Women are receiving a concerted push from BIGGA and the R&A to boost the numbers of women working in golf in the UK and Ireland, Europe and beyond. According to Tracey Maddison, head of membership at BIGGA (British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association), it's an uphill battle of long-ingrained culture.
"There are massive challenges over here," she said recently in an interview for this article and a podcast (player below). "A lot of members' clubs tend to be run by the older male-type culture that has historically viewed greenkeeping as a career not suitable for women. A lot of people are in the wrong mindset to embrace women working in golf. It's a culture thing, and I think it comes with age," Maddison continued.
To combat the mindset, last year The R&A (which together with the USGA governs the sport of golf worldwide) established the Women in Golf Charter. The intent of the Charter is to "inspire an industry-wide commitment to developing a more inclusive culture within golf around the world, encouraging more women and girls to play golf and stay within the sport as members of clubs, and also empowering women to enjoy successful careers working within the golf industry."
"The Women in Golf charter has probably been bubbling for some time," said Maddison. "The fact came to light that there are relatively few women and girls participating in golf and actually working within the industry as well. The numbers just didn't match up, and I think The R&A felt that they could and should lead the way."
A lot of members' clubs tend to be run by the older male-type culture that has historically viewed greenkeeping as a career not suitable for women..."
"The R&A know they can't do this on their own, but with the Women in Golf Charter they can go to the associations and golf clubs and ask them to encourage more women and girls to participate in golf and then open and pave the way for more professional golfers, women in administration, in the clubs and of course, women greenkeepers," Maddison stated. "As more organizations adopt the Charter, it will raise awareness and make golf more inclusive, make working in golf more acceptable."
The challenges and obstacles inherent to women considering the greenkeeping field in the UK include a lack of awareness in what actual greenkeeping is these days, according to Maddison.
"A lot has changed over the years with technology and things like that," she said. "Many people consider there's some sort of heavy lifting work to be done, which isn't generally the case anymore. It's like anything, if you're a greenkeeper within a golf club, you're usually part of a team, and all team members have strengths and weaknesses.
It's like anything, if you're a greenkeeper within a golf club, you're usually part of a team, and all team members have strengths and weaknesses."
"A lot of the female members at BIGGA have fallen into it because either they're interested in golf or their dads or brothers have been greenkeepers. It's not something that they've pursued as a career choice early on, but people will naturally navigate to the things that they're good at or particularly enjoy," Maddison said.
Listen to the podcast of this conversation.
On the big stage
BIGGA has in the past few years recognized volunteering at major tournaments as one method to give women both greater work experience and more public exposure in the golf world. Maddison herself traveled to Iowa for the 2017 Solheim Cup matches at Des Moines Golf & Country Club, at Rick Tegtmeier's invitation. She has gotten to know Rick through his participation in BIGGA's Master Greenkeeper certification program.
"Rick said that he wanted more female inclusion within his team and invited me to be part of it, so I said, 'Why not?' Because this is a top female competition, it gets lots of publicity, lots of air time, and of course it's coming over here into my own country two years later, and I just thought, 'How good would it be to go that one step further and try and get some female greenkeepers on the actual support team?', she explained.
Tracey was paired up with Stephanie Schwenke, golf market manager for Syngenta, on a bunker maintenance team at the Solheim. Both chatted with Kevin Ross in the video below.
More recently, a delegation of women was recruited by course manager John Clark for the Women's British Open held August 1-4 at Woburn Golf Club in England.
"John Clark asked us if we could help put the word out that they were looking for a support team and they would like to get some females to apply, " Tracey explained. "While we might usually get one woman to volunteer, I was really, really pleased that seven of our female members volunteered for the whole week, and I caught up with them for Thursday and Friday. We have a Facebook group and they knew of each other from there, but they could actually meet each other face to face. It is a much better experience for them to be part of a group of females rather than one individual. They wound up having a great time, and said it was just nice to be able to discuss with each other some issues they've come up against. It was great to see.
"There's another five or six going up to the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in September as well. After a tournament support experience with other women on the staff, they don't quite feel so isolated within a profession where they're in the minority," Maddison said.
After a tournament support experience with other women on the staff, they don't quite feel so isolated within a profession where they're in the minority..."
The misperceptions of the capabilities of female greenkeepers aren't limited to the boardrooms of stuffy old men's clubs.
"It was funny because when I went down to Woburn, I was chatting with John Clark's deputy, Gavin, and he admitted that he was somewhat surprised, in a way, how well the women were all integrating and what good greenkeepers they were," Tracey said. "I think that's another slight misperception that they aren't the same type of greenkeeper, but they are. So I think the more we can get them involved and the more that they can get on their CV that they've done this support, these tournaments, then it's just better exposure for everybody."
Greenkeeping is for everybody
"Any career shouldn't be defined between whether you're male or female," Maddison stated. "It's just whether or not you're the right person for it. Anybody with the right credentials, the education and the desire should be given an opportunity to apply for any of the roles. At the moment, we only have two head greenkeeper females. One in a nine hole course up in the Highlands and one in South Wales. And I know they've taken some effort to get to that level."
"When I have spoken to groups of mostly male greenkeepers, they tell me they enjoy having a female involved. They don't see it as being that they have to behave any other way. In fact, it tends to be that the females pay more attention to detail, so the men have to up their game, if you like."
...it tends to be that the females pay more attention to detail, so the men have to up their game, if you like."
Maddison has only had positive feedback from course managers who have had females on their crew.
"Once they try it they realize that its is acceptable and it is good, and there's absolutely nothing different about it. That was found at Woburn as well. I think a lot of the guys really enjoyed having the girls involved. And they were good fun by all accounts as well."
"I would recommend golf clubs, when they're looking at CVs, to take the name off the top so you're looking at the quality of the individual, their education, their experience, and you're not judging them according to gender. Clubs must also look at their facilities and make sure that there's room for females to get changed and appropriate wash facilities.
"For the younger generation coming through, a lot of the traditional gender barriers don't seem to exist, which is great. If they want to do something they'll go ahead and look at how they can do it and they're not put off by the gender imbalances. It's like anything, whether you're male or female, if it's a career that you're interested in, just find out everything about it, have a trial somewhere and go for it."