One morning, a young woman walks into the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, presents her membership card, grabs her clubs, and heads out for a round of golf. This might sound ordinary, but it is actually quite revolutionary. Founded in 1754, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club only started allowing female members in 2014.
The golfing community has acknowledged the ill-treatment faced by women and is actively working to be more inclusive. A 2019 BBC article outlines some of the initiatives golfing communities are promoting to attract women, such as female-only courses and tournaments.
I had the opportunity to interview the women’s golf team Captain, Anya Olsen, and Vice Captain Georgina Hirst about their experiences with golf in St Andrews and beyond.What was it about golf that attracted you? When did you begin playing?
Anya: Both my parents have been playing since the 90s, so they dragged me along to lessons when I was about 7 and I started playing in competitions when I was 11. People can play at any age and ability which is what I love about it. You end up playing for 3-4 hours, and often it is people you don’t know. I have had many interesting conversations on the golf course; I think this is another thing that keeps dragging me back.
Georgina: My mum and grandad both played; I started lessons at around 8 years old and played competitively at 14. Through playing with Yorkshire girls, my best friends became the girls I would see at the weekends through training and tournaments. As there were always so few girls involved in the sport, we were a close group, and this was absolutely what kept me involved in the game.
How do you find the golfing culture in St Andrews? At the university level?
Anya: I really enjoy university golf because you get to meet others who are as passionate about the game as you are. Golf can sometimes be seen as an elite sport, but we are trying our best to make it more accessible by offering 2 lessons scholarships every term and having clubs that can be borrowed.
Georgina: The golfing culture in St Andrews is certainly interesting - but I love it. I've competed with Saints Golf internationally, met contacts who invited me to play courses like LA Country Club, and worked as a waitress in a golf pub in town. It's crazy seeing people's reaction to St Andrews as I think we sometimes take it for granted being here for uni. I also think it's great the emphasis that the University club puts on getting beginners into the game, as St Andrews is the perfect place to begin. Overall, I've found St Andrews to be very inclusive and have never felt discriminated against for my gender. The town respects golfers, so it really is a haven for us.
Do you think golf should play as big a role as it does in the business setting?
Anya: Golf is a very male dominated sport. Female participation is increasing but I don’t think it will ever be equal between the sexes. There are many networking events done via golf, and I think this may then exclude those who find it more difficult to access the sport. However, you can learn a lot about a person by playing golf with them. It is a very mental game and can reveal so much about character, mindset, and willpower which are paramount in business. The time between shots allows for conversations and even business can be done on the golf course. I think golf should play a role within the business setting, but making golf more accessible to everyone would ensure a more equal footing.
Georgina: I do think there's still a big imbalance of female players in the game, which would naturally cause a disadvantage for women in the business setting. Not only this, but it can work against anyone who hasn't been able to afford golf equipment, membership or lessons. I personally feel very lucky to have been able to get involved at such a young age and experience so much from this town as I have so far!
The business world and golf have always had a tight-knit relationship. The role of golf in business has been scrutinized by many, but its defense is sound. With the amount of time between shots, it is perfect for conversation and networking. Due to its prevalence in business, as both Anya and Georgina mention, women should have an understanding of the sport.
Golf has entered a period of transition with the goal of becoming more inclusive. Marketing to women is a good step in this direction, but if the golfing community wishes to remain relevant, then they must also consider other factors besides gender.