In order to grow the game for females, golfers of both sexes have to break down the barriers that intimidate women and keep them from enjoying the sport to its fullest extent. That was the unanimous opinion of the "Inspiring Greatness" panel Wednesday at the PGA Merchandise Show.
PGA Secretary Suzy Whaley, Golf Channel executive producer Molly Solomon, former WNBA President Donna Orender, KPMG vice-chair Lynne Doughtie and LPGA member Paige Mackenzie discussed Wednesday what is keeping women from taking up golf, and what can be done to level the playing field so that more female executives can take advantage of the networking and business relationships formed from playing golf.
Orender said one of the reasons why women have a hard time feeling comfortable is because it's a sport created by men and remains very male-centric.
"Men were there first, and so therefore the culture around the game of golf is very male-oriented," Orender said. "No blame, no judgment. It is what it is.
"But (the sport didn't evolve) with the kind of things that women find enjoyable. We're much more about comradery than necessarily winning. Women find a barrier there."
So what happens, according to Orender, is that women feel somewhat "out of the loop" when it comes to understanding and talking about golf.
"There's the physical aspect of it -- these very dark, very male-oriented environments -- the game itself and the language of it," she said. "We don't understand it, so we feel very intimidated by it. But male pros may feel a little intimidated by taking care of women who walk into their pro shops, too. So there's all these things where people don't know how to approach each other, but when they do, it's fantastic."
Tremendous progress has been made, Whaley said, but there's still more ground to be made up.
"Certainly when it comes to welcoming women into the game and speaking a different language," Whaley said. "I think we're more aware of the things we're saying that perhaps might turn them off or intimidate them."
When women overcome that initial reluctance, they usually learn to love it, Mackenzie said. Golf is challenging on so many levels, which makes it so addictive.
"There's nothing about golf that can ever be perfected and I think that's probably way it's filled with perfectionists," Mackenzie said. "You can't bowl a 300 in golf.
"When you introduce the game to somebody, there needs to be an emphasis on the process, and that there are stepping stones. And celebrate each of those stepping stones, and not try to be the very best the first time out. Enjoy the process and the game of golf."
"You may be really comfortable at a level where you are and that's OK," she said. "It's OK to stay there. But it's also OK to want to get better."
If there's one thing Mackenzie would like to see is more business women involved in golf. The PGA of America's partnership deal with KPMG, kicking off with the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Westchester Country Club in June, is a key first step in the process.
"I play in pro-ams every single week and I can count on one hand the number of women executives I play with," Mackenzie said. "The most elite companies, their CEOs, the top clients are there -- and it's such a great opportunity to network and build relationships in business. And it's something I think there's a ton of room for growth on the women's side. So I'm really happy we're bringing business to golf as well."