Mike Foster, the head pro at Gannon Municipal Golf Course in Lynn, has worked at the course for 44 years. He has seen a lot of changes.
“Way back, we did member foursomes and the women never played before 11:30 or 12 [on weekends],” Foster said.
“And I had four husbands that were the first ones out all the time. Well, this one particular Sunday there was a member foursome sign-up and it had just [the last names].
Foster knew, though, that those four particular men were already signed up to play with another group. The four names, then, had to belong to the wives.
“They asked for 6 on a Sunday morning and I gave it to them,” Foster said.
“And you should have heard the squawking on the first tee from guys when they saw four women tee off in front of them. But, you know what, the women played the same as the guys and I felt they had the same right to be there. The men said, ‘Oh, they’ll hold us up.’
And when [the women] crossed over to the 10th tee, and about 25 minutes later the group of guys behind them showed up on the ninth green, I drove down to them and said, ‘Look, the group that you thought was so slow, they’re on the 11th green right now. Why don’t you catch up to them?’ So that was the end of the squawking.”
Those kinds of tales were not uncommon.
“It’s more of a generational thing. The young guys, they’ve grown up with it, so they’re fine with it.”
Foster estimates that the percentage of female members at Gannon has increased from less than 2 percent, when he started, to its current rate of about 20 percent. So, whether the old guard likes it or not, women are vital to the success of the industry.
Mike Flynn of Lakeview Golf Course in Wenham agrees, estimating that half his business is from women.
“We get a lot of single women that come down and play by themselves, which is kind of different,” he said. “They’ll either get paired up or go out by themselves. I’ve asked people who run other courses and they say they don’t see that too often. But I think maybe here, because it’s wide open, they feel more comfortable than a golf course where it winds through the woods. . . . We have ladies’ leagues on Tuesdays, Thursday morning, Thursday night. And also I have a large Elks league on Saturday mornings that’s probably not half, but close to half, are women.”
Chris Carter, the pro at Hillview Golf Course in North Reading, has paired with a local women’s networking group and is offering clinics sponsored by the PGA of America.
“We’ve been doing these ‘Get Golf Ready’ clinics,” Carter said. “We started doing them last year at night in a group setting. We really didn’t start off by saying ‘women only.’ But it turned into that. We hooked up with a woman who runs a meet-up group out of Wakefield and she’s got a huge following for different activities. So we’ve tapped into her database and offered golf for women at the intermediate level that want to improve, and we’ve got the beginner level as well, for those who have never set foot on a golf course.
“We’ll take them from learning how to hold a club for the first time, to driving range, chipping green, and then onto the golf course. And we set up a beginners’ league on Tuesday and Thursday nights after the big rush, and there’s no pressure on them. We tell them they’re probably not going to finish nine holes but that’s not really the goal. It’s a great way to learn the game, and our goal is to hopefully graduate them into one of our regular leagues.”
Which is always good for business.
“They play, they have the passion, the love, the loyalty that goes with it,” said Gannon’s Foster.
Kathy Tully began playing almost 20 years ago, when she worked in the corporate world. But it was more out of a sense of obligation than enjoyment. It was not until about eight years ago, when she joined a weekly women’s league at Mt. Hood Golf Club in Melrose, that her sentiments changed.
She now calls herself a golf addict in love with the game.
In eight years, the league has jumped from 50 members to about 130, with a waiting list.
“I’m not boasting but I’m really good, and it’s because of the other women in the league,” said Tully. “They support you, they care about you, they’ll give you tips and tricks.”
Cathy Thibeault, a member at Gannon for 16 years and more recently at a course in Naples, Fla., said that in 2008, “Our kickoff tournament had 31 ladies. [This year the] kickoff tournament had 47 ladies. That is quite impressive over five years.
Tully would like her two girls, ages 11 and 15, to take up the sport.
“It’s a great social sport. You can play it your whole life and it’s great for business,” she said, before adding with a laugh, “Unless you beat the men.”
Thibeault said she would like to see private courses “open up to a more even platform for men and ladies.”
Andrea Taffe has been a member at Bellevue Golf Club in Melrose for 44 years. She was the first woman to be a club president.
She has witnessed progress. But she still has concerns.
“So few golf courses offer a good program for working women or even stay-at-home moms who might need to wait until dad gets home,” she said.
“I think it’s up to the golf clubs to [establish fair times]. . . . You need to have the young people continuing to come through, so we need to make that effort to give women the opportunity to play in the evening, especially for those who can’t play in the mornings.”
Tully added, “A sore point I have is that sometimes I feel like they take our money but they’re not really listening to us. . . . Sometimes men will try to play through us or hurry us, and they would never even try that with other men.
“But they finally put some port-a-potties on the course.”
Maureen Mullen can be reached at mullen_maureen@yahoo.