by Sarah J.F. Braley | January 01, 2006

Of the 12.8 million adult golfers in the United States defined by the National Golf Foundation as those 18 and older who play at least eight times a year about 20 percent are women. However, while many of them might be available to join in business golf events around the country, they often don’t because they are not made to feel welcome.
    So many elements can signal to a woman golfer that the organizers weren’t thinking of her in the planning process: The agenda suggest the “guys” will spend the day on the links while the women visit the spa&The chosen course is too challenging, promising a frustrating day&The goodie bag holds a man’s cap and a men’s extra-large golf shirt with a garish logo.
    What follows are a number of ways for planners to encourage women attendees to feel welcome at the golf outing.

Watch the wording
Be sure the invitation and other materials that go out to participants address both women and men. Specify that golfers of all abilities are welcome to play.
    “Don’t assume that people know what the terms in the invitations and literature mean,” says Holly Bell, vice president of special projects for Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., which is famed for its women’s golf programs. “Try to be as explanatory as you can.”
    If there will be contests during the tournament, describe them and let guests know prizes will be offered for both men and women winners. Note from which tees the women and men will play. If a special scoring format will be used to make the day competitive for both high-handicappers and accomplished golfers, explain how it will work and how each person will be able to contribute to the team. 
    Also, consider using pictures of a man as well as a woman playing the chosen course or wearing the outing’s logoed shirt in the materials, advises Kathi Kelly, director of sales, Southeast, for La Quinta, Calif.-based KSL Resorts Group.

For the fun of it
“It sounds kind of simple,” says Holly Bell, “but we try to stress the whole idea that it’s fun to play, and golf doesn’t have to be about your score and ability. It can be about the friendship and camaraderie that people experience out on the course.” 
    Whether the goal of the outing being planned is to offer a fun networking event for your group or to raise money for charity, take the individual competitive pressure off everyone by choosing a team format, like a scramble.
    According to the United States Golf Association, a scramble comprises teams consisting of four players each. On every hole, the four players tee off, then everyone plays their second shot from where the best drive landed. This process is repeated until the hole is completed; for example, once everyone’s ball is on the green, the golfers all putt from the spot of the ball that landed closest to the cup.
    Using a handicap system with a scramble (which the course’s tournament director or director of golf can help arrange) puts golfers of all levels on an even playing field and ensures the more inexperienced players contribute to the team’s final score.
    “With these formats, everyone is having fun, and the end result isn’t as important,” says Nancy Matus, event manager for the Executive Women’s Golf Association in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
    “A woman definitely will contribute to the team and won’t have to play her own ball every time,” adds KSL’s Kathi Kelly, who also helps arrange golf outings for the Starlight Children’s Foundation and the Georgia Chapter of Meeting Professionals International. In a scramble, she notes, women really shine around the greens, and men often let them putt first so they either won’t have to take that shot themselves or they can get a read on how the ball will roll to the hole.
    If the group will have a number of beginner women golfers (or, for that matter, beginners of either sex), Kelly suggests arranging a nine-hole mini-tournament for them and an 18-hole event for the more experienced players. “We’ve also provided the beginners with a clinic before they played their nine holes, so they finished at the same time as those who played all 18,” she says. “It takes the anxiety away for those who aren’t used to playing 18 holes.”