On June 6, tens of thousands of women will be driving, chipping and putting on golf courses around the world, some perhaps for the first time.
In its second year, Women's Golf Day will host events in 601 locations in 42 countries, growth beyond the organizers' wildest dreams. With its abundance of golf resorts and clubs throughout the state, Florida is a great place to be for women or girls who want to try their hand at the sport in a fun, nonintimidating atmosphere.
Dawn Mercer, director of instruction at Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort, home of the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship, doesn't mince words when she encounters a woman who says she doesn't golf. "Quit being on the sidelines and get in the game with everyone else!"
Events designed to be equal parts skill-building and social are happening statewide near just about any city where clients might be traveling. Some are free, and others charge a nominal fee. Organizers have the freedom to design their event any way they wish, as long as they offer two hours of instruction or play and two hours of social interaction and education. Women can register for events taking place at country clubs, public courses and golf resorts.
I spoke with Women's Golf Day founder Elisa Gaudet while in Morocco at Royal Golf Dar es Salam, the first course in a Muslim country to sign on to participate in Women's Golf Day. The idea for a day devoted to introducing women to the sport was the culmination of 16 years of working in the industry, said Gaudet, whose company, Executive Golf International, has provided strategic marketing and consulting to the golf industry since 2003.
Gaudet was inspired by signature events that bring thousands of people together in a number of different locations, such as those connected to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research. "I'm thinking, 'Why can't we do this for golf?'" she said. She hatched an idea, ran it by partners in the golf industry and found 15 industry veterans who jumped on board, all of whom volunteer their time to make this one-day, worldwide golf marathon possible.
"My interest for the industry is to see the importance of women as economic influencers," said Gaudet, noting that getting women onto the course can lead to bigger things for the game down the road. "Tee time revenue is nothing compared to buying a house in a golf community, joining a golf country club, taking golf vacations and being the deciding factor in getting kids involved."
Besides, she pointed out, golf is fun, builds relationships and is good for your health.
"It's a game the entire family can play together," she said. "Granddad can drive the cart and give tips. It's captive family time." Gaudet also speaks at women's conferences and talks about being left out because they don't play golf. "Guys on the course are building relationships. You get to know someone, what their kids do." Finally, it just feels good. "You are out walking, in fresh air, which reduces your stress level," she said.
All three resorts in the Salamander Golf Collection are participating Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Reunion in Kissimmee and Hammock Beach in Palm Coast as is the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens and the Leadbetter Academy at Omni Championsgate Orlando. And a number of country clubs and public courses around the state are getting in on it, too. For instance, Palm Beach Par 3 is a small, 18-hole public course on the barrier island. "It's a great learning course," said Gaudet. "It feels like minigolf on steroids. Plus there's a great clubhouse that looks over the ocean."
Women can explore events being offered at womensgolfday.com, then click "sign up to play," which loads an interactive map. Each event is unique, and while online registration is encouraged, it's recommended that you call the golf club in advance to double-check their program's details.
Golf professional Kevin Baker from Reunion Resort said he hopes their event will help break down some barriers for women, which he identifies as the "intimidation factor." Said Baker: "People don't want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or wonder if they are dressed correctly. We want to help people feel comfortable with it and have a routine." Asked what one piece of advice he'd give women who have never golfed, Baker replied, "Ask questions. There are no stupid questions, and golf professionals are trained to answer them all."
Mercer, at Innisbrook, is all about giving women a chance to "touch it and taste it."
"People come with no expectations, then they get a taste and don't want to leave. This is a chance to find out what the buzz is about."