11 Mar 2021 | Women and girls |

New parents: does golf do enough?

by Martin Blake

Young parents image
Young parents often turn away from the game. Photo: Getty

Does golf do enough to retain young, time-poor parents as club members?

It’s a question that has been asked for many years. To this point, there’s no clear evidence of an answer.

But in the International Women’s Week, it’s worth asking again.

Chyloe Kurdas, Golf Australia’s female engagement senior manager, certainly is posing that question. She knows that golf loses players in the 25-40 age group for family reasons, and in a familiar pattern.

It goes like this. A young woman or man enjoys golf, joins a club, meets a partner, has children and the time she/he had to play shrinks. The children go to school, then begin their own sports and activities, with parents reverting to a quasi-Uber service at weekends.

Golf suddenly seems time-consuming and expensive. Many of them never come back to golf. This is one of the reasons that the average age of the club member in Australia is so high – 54.7 for men and 63.9 for women.

But Kurdas, who drives GA’s Vision 2025 female engagement strategy, refuses to accept this as inevitable bleeding. She insists that golf needs to change to cater for young families and stop the problem.

“The question is, do we have to lose them at all?” she said this week. “Retention is much easier and cheaper than developing new members. In fact, we know that. If you’ve got members already, do we have to lose them simply because they are creating a family?

“The other question is: if we do lose them, why – culturally – are we okay with this? Some of them will come back, some won’t get back. For me, it’s a business case. What figure do you put on the years of membership revenue lost by not tailoring our golf offerings to suit the evolving needs of new families?

“Who would those lost people have brought to the game as new members had they stayed engaged. What’s the missed opportunity of clubs looking to convert their children into golfers? Do those children become footballers or cricketers or netballers or basketballers because golf’s not in their lives and golf didn’t make a place for their parents when they became parents?”

Out in club land, they have been watching this phenomenon for decades. Paul Vardy, who’s run several big clubs and now is chief executive of Golf Management Australia, says clubs come to expect the drop-off. “Ultimately, it’s about time,” he said.

But Vardy admits that clubs should not accept defeat on this point. He says that they should be amenable to change. “Where do those people go? They loved golf 10 years ago. They still love golf. But golf doesn’t offer them a product that they can fit in their lives,” he said.

“It’s a good discussion. In the end, it goes to our efforts to diversify our sport and to make it more appealing to women. We’ve got women who leave the sport around that age. Maybe we aren’t doing enough.”

As for Stacey Peters, she’s about to enter the phase of her life where golf becomes less of a priority. She’s one of the people we’re talking about; along with her husband Darren Peters, who’s also a fine golfer.

Peters, 34, former touring professional, two-time Ladies European Tour winner and currently Golf Australia’s female engagement manager, is pregnant and having her first child in May. She’s already applied to her club, Victoria, to transfer her status to ‘non-playing member’, as many people do when they have children. It’s the most common way of dealing with the problem, and it comes with a significant reduction in fees, although it’s imperfect. At some clubs, for instance, you can only do it once.

In Peters’ case, Victoria has granted her wish and she can return later. But it did make her think about the question.

“We’re probably a good example of this, because we are both going to be wanting to get back to golf,” she said. “My husband and I spend a lot of time at the golf club, whether it’s playing nine holes, playing a full round, just practising or hanging out or I might go down and walk with ‘Daz’.

“I think that golf clubs should look at having a creche, like the gyms do. As a game we don’t necessarily do it that well. And then we wonder why we lose the 25 to 40-year-old women from the game! It’s not rocket science. I think that would be a great option.”

A creche? Now there’s an idea. To Golf Australia’s knowledge, the only golf club in Australia that boasts any sort of child-minding facility is Royal Sydney, and that’s part of a broader entertainment complex that includes a gym, a pool, tennis, bowls, squash and croquet – akin to a country club.

Serrin Bertino thinks that would be great, and she is another case in point. Also a Golf Australia employee – she’s a female participation coordinator -- and a mother of two infant boys – Bertino is a lifelong golf devotee who scarcely gets on the course anymore because she is time poor.

When she does play, she often takes her sons Archie 2, and Monty, 1, who already have the golf bug.

“My grandparents got my parents into golf, and my parents got me into golf,” said Bertino. “It’s vital that we keep new parents engaged with our game so they are more likely to introduce their kids too.”

She would like to see change and innovation. “I think it would be great for the clubs to think what they do about this,” she said. “Don’t expect the customer to fit with what we do. Have a think about who our customers are, and what actually suits them.”

Bertino’s not the only mother who’s pushed her kids in prams around a golf course. Megan Carr, GA’s female engagement manager, saw one at Shepparton Golf Club recently. “That woman had done modifications to her pram – she added a piece of PVC pipe – so that she could carry her clubs and push the pram around the golf course with her child because she didn’t have anyone to look after the child.”

Carr is adamant that change is needed. “There’s an opportunity for clubs to be flexible and look closely at ways to retain golfers from this cohort. Vision 2025 has started these conversations, and this is just another piece of the puzzle.”

Matt Chesterman, who runs club support for Golf Australia, says communication is key.

“I’d like the clubs to take themselves on the journey of saying ‘who are the people in that group?’ he said. “And then brainstorming that and by all means asking the people who are in that group, say the 25 to 35-year-old young parent category ‘what’s important to you in membership?’. That’s a way of building and offering something that works for them.”

Kurdas just wants to have the discussion, and soon, pointing out the theme of International Women’s Week this year is ‘Choose to Challenge’. It’s something she would love to see golf clubs take on.

“We’re scratching the surface. It’s a much bigger conversation,” she said.

“If all it (the discussion) does is plant a seed in the minds of people involved in golf clubs around considering the diverse needs of our emerging families, then great.

“We don’t have a definitive answer. The clubs will decide and define how they will retain new parents. That’s certainly up to them. What we at Golf Australia would like to consider are those diverse needs and how particularly challenging it is for women to stay in the game as they experience motherhood.

“That in itself is what Vision 2025 is about. It’s about recognising that the needs of women – and those of men – evolve through our lifespan and that golf has a responsibility to ensure that it’s relevant for both women and men through that time.

“It’s not naming and shaming and presenting everything that’s wrong. It’s an opportunity for the whole golf industry to craft and address a potential threat or vulnerability in the retention of members. And to do it in a way that’s really proactive.

“The messaging it sends to our members and potential golfers is: ‘We never want to lose you. You’ve always got a place in our game. We will tailor what we do so that socially, culturally, physically you can remain engaged in the game in a way that works around your evolving family needs’.’’

Footnote: Golf Australia continues to explore opportunities for clubs to ultimately see more people playing golf and to enact retention strategies that would foster lasting relationships with their members. Golf Australia, in conjunction with key partners, the PGA of Australia and Golf Management Australia recently released the Golfer Retention Plan. The plan and associated resources can be accessed through Golf Australia’s Club Support Portal. More information can be found here or by emailing clubsupport@golf.org.au

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