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."
It doesn't seem like turning laps at Daytona and Talladega at close to 200 mph would have much in common with a leisurely round of golf. But based on the number of people in the NASCAR garage area who play golf on a routine basis, that contradiction is more commonplace than expected.
Count 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick among the golf devotees, although with the birth of his son Keelan, he hasn't had the time to get in 18 holes as often as he'd like.
Harvick started playing golf in earnest eight years ago and became a member at Greensboro's Sedgefield Country Club in 2009, where he also hosts an annual pro-am charity tournament. He also frequents Kiawah Island during his all-too-short offseasons.
"I just started playing golf on a regular basis, just as a relief valve," Harvick said Tuesday at the PGA Merchandise Show. "For me, it's the exact opposite of what I do on the weekends. I needed to get my mind off of racing 24-7 and figured I'd learn to try to be at least somewhat acceptable on the golf course.
"I'm not sure I've accomplished that yet, but I love to play golf. My son has cut into my golf time, more than anything. But hopefully I can back into a routine. They have some great junior programs and he loves hitting the golf ball. That'll give he and I an excuse to go to the golf course and Mom not get mad."
Why golf? For Harvick, it's an escape from the hustle-and-bustle of a normal Sprint Cup race weekend.
"For me, the four hours of going out on the course and having that quiet peace of mind that you normally wouldn't give yourself," Harvick said. "But you still have that same competition with yourself to try to get better as you play each round. But the more I play, the worse I get."
Harvick said he probably only played 10-12 rounds last year, due to circumstances that were somewhat out of his control. One, he switched jobs. Two, he and wife DeLana moved. And three, racing for -- and then winning -- the Sprint Cup championship required more of his time than usual.
But his clubs are on the hauler every week, and if he gets the time, he definitely tries to get a round in. Usually, that's somewhere like Pocono -- and with other guys on his team.
"I like to play when we're up there, because when they're in season, they're unique and the mountain courses are fun to play," Harvick said. "When it's warm enough to play and it's not hectic in the garage, there'll be a group of guys who will go out and play pretty much every week."
Harvick said he's never had time to post a handicap, but he normally shoots "in the low-to-mid 90s" and putting is usually the best part of his game. He's the not the only NASCAR champion to list golf as a passion -- Dale Jarrett played on his high school team and was offered a scholarship to South Carolina. And there are a number of single-digit handicappers in the garage area.
But Harvick said there was a time when he really concentrated on the game.
"For me, before my son was born, there was an addiction of trying to get continuously get better," Harvick said. "For me, the hard part is getting the time to be as good as you want to be at it."
So what's the real story behind the 2009 video in which Harvick falls for the tried-and-true "exploding golf ball" routine from then-teammate Clint Bowyer, which wound up on YouTube?
"We were in Sonoma and usually play out there every year, because there's a lot of downtime," Harvick said. "We had a small wager of something like $100 a hole and I think I had beaten him 11 out of the first 12 holes. And for some reason, there was a diversion created to take my attention away from what we were doing."
Watch it for yourself here:
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