Shelley Duncan, PGA Member and Director of golf at Otago Golf Club in New Zealand, has done it all. From representing New Zealand and playing professionally overseas, through to high performance coaching.
Shelley’s newest challenge has been based at the place she thinks of as ‘home’, with the people she considers a ‘big extended family’ – Otago Golf Club. The aim? Getting more women into golf. It’s safe to say, it has gone very well.
Back in 2018, Shelley was at a forum in Christchurch, where the discussion was centred around getting kids out on the course in a ‘team golf’ format. It was then that Shelley had an epiphany – it shouldn’t be any different for the beginner women. With that realisation and a slight change to the format (one ball between two ladies) Otago’s ‘She Loves Golf’ programme was born.
THE FIRST TIME ROUND
Rather than the usual introductory lessons with the basics, this new format meant the women went straight out onto the course and got a taste of ‘real’ golf immediately.
In teams of four, each group were accompanied by a current female member. Shelley says this was not to enforce strict rules, but to assist in where to go and answer any questions the women might have around the course. She believes these club helpers were pivotal to the success of the programme.
At $15 for 6 holes with food in the club house afterwards, naturally, there was some curiosity from the full members around this new 8 week process. Shelley explained the pricing was a ‘lost leader’ and was part of a bigger picture – not just a quick win.
Throughout the process, the numbers have continued to grow. Starting at 20 players, Shelley says the number steadily increased to 80 players turning up on the night! Apparently, there’s no magic secret behind the increase in engagement, in fact, it grew itself. Shelley mentioned a bit of promotion on the radio and Facebook, but outside of these channels, the greatest promoter was the age-old classic; word of mouth.
Women began bringing friends along to the Tuesday evening, 90-minute golfing experience, most of whom already had their own clubs and simply lacked the opportunity to use them.
With numbers growing so rapidly, the team had to work smart and digitise, using Google Docs for their draws. This collaborative and easily accessible approach allowed the ladies to add and withdraw with ease and took the administration out of the process.
Another refreshing difference implemented by Otago, is their introductory 6-month membership. Not only does this provide full access to the course, it also offers 2 bonus lessons for a total of $365. This option helps the women ease in to a full membership and has been taken up by many of them already.
HOW HAS IT HELPED?
With many of the women transitioning through to members, it’s evident that the nights are a success. So far, roughly 20 of the participants have signed on to join as members. Shelley also mentioned there are at least another 10 in the pipeline as future members, too!
Outside of the initial queries, there hasn’t been any other issues. In fact, the full-member women really enjoy helping out with the beginners on the Tuesday evenings, especially when they get to see some of the new women progressing with their golf. To thank them, each volunteer receives a post-round drink from the club.
The clubhouse has also reaped the benefits of this new demographic. Shelley mentions how the women are noticeably more comfortable in this setting after being introduced to the facilities in the way they were. This, in turn, also lead to more money being spent on food and beverages. In fact, on the second week the bar sold out of Gin entirely!
GROWING NUMBERS WHAT’S NEXT?
Shelley had plans for a dinner for the women before COVID-19 hit the country, and hopes to reignite this once things calm down.
Mentioning the obvious effects that COVID-19 has had on the club, she remains very positive and says the club has even seen an increase in memberships during this time and the team have really pulled together.
She says her regular ‘She Loves Golf’ nights are her happy place. There’s not a grumble in sight and the laughter that fills the club is infectious.