Most golf-industry efforts to grow the game include initiatives to introduce the sport to women. And that’s “A-OK” with Head Golf Professional Garrett Kent, who started the “It’s OK” golf league at El Dorado (Ark.) Golf & Country Club this summer.
The program is designed as a women’s empowerment group, to allow females to learn the game of golf without pressure or expectations. The league follows a relaxed set of rules established by the PGA of America.
For example: It’s OK to not keep score. It’s OK to give yourself a better lie by rolling the ball around a little. It’s OK to tee the ball up anywhere when you are first learning. It’s OK to count swings only when you make contact with the ball. It’s OK to get enthusiastic (high fives, fist pumps, and big smiles are encouraged). And most of all, It’s OK to play golf just for fun.
“The program is built to eliminate the intimidation of a golf course and to eliminate the stereotype around it,” says Kent, who joined the El Dorado staff in April 2017. “Many women in leadership roles in the business world often don’t accept invitations to golf outings, because they don’t feel comfortable.”
Kent initially helped start “It’s OK” leagues as an assistant golf pro at Davenport (Iowa) Country Club and at Mystic Creek Golf Club in El Dorado. When he brought the program to El Dorado G&CC, Kent thought 15 to 25 women might be interested. Instead, 45 members and 38 guests signed up.
The eight-week course, which started on June 12, included a one-hour clinic at 6 p.m. each Tuesday. Kent closed nine holes of the golf course to hold the sessions, and five instructors volunteered for the clinics with him. The outing included a wine-and-cheese bar, where the first glass of wine was complimentary.
The women, ranging in age from 21 to 50, attended the clinics for a variety of reasons. For some, it was all about the golf. Others considered it a fun Ladies’ Night Out in the city of about 18,000 people. Some skipped the clinic and headed straight for the golf course. And instructors often stayed on the range after sessions ended, to help participants sharpen their skills.
“The ladies could choose to use it how they wanted to,” says Kent. “It was a foundation for them to find out if they even like golf.
“It’s fun. It’s quick. It’s social, and it takes intimidation away,” he adds. “The idea is to make you like golf, not to make you better at golf.”
The first night of the league included a cocktail mixer and a tour of the golf course. He also set up a trunk show so participants could purchase golf clubs, gear, and apparel at 10 to 20 per- cent above wholesale prices. Clubs were supplied to women who didn’t want to invest in purchasing them.
Kent found other ways, besides the “It’s OK” rules, to inject fun into the evenings. He built the clinics around theme nights such as Back to College Night or Couples Night, where 15 to 20 men joined their better halves. “During the clinic we had the men use their opposite hands to hit for the last 10 minutes, to remind them of what it feels like when you are just beginning to learn golf,” he says.
The cost of the league was $125 for members and $150 for nonmembers. The club also offered an eight-week trial membership to the It’s OK guest participants, granting them full membership privileges during that time. By the end of the program, 10 of the 38 guests had joined El Dorado G&CC, and Kent expects that number to grow.
Gross revenue from It’s OK entry fees came to about $10,000, averaging $1,250 per night. Along with added value through additional memberships and increased golf/F&B usage, Kent reports, the total value of the eight-week program was between $25,000 and $30,000.
The program was such a hit, in fact, that women who participated asked for the concept to continue with year-round activities such as an It’s OK casino night, It’s OK wine tastings, and It’s OK indoor putt-putt. Not surprisingly, the club is more than OK with those requests. “We have decided to do just that,” says Kent.