It’s no secret that golf is a complicated sport for any beginner, but being a woman in golf comes with its own set of unique challenges.
Women have pushed to get into the game for decades and the numbers have started to show it. According to the National Golf Foundation, 25 percent of all on-course golfers are women. This number continues to rise thanks to the pandemic golf boom, but I can attest that there is still a weight on our shoulders trying to find equal footing in a male-dominated sport.
Growing up immersed in the game, I’ve had my share of uncomfortable moments with male golfers. I was constantly out to prove myself and witnessed men frozen in shock when they saw my swing. They rarely complimented me, and rather ascribed my talent to my father, who is a PGA professional. But despite my family connection to the game, I wanted them to realize I was just a golfer like them. I only wanted to find true enjoyment in this game and feel like I belong, and not feel like an outsider who's invading their space. Women have every capability and right to feel comfortable playing on the same courses, practicing on the same ranges and loving the sport just as much as any man.
If you're just starting to learn the game, knowing you aren’t alone and finding female role models in the game can make all the difference. Kira K. Dixon began playing golf at age 3 but eventually put down her clubs to be crowned Miss America in 2015. She has since returned to the game as a reporter for Golf Channel. Despite her public profile, she is still bothered by inappropriate comments from men.
“Women are a lot less likely to pick up the game on their own," Dixon said. "Especially going to a driving range by yourself, you could be the only woman there and that's never the greatest feeling. I do this all the time and there is often some guy that has to come over and make a comment that he would never make to a man."
Summoning the courage to begin playing golf is often the toughest hurdle to overcome for most girls and women, no matter their age. These tips - both broad and specific - will help you look and play the part of a confident female golfer, no matter your skill level.
Getting Started In Golf
When choosing a set of clubs and picking up golf-appropriate clothing, don’t worry about buying the top brands. When it comes to clothing, just make sure you’re wearing comfortable materials for the weather and feel athletic and confident in your appearance.
Choosing a set of clubs can be daunting for a beginner, but this is an important step. When going out to play or practice for the first time, the easy option is borrowing or renting a set. This is a great solution if you can get a set made for women or senior men. These types of clubs will be better suited for you due to the length and weight. The last thing you want to do is go out with a men’s set from a brother, boyfriend or husband that is too long, too heavy and difficult to hit. Getting the ball off the ground and seeing small success is what keeps beginners coming back. Many men’s sets will deter that process.
Before buying your first set, consult a local teaching professional or a female friend who is already a golfer for their opinions on women’s beginner sets. Brands have continued to expand their selection of women’s clubs. Finding a set that fits your eye is just as important as how they feel.
You probably have several lingering questions. How do I practice? Find people to play with? How can I learn the ins and outs of playing on the golf course? How can I show up to the course and feel comfortable?
As a beginner, having a support system such as a mentor, plus friendly playing and practice partners, is crucial to developing confidence and good habits.
Step 1: Find a teaching professional/mentor
Teaching professionals can be found at almost all local country clubs or golf facilities. If you don’t belong to a club, you can visit the PGA of America website for a list of coaches in your area. As a female, it can be helpful to find a female coach to teach and guide you. Luckily, there are many female pros out there; more than 1,800 women are certified by the Ladies Professional Golf Association and can be found through the LPGA website. The GolfPass 'Women in Golf' webpage is also a tremendous resource for an extensive library of instruction videos from our female talent.
When you find a professional, ask that person anything and everything, even if you think it's a silly question. They are so many weird rules and unspoken etiquette situations in golf that no question is too awkward to ask. Avoid the temptation to try to teach yourself and shy away from asking for advice. Embrace a learning mindset. Make sure to soak up the best intel on women’s groups, playing opportunities and any other female-friendly events in the local golf community.
Growing up, I always looked up to the college teams that would play at my local club, the Audubon Country Club in Louisville, Ky. I watched them practice as I worked in the golf shop but was always terrified to speak to them ... until I met Delaney Shah, a former University of Louisville golfer and current WAPT Tour professional. She was a student of my father's, and he would praise how talented she was. For years, her status intimidated me. I regret my initial hesitation to introduce myself, but when we finally began sharing our experiences, she became my best friend.
