Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On Par with Men ; More Women Take Up Golf to Tap into Informal Business Networks and Advance Their Careers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On Par with Men ; More Women Take Up Golf to Tap into Informal Business Networks and Advance Their Careers

Article excerpt

On a cloudless spring Thursday, 32 women from the Harvard Business School crowd into a small classroom at Stow Acres Country Club in Massachusetts. They listen intently as instructor Adrienne Wax explains the rudiments of a game they hope will advance their careers.

"Golf is more about technique than it is about the power of your swing," says the reassuring Ms. Wax, executive vice president of GolfingWomen in East Hampton, N.Y. For two hours, she talks about everything from tees and fairways to sand traps, score cards, clothes, and etiquette. Then everyone moves outdoors for hands-on practice.

The presence of more than 100 business school students at this unusual event reflects a growing recognition among professional women that golf can be an important asset in business, connecting them with colleagues and clients.

"This generation of women just gets it," Wax says. "They have a very clear sense of how to build their careers."

Business reputations are built on a racquetball court or softball diamond as readily as in an executive suite. Yet 41 percent of female executives from Fortune 1000 companies say that lack of access to informal networks curtails their career advancement, according to a study by Catalyst, a businesswomen's research and advisory group. The No. 1 informal network? Golf, the women say.

Yet timidity and fear of embarrassment still keep many professional women from taking up the game. "Women believe they should be as good as the golfers they watch on television," says Leslie Andrews, president of GolfingWomen. "Most people who play aren't very good. They're hackers. Men are fine with that. Women feel you have to be good. That just isn't true."

As a first step toward proficiency, Ms. Andrews accompanies five workshop participants to a practice green to show them how to hold a club.

"If I'm gripping the club correctly, my palms should face each other," she tells the women. "If I look down, I can see the second knuckle of my right hand." The women adjust their grips to match hers. After practicing chip shots, they climb into golf carts and head for a sand trap and a driving range to broaden their skills.

"Where are you supposed to look?" one student asks after hitting a ball. Andrews replies, "Finish your stroke before you look at your shot."

Professional women gained their first organized support on the golf course 14 years ago when 28 business women banded together to form the Executive Women's Golf Association in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

"We said, 'We need to take lessons and learn how to play so we can use it as a business building tool,' " recalls Pam Swensen, executive vice president. Today that fledgling group has grown to 18,000 members in the United States, with 111 chapters in the US and two in Canada. Members include executives, lawyers, accountants, educators, and real estate agents.

Even more encouragement will come June 4, when the golf industry kicks off Women's Golf Week. Nearly 350 facilities around the country will participate, offering complimentary lessons for women of all skill levels. "It really is designed to welcome women into the game, to make them feel this is a sport for them," Ms. Swensen says.

The male-dominated golf industry, she explains, is at a crossroads. Despite an abundance of links around the country - at one time a new golf course was opening every day - the number of people coming into the game is relatively stagnant.

"The market that everyone is now suddenly paying attention to is the women's market," Swensen says. "It's a group that has disposable income."

At the same time, it's a group sometimes hampered by the belief that men do not want them on the golf course. …

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