growing segment in golf. You’ll see more and more products and services (and clubs) targeting women and junior golfers in the near future. There is a reason why: they are the future.

Junior golf in Australia has endured its share of ups and downs. Years ago, Greg Norman captured the hearts and dreams of Australia’s juniors, catapulting golf to the top-of-mind for many of our youngsters.  The rise in interest – combined with strong support by clubs — led to players like Adam Scott, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley climbing up the ranks to take the world stage. Not coincidentally, club membership following that time was strong and healthy.

But then junior golf faltered for a while. Increased competition from other sports like Cricket, AFL, Tennis and Swimming–in addition to things like video games and other “cool” activities– have led to a gentle decline in junior participation numbers.  And, not coincidentally, club numbers (in general) have also followed that decline.

Yes, there have been other factors at play. But at the end of the day, juniors and women golfers are a critical part of golf, and they need to be welcomed to the course with wide open arms.

So the next time you see a junior or woman (or any beginner, for that matter) teeing off in front of you, remember that he or she may be the next Adam Scott or Karrie Webb– and that they hold the key to the future health of your club, and of Australian golf in general.


About Richard Fellner

A four-time winner of the Australian Golf Media Awards, including Best Photojournalism, Best Opinion, Best Column and Best Photographic Presentation, Inside Golf Group Editor Richard Fellner is the quintessential Golf Tragic, having played the game for over 50 years (but has never gotten any better!) He has played and reviewed courses all over the world, and has interviewed many of the great players of the game (including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman). Richard is a member of both the Australian Golf Media Association and the Golf Society of Australia, and has been a featured guest on many Australian "sports talk" radio shows and networks, including ABC Grandstand, SEN 1116, Melbourne Talk Radio 1377, 2GB and others. Follow Richard Fellner on Quora


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4 Responses to "Women and children first"

  1. Catherine Bird  October 12, 2012

    Despite the fact I’m a member of two golf clubs – and I’m no longer titled an ‘Associate’ because I pay the same fees as men – the reality is I am classified as a female member and therefore (in the experience of my two clubs) a lesser member than my male counterparts.

    Once a club separates its membership into gender groups and provides the female members with a Ladies Committee with its own Ladies Captain, President, Secretary and Treasurer, it reinforces my female membership status – I’ve been relegated into a minority group because of my gender. I am no longer part of the club but part of the female group within the club which has limited access to the Club Committee who are, by definition, the drivers and decision-makers. Officially this is not how it’s meant to operate but in reality, “female” decisions are made at Ladies Committee level and if a female bypasses this process and goes directly to the main committee, they refer it back… so there is no real opportunity to engage any debate within a broader membership arena.

    There are many disadvantages for women in this Ladies Committee model, including access to the Club Committee, playing days/board event access (which too often does not include Saturdays), limited tee-off times, financial limitations, socialisation – the list goes on at a club level. More worryingly, it is mirrored at District level where affiliations are also gender specific, presumably under the view that a ladies district group can service its members better. However the reality of the situation is that the ladies district groups are cash and (weekend) time poor while their male counterparts are definitely not.

    As a result, female district golfers do not share the same opportunities their male counterparts do in terms of the quantity and variety of competitions and days, golfing support, etc, and as this is the proving ground for young potential professionals, we are again limiting our females’ opportunities due to their gender. For example: female Pennant and District Champs on weekdays (which restricts working women), one district didn’t even field a female country week team last year while their male counterparts won the state final, their men’s team is fully subsidized while the women are not… the minority group stories go on forever.

    The Vic State body has recently been amalgamated, which is an excellent thing but this amalgamation has not flowed down to the district associations nor to the club landscape. Although it’s great to see the State Champs for both genders are now played together, this is certainly a motive for amalgamation at district level. Yet despite this, I doubt if district amalgamations will occur any time soon nor will abandoning gender segregation by all clubs – although I live in hope that the future of the game will become a highlighted point to encourage both.

    So during a period when club membership is declining it is relevant to consider the implications of the “female” membership model more thoroughly. As I see it, golf is dying and not only do we have to consider retaining our current membership but also attracting potential new membership who in their personal, working, school, social and sporting communities do not experience gender segregation at any level. And women form 50% of that potential membership base and where there are women, there are kids – the great untapped market.

    As a keen golfer, all I ask that I am a “member” of a club, just like all the other members, that I am not segregated into a gender-specific group, that I am not limited in the way I access the club, competitions and the course as a woman and/or as a junior. Once that equal culture is established nationally, the game will begin to grow again.

    Please keep up the positive comments!

  2. Rodney Forrester  October 15, 2012

    No doubt golf needs many more juniors so that the game is strong in 10/20 years time, and then golf clubs can survive.
    The problem is that many clubs do not look beyond the next year or 2, the committee members have a short term view.
    Very few clubs are showing a yearly profit now, and with declining memberships, and lack of juniors, things will look grim for many clubs in 5 years time.
    Clubs need to plan for juniors now.

  3. Peter Wundersitz  October 24, 2012

    Regarding juniors, your editorial, is correct. As a junior in the 50’s we played on the north course in Adelaide and every so often were allowed to play with “the men” on the south course. What a wonderful thing that was. There are still lots of players that will assist juniors, but there are also players that just want to have a game with their mates at the end of the week, a few bets, a bit of yahoo and do not want to be constrained by a junior in their midst.

  4. Pingback: Inside Golf editor wins esteemed Golf Media Award : Inside Golf. Australia's Most Read Golf Magazine

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