Female execs get together to learn, enjoy game

Group’s new R.I. chapter teaches skills, etiquette

These days, golf and business go hand in hand, but it is often still viewed as a man’s game. The Executive Women’s Golf Association is helping to end that commonly held belief by teaching women how to play and the value of the game.

“When you think back to the early 1990s, you didn’t hear much about women using golf for business, but men have been using it forever and a day,” said Pam Swensen, CEO of the association. “Playing golf for four hours is a great way to learn a lot about someone.

You have something in common; you have a bond. You’re not necessarily talking deals, but you’re building a relationship and getting a better chance at a callback.”

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Because of this, Nancy and Ed Oliver formed the association in 1991 with a golf clinic for women in West Palm Beach, Fla. Although it started out small, membership quickly ballooned.

In only a couple of years, the clinic grew from 28 members to 5,000. Today, the association has nearly 19,000 members, about 50 of whom are male, and 200 chapters – 188 across the country and two in Canada – including a new one in Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island chapter, which was formed last December, is located in Warwick and currently has 70 members. The goal for 2006 was to have 50 members.

“I was reading Golf For Women magazine and learned about the organization and saw there was no chapter in Rhode Island,” said Carol Malysz, head of the Rhode Island chapter and director of the Center for Women & Enterprise in Providence. “Someone needed to start it, so I volunteered.”

Malysz liked that the association was helping women learn the game’s rules and etiquette, which she believes can level the playing field in the business world.

“If you can’t play, you are left behind in the office,” she said. “You need to be on the course to have the same ability to meet people. If you’re not on the course, it’s a missed opportunity. And there’s no reason to miss that opportunity.”

But before you can effectively use golf as a business tool, there are certain things you must understand. And that’s where the association comes in.

“People shouldn’t shy away because they don’t have the skill. [The association] is a supportive, encouraging environment,” Malysz said. “We have senior-level executives who have always wanted to play but think it’s too late. And now they’re learning.”

The association doesn’t simply teach women how to play. In addition to providing golf lessons and mentoring programs – in which experienced golfers acclimate beginners to the game – the association teaches golf etiquette. Simple things like where to stand on the green, where you can drive a golf cart and when not to talk can make all the difference in how a business person is perceived on the course.

“The game of golf is traditional and has a lot of protocol. We help women to feel more comfortable with golf,” Swensen said. “Personally, when I’m doing something new, I want to know the landscape so I don’t embarrass myself.”

For new Rhode Island chapter member Wendy Hanson, who previously played golf only once or twice a year, that education has made a world of difference.

“This has encouraged me. For my business I want to be on the course more, but normally with my golf skills, I would never take clients out,” said Hanson, who is the president of Corley Hanson Associates. “I have felt there’s this stigma of the ‘old boys’ network’ that go out and [play] golf. Being part of that network feels really good.”

In addition to empowering women to break into the male-dominated sport of golf, the association also prides itself on bringing women together through networking events.
“It provides the ability to meet other women in business,” Malysz said. “A lot of people who have relocated have said they want to get involved to meet people.”

“Some people aren’t really interested in being the best golfer, but they enjoy the social aspect,” Swensen said.

For Hanson it’s a bit of both.

“I’m hoping to talk to other businesswomen, to get out and exercise and network,” Hanson said. “It has met so many needs, even fitting in exercise. Having this I can feel like I’m multiplexing. … I feel like it’s a great use of my time.”

Swensen also noted that time management is a benefit of using golf in business.

“In today’s world, where we’re so busy, it’s great to multitask,” Swensen said. “Because everyone is so time-crunched, [the association’s events are] all organized for you,” Swensen said. “That’s the number one benefit.”

Though golf may still be viewed as a man’s game, those involved with the association think that may soon change.

“It’s a great time for women and golf,” Swensen said.

“Only in the last 10 years have women been using golf as a business tool, but more women are realizing golf can be helpful to your career.” Malysz said. “When you’re on the golf course, you develop long-term relationships with business partners. It’s an informal network that can help you advance in your career and in your business life.”

Although Hanson is new to the association, she has “great expectations for this organization and what it’s going to do for women and golf,” she said.

Swensen agreed: “Golf is a great connector of people, and it opens doors,” she said.

“There’s a tangible value to membership, such as lessons, but there’s also an intangible value to the association. We really impact women’s lives.”