Chief Brand Officer shares news on Women’s Golf Initiatives
It’s been a pretty good year for the United States Golf Association (USGA), having hosted a very successful US Women's Open at the historic Olympic Club in San Francisco for the very first time. It was then followed up with an equally impressive US Open championship in San Diego at Torrey Pines. Now on the eve of amateur golf’s biggest event, the US Women’s Amateur, not to mention the upcoming 3rd US Women’s Senior Open, we had the opportunity to chat recently with the USGA’s Chief Brand Officer, Craig Annis to discuss the initiatives underway with women’s golf.
Focusing on Women
Early in our discussion, we chatted about the basic premise of women’s golf, whether it be competitive or purely recreational and social. and why the USGA is investing in initiatives to increase women’s participation in the sport. The simple answer of course is that golf truly is a game for all skills and ages. It is one of the few sports and recreational activities that young and old alike can play.
For the USGA, it is about increasing participation across the board, introducing youngsters to golf at an age where they can grow with the sport throughout their lifetimes. To that end, it’s about working with other partner organizations to support initiatives such as the First Tee program and Drive, Chip and Putt, all of which provide a healthy avenue for youngsters to be involved with the game. Naturally, women are a segment of the population that has traditionally been under-represented in the sport. Presently, women represent approximately 23% of all golfers, despite comprising over 50% of the total general population. , 
It is in this specific area that the USGA saw the opportunity to introduce golf to this demographic segment, while building on some of the success that has already taken place. Annis explains, “our commitment and mission is to champion and advance the game. . . . it’s hard to connect COVID and a benefit, but with golf, we’ve seen participation go up . . . and some of the biggest growth comes amongst women and girls. The opportunity is to capture that so that when things open up and people have more choices . . . that they stay with golf.”
As for the USGA, they are in a unique position to engage fans, participants, and newcomers with the sport using their competitive championships to help foster the sport. “Our championships create a pathway for competitive players to chase their dreams; as something for fans to connect to on an emotional level, and as a driver for them wanting to play and engage with the game more.”
Of course, as the governing body of golf in the United States, the USGA also plays a fundamental role in shaping and growing the sport amongst the general population. “We have a unique role as the governing body, as a thought leader in the game, in shaping the future of golf, and fundamentally to be more welcoming, more diverse and more representative of our country and of the world. So doing what we can to grow the game amongst women, both from a fan perspective as well as a golfer’s perspective is paramount to what we do and to our mission to champion and advance the game.”
Addressing Barriers and Obstacles
Annis also discussed some of the factors that have played a role historically in limiting the participation of women, ranging from cost (equipment and green fees), access to learning and coaching, access to tee-times and golf facilities, in addition to cultural and social factors.
To be fair, many of these same barriers apply to other demographic segments and not only to women. What is important is that these issues are on the table for the USGA as they develop their initiatives. “Access is a big issue in terms of where you can play, costs can also be a potential barrier. (Then there is) the whole pressure that you feel stepping on that first tee and hit a ball when you’re a beginner and worry about the judgment of others. “
Another aspect raised was the fun and enjoyment of golf and its importance in keeping golfers active in the sport – again regardless of whether it is competitive golf or of the recreational and social variety. This means golfers should be aware of their skill level, the golf courses they play and using the appropriate tee boxes. The USGA and the PGA of America jointly supported the “Tee it Forward” campaign, to educate and encourage golfers to play from the appropriate set of tees. It makes good sense – playing from the appropriate tees enables golfers to hit tee shots that allows them to play shorter clubs into the greens and with that, more scoring opportunities for pars and birdies.
But as Craig Annis reminds us, there is no one magic bullet or rather there is no “one size fits all” type of solution; it’s very much a combination of campaigns and initiatives. “It’s a number of things that we’re working on and committed to that go back to making the game more accessible, more affordable, more fun and more welcoming. I think the combination of all those things that will help drive incremental change.”
Supporting Increased Coverage and Focus on Women
Perhaps the initiative that excited him the most was the newest campaign from the USGA. The University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research found that while 40% of sports are played by women, only 4% of the sports media coverage featured women’s sports.
In response to this, the USGA unveiled the “Driving Equity Grant” which aims to address the underrepresentation in the media by creating opportunities for media support in covering women’s golf. The program will provide small grants to established news or media outlets to assist with travel related or freelancer costs in attending and covering women’s golf events or in producing a special project or feature on women’s golf.
As the Chief Branding Officer for the USGA, Annis has been at the forefront of this initiative to raise further awareness and profile of women’s golf. “Outlets aren’t really seeing the direct return on investment in covering the women’s game because there aren’t a lot of household names. At the same time, you don’t get household names without great storytelling, without building fandom.”
He went on to describe this grant as a way of supporting the production of more storytelling of the women as athletes with their own inspiring stories and experiences of their journeys in golf. “So, to be able to tell more of those stories to draw people into the women’s game is something that we’re committed to doing because we know that there is a knock-on effect to it.”
The US Women's Senior Open is being hosted at Brooklawn Country Club from July 29 -- August 1st. The 121st edition of the US Women's Amateur is played the following week at Westchester Country Club from August 2 -- 8th.
Details of the grant application can be found here:
 Gender distribution of golfers in the United States in 2018, by type (Statista)
 US Census Bureau (April 2020)
 Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, “Media Coverage and Female Athlete”, University of Minnesota, 2014