“Don’t be embarrassed to ask a simple question whether it's about fundamentals or the rules of golf," Shah said. "Everyone starts out at one point or another as a beginner and they need to learn somehow, too. I love it when women come up to me and ask why I’m doing a certain drill or ask how to hit a certain shot.”
Remember: golfers never see it as a burden to be asked a question. You may even make a best friend like I did.
Step 2: Join a group
Seeking out a group can help calm your nerves and get you on the right track as a beginner. Many clubs, public or private, have clinics specifically for beginner women.
Many beginners are influenced by the people in their life who play regularly. This was the case for Alex Davenport. She wanted to learn the game in order to play with her husband and family. She joined a ‘Get Golf Ready’ program at Audubon.
“I attended the clinic and really caught the bug," she said. "The pros did an amazing job making golf fun and enjoyable for us, and most importantly making us ladies feel so welcomed on the golf course, which can be a very intimidating.”
Events like these are great places to meet people and lessen the intimidation factor. If your club doesn’t offer this type of clinic, approach a teaching professional and request a series of group lessons with other women at your course. Short clinics will teach you the basics to build your game around and a few rules for the course.
“The best way to get started is with friends or joining a clinic," Dixon said in agreement. "It can be so intimidating to get out on the course by yourself, especially if you don't know the ropes and you feel like people are judging you.”
After you are comfortable with a club in your hand, seek out a women’s league. Many leagues will play weekly. Playing regularly will help you play more consistent golf. You may want to begin with a 9-hole ladies’ group to get comfortable. When you feel you are ready, move up to 18 holes.
Davenport’s "Get Golf Ready" experience led to new opportunities to play. “I got asked to join a Tuesday Ladies Night group at Audubon where I met the most wonderful group of lady golfers, from beginners like myself to some who have lower handicaps,” she said.
Step 3: Start playing!
I have seen many beginners take lessons and practice on the range over and over again without getting out to play. Going out for your first round can be nerve-wracking but the course is where most players learn the game and have fun with it. Don’t be afraid to go out there! Even if you don’t finish every hole, you must start somewhere.
Davenport had been playing for a year or so when she reached out to me for a playing lesson at Audubon. We went out to play 9 holes and she was able to ask me the questions she had about managing her way around the golf course and when to hit certain shots. Not only was I able to teach her my processes on the course, but we had a ton of fun spending the afternoon playing the sport we both love.
If you feel you aren’t ready, request an on-course lesson like Davenport did, or try playing a scramble with a friend to ease into it. Committing to playing frequently will help you build connections with your new group and get more comfortable on the course. The more you play, the more you will learn about your game and what you need to work on.
Finding a Home Course
Those introductory steps are important, but they don’t matter if you don’t have a course where you can play and practice. As you visit the course more, you will get the know the staff and other members. It just might start to feel like your golf "home," whether or not you're paying for a membership.
There are many factors you need to consider when picking a home course. First and foremost, ensure the course is female-friendly and the staff is respectful towards you. Choose a club that has no restrictions for women, and having a strong women's program (whether that's sheer number of female players or the fact that women's golf is a priority at the club) is a big plus.
“I have never felt like I didn't belong and that is greatly because of the staff at my club," Davenport said. "Everyone always goes above and beyond to encourage women to get started.”
During your search for a home course or club, look at the event calendar and see if there are clinics and programs you would be interested in. Choosing a club with a heavy event calendar tends to be more social, providing more opportunities to meet new golf friends.
Finally, ensure the course pleases your eye and seems playable for you. For example, choosing a course with tight fairways and water on every hole isn’t ideal for a beginner. Instead, look for an open course with multiple forward tees that fit your game. Nobody wants to play a course day after day that’s too long or too hard for their abilities.
