Golf is a great sport. It requires finesse and skill in addition to physical strength, is incredibly social, is played in some of the most beautiful settings in the world and is a great corporate team building exercise. The fashion is continuously improving and it is likely the only competitive sport that culminates in cocktails and conversation at the end of every game. So why aren’t more women playing?
The lack of female role models is certainly being addressed with the likes of Lee-Ann Pace and Sally Little doing their fair share to drum up appeal here in South Africa. However, for many women, the actual golf course is the biggest hindrance – often seen as being masculine, unappealing and uncomfortable to play on. According to a Golf Digest survey of 100 American female golfers, a course that offers an enjoyable outing for shorter hitters but still puts strong players to the test is what hits the mark for lady players.
Creative design is essential and there is a strong argument that a female designer can provide valuable input when creating a course that will essentially attract more women players. Take Kingswood Golf Estate for example, where developers sought the invaluable expertise of Sally Little, arguably one of the greatest South African female golfers. Boasting a successful 30-year career on the LGPA tour, with 15 titles and two Majors under her belt, the Capetonian certainly knows a thing or two about golf courses and her signature course on the Garden Route is designed with the specific aim of being female and family friendly.
“I was brought on after the developers had already hired their architect,” explains Sally. “My role, as I describe it, was to be the female footprint on a male master plan, so my chief goal was to make the course friendly for everybody.”
Great design comes from great experiences and Sally was able to draw on a wealth of these, having left South Africa at the age of 19 and only returning nearly 40 years later. “At the end of the day, we are a result of our experiences, and I think that designing golf courses comes from golfers’ intrinsic experiences as a player and amazing memories of golf holes. Great designers, who have travelled all over the world and played the game, are what make a great course design. My journey has been amazing and visiting different cultures at a young age and travelling globally was a fantastic experience and made me what I am today,” she rejoices.
With the invaluable assistance of designer Danie Obermeyer, Sally was able to create a course that offered a challenging golf experience, catering for higher handicaps and competitive players alike through the use of varying tee boxes. “I was very influential in creating more teeing ground, not just to help women and children, but to harness any player’s ability. Anyone can play off the teeing grounds that are set up for different abilities, making the course fun, but testing at the same time, enticing people to return.”
For an estate, the collaboration with an esteemed golfer is invaluable, as Marc Stuyck, project director at Kingswood Golf Estate, explains. “We feel honoured to have been able to work with Sally on this Kingswood project. Her input in the design of our course has been invaluable, because she added some unique features that have attracted new and young players who have made Kingswood their preferred training course. Seeing her in action as a player on this course remains a highlight for all of us – she is a quiet and graceful champion.”
The task was not exactly plain sailing, though, with a number of additional challenges posed to a woman designer. “Most people in the industry struggle to understand how a female could ever design a golf course where a top male golfer will essentially play, but I am certainly not the first,” says Sally. In fact, women designers have been behind the design of many award-winning golf courses like Alice Dye, for example.
The American amateur golfer and golf course designer was so central to husband Pete Dye’s designs that she is often fondly referred to as the ‘First Lady’ of golf architecture. It was Alice who had the idea to include the island green, the signature 17th hole at Sawgrass’ Stadium Course in Florida. Yet, it doesn’t have to take a Kingswood-size budget to ensure that women-friendly practices are in place. A warm and welcoming atmosphere, great amenities and family focussed events and merchandise all help make women players feel like they are wanted there.
“Most golf courses don’t have any rest areas like toilets, for a start.” Sally laughs. “Although I must say Kingswood has some very nice friendly stops and, as far as family goes, we’ve really created a wonderful family environment for children to feel they are welcome.”
The experience of designing a golf course has been an exciting and rewarding one for Sally, who has learnt a lot from the process. “The most important rule I ever learnt is that, if you have a residential golf course, you have to have a facility that caters to the entire family, not just to the daddies. To include and promote the participation of the women and children as well as the men makes for a healthy family friendly environment and this leads to greater female participation.”
Whilst the international economic downturn may have put golf courses on the back burner, Sally does have some exciting things planned. “I do have a unique design that I would love to introduce in South Africa called the ‘Little Course’. I cannot say much at this moment other than we are working with certain municipalities to adopt this design of a more community friendly course, so watch this space.”