A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group for the PGA revealed that there are 38 million women in the United States who have a latent interest in golf.
For Keith Stewart, PGA member and head golf pro at Springdale Golf Club, the study was a revelation in two ways. The first was that there’s a huge untapped market in a sport that has been especially hard hit by the Great Recession. The second is that golf needs to do a better job of making the sport more friendly to women.
“Studies have shown that athletic endeavors that have turned their focus towards women have been very successful in recent years,” he says. “My staff and I are trying to make conscious effort to connect with women and to get them involved in the game.”
Part of that effort is an upcoming golf clinic for women being held in concert with the Princeton Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business Alliance. The clinic, to be held on Tuesday, April 30, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Springdale Golf Club on Springdale Road, will feature lessons by Stewart and his staff. Cost: $99. Call 609-924-1776 or go to princetonchamber.org to register. The event comes in advance of the chamber’s annual golf and tennis outing on Monday, May 13, from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Bedens Brook Club in Skillman.
The clinic is the result of the chamber’s desire for more women to be involved in its annual outing, coupled with his goal of getting more women to play the sport. “We want to try to introduce golf to more women. At the clinic we are going to try to cover as many facets of the game as we can considering the size of the group,” says Stewart, adding that between 30 and 35 people had already signed up as of a week before the event.
The clinic will consist of three stations: fundamentals of the golf swing on the practice range; short game and bunker play; and putting. Each of the stations will last about 30 minutes. Each station will have a minimum of one instructor, and additional instructors will be added as attendance grows. Though golf clubs will be provided for those who need them, attendees are encouraged to bring their own.
Stewart says that golf is one of the best ways for people to network and even conduct business. “It’s unbelievable how much business gets done during sporting events, and golf is a major vehicle to build business relationships.”
Unfortunately, a lot of women are missing out on the opportunity because the sport has not done a good job in the past of attracting them to play, says Stewart. “I have a saying, ‘Tradition is the enemy of evolution.’ When someone says, ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it,’ it’s not a good thing for the future of the sport.”
“Golf has any number of boundaries,” he adds. “Probably the biggest one is the time commitment involved. Women are trying to grow their careers and take care of their families, and golf hasn’t done a good job in the past of being flexible with their needs. Now we are trying to extend an olive branch to women in a way that wasn’t being done before.”
But even with an olive branch offered, are some women intimidated to go out on the course with male players who might be more experienced? And are men more accepting of golfing with women in their group than they have been in the past?
“The age old discussion of men don’t want women on the course doesn’t really apply so much anymore in my opinion,” says Stewart. “At Springdale we are truly a gender blind club. Honestly most golfers just don’t want to play alone, sort of like most folks don’t want to go to the movies or dinner alone.”
According to Stewart, since the golf recession of the past few years, “golfers have realized we need more players. For my members that means they play with whomever is around. So though it may be localized to my club, I get the sense the golf world does not carry that stigma anymore — the idea that men don’t want women on the course. It’s probably more like golfers just don’t want slow golfers on the course, which is another issue all together. “
“In short, women should not be intimidated to play with men, golf treats them both the same.”
he says. “It is a hard game.”
Despite its difficulty, golf is a perfect vehicle for people in business to get to know someone by watching how they handle themselves on the links.
“Golf mirrors life,” Stewart says. “It’s very internal in that it’s you versus the golf course. The way people handles themselves in their game is very similar to way they conduct business. There’s nothing like spending two or four hours with someone on the golf course and seeing whether they are someone that you want to do business with.”
The golf course is also a great place for husbands and wives to get closer. “Obviously my life revolves around golf,” says Stewart. “My wife came to me and said she wanted to learn more about golf because I had taken an interest in the things she liked to do. I gave her lessons, and now we golf together all the time. It’s been a home run.”
As much as golf is part of his life now, Stewart never dreamed when he was younger that it would be his career. A native of Edison, his mother was a pediatric occupational therapist, and his was father was a corporate vice president in charge of a company that sold products in the petroleum industry. Both parents are golfers. “My father has played golf for as long as I can remember, and my mother for about 20 years,” he says.
Stewart graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, with a dual major in biology and pre-med with the intent of going to medical school. “I decided to take a year off first before going to medical school. I had worked at golf clubs a lot when I was younger, so when I took a year off I went back to a place I knew I could get a job — a golf course.” He loved it so much that he decided to pursue a career in golf, and medical school was history.
Stewart served his apprenticeship between 1998 and 2003 at Isleworth County Club in Windermere, FL, which is best known as Tiger Woods’ home golf course. He then went to Warwick Country Club in Rhode Island between 2003 and 2009 before coming back to New Jersey to work at Springdale. Stewart lives in Hopewell Borough with his wife Laurie, his son Owen, 5, and daughter Abigail, 3.
Stewart says one of the best pieces of advice he can give to anyone — man or woman — who wants to play golf is to remember to have fun. In fact, the sign in his office doesn’t say head golf pro, or golf director — it says “Director of Fun.”
“My number-one phrase I say to people is I hope they have a Springdale day,” Stewart says. “Golf is a game and it’s made to be enjoyed. That’s what I try to stress here at Springdale.”