Eventually, as you make more friends and enjoy playing, you'll find that golf is an excellent excuse to travel. More and more resorts are making the extra effort to help female golfers feel welcome. There are hotbeds of female-friendly destinations around the country from Pine Needles in Pinehurst, N.C., to the many couples- and female-friendly golf resorts in California, Arizona and Hawaii.
Learning The Rules
Getting on the course for the first time is a little scary. There are tons of rules to this game, written and unwritten, and it's valid to think you should know them all before you play. The reality is you will probably never learn every rule there is. Don't worry about it. Even the pros ask for rules officials way too often. Generally, just use common sense. If you want to move the ball away from a tree or a bad lie, go for it if it's a casual round with friends. As you get more serious about the game, you'll learn more about what you can and can't do when it comes to the Rules of Golf.
Playing ready golf
The struggle I witness most with beginners is pace of play. Believe it or not, no one cares how well you play, but they do care how fast you play. Understanding how to play quickly without rushing yourself over the ball is a key component to having fun on the golf course, for you and everyone else. 'Play ready golf' is a term heard around the world when it comes to pace of play. So, what does it really mean?
• If you are ready to tee off, go for it. Traditionally, the player with the lowest score of the previous hole would have the honor of teeing off first. But if you aren’t playing a competitive round, the rule doesn’t hold much power.
• Always be ready to hit. You don’t have to wait for every player to hit their shots before moving on. When riding in a cart, while waiting on other players to hit, you can walk to your cart and put your club away so you are ready to drive to your next shot. If you’re carrying your bag, walk up either side of the fairway to your ball while waiting on others. Of course, be respectful to your playing partners by staying still during their swing. Be cautious and stay alert of your surroundings just in case an errant shot might be incoming.
• You only need one practice swing. Although you may have dozens of swing thoughts in your head and it makes sense to take several practice swings, this is a mistake I see all too often. When you approach your ball, find your target, take one practice swing, then hit. Long pre-shot routines are a pace-of-play killer. Often, players get consumed in their swing thoughts and don’t allow themselves to swing freely. Your pre-shot routine should be short but consistent. As you practice and continue to play, work on finding a pre-shot routine that is brisk and repeatable. While taking just one practice swing isn’t a written rule, your playing partners will thank you.
• If your group is struggling with pace of play and there is a group behind you waiting on every hole, it is customary to let faster groups play through. By nature, fewer players will play faster than a foursome, so it is customary to let a single or twosome pass. Letting groups through can reduce the stress of feeling like you need to rush and is a kind gesture to the group behind you. In your first few rounds, it helps to find a tee time when the course isn’t too crowded. This way, you can take your time and get to know the game before playing in front of faster players.
• Once you reach 7 or 8 strokes, it's probably wise to pick up and let everybody else finish the hole. You can start fresh on the next hole.
Don't Get Frustrated. Keep it up!
Golf can be frustrating, but you’ve chosen a sport you can play for the rest of your life. You’ll have great rounds, bad rounds, beautiful shots and moments that embarrass you. That’s the fun of it. You can always improve and each round comes with its own unique challenges and adventures.
“My advice to any woman who might feel like they can never be a golfer ... just go for it!" Davenport emphasized. "Grab a driver, 8 iron and a putter and get out there. I believe there is a golfer in us all!”
Golf is many things to many people. You can play to be competitive or you can play for the social aspects of it at casual and fun events like a "9 and wine" or "9 and dine". It doesn't matter your reasons. This is a sport you can play with friends, family or someone you just met on the tee box. Golf has its own language and community, and there’s much more to it than the score on your card.
“If you're a beginner and want to make golf part of your lifestyle, the best way to do that is creating community around it," Dixon said. "There is nothing better than friends, a twilight nine, music and a glass of rosé in my book. Golf doesn't have to be 18 holes, or super strict with rules and dress code, or anything that you put pressure on. Enjoy it how you want to enjoy it and just have fun. You're not out there for millions of dollars, so no stress!”
Commit to playing frequently and remember to always stay positive. You'll find a home in this sport, and the golf community you find will be thrilled to have you.