Twenty years ago when the Executive Women’s Golf Association first appeared on the scene, a huge segment of the chauvinistic male golf society paid the organization the ultimate slight — they ignored it.
These women were going to do to the male golf fiefdom what Title IX did to college sports. Fear started to course through the veins of the good ol’ boy network. After all, women were suing clubs for equal rights on the tee box during the weekend and when in 1995 Karen Richardson, a Massachusetts Women’s Amateur champion, led a group of nine women to challenge Haverhill Country Club in Massachusetts and walked away with a $1.9 million judgment, the battle lines seemed to be drawn.
The only problem was, as far as the EWGA was and is concerned, that was and is a fight without a foe. The male apprehension stemmed from misunderstanding the intent of the association. (A male stubbornly misunderstanding a situation? C’mon. Get real. Right, ladies?)
Rather than lock horns with the male establishment, the EWGA set out to enhance the lives of women, women executives in particular, through golf. They worked to erase the apprehensions faced by those new to the game. They arranged instruction in comfortable surroundings. Stealing a page from the male manual, they showed women the value of golf to their business careers and how that could apply to them.
Today, the West Palm Beach–based organization has expanded beyond its original scope. It is steadily growing internationally. At the Solheim Cup that was played at Lough Erne Resort in Ireland last year, EWGA executive director Pam Swenson sat in on a seminar concerning women and the economy.
“They were talking about the economy in County Meath (west of Dublin),” said Swenson. “They felt that women would be a large part of the solution to fixing the economy in Meath.”
They were singing Swenson’s song. She showed people how the EWGA worked and how golf, in this case, could expand a women’s ability to produce in the business environment. Within the next month the first Ireland chapter of the EWGA will open its doors.
Ireland joins Canada as part of the internationalization of the EWGA, but they’re not going to be alone.
“We’ll soon be opening a chapter in Bermuda,” said Swenson. “There a lot of ex-pats there, some of whom were members before who wanted to start a chapter there.”
This could really be the start of something big. Swenson pointed out that more than 100,000 women have passed through the EWGA gates in the past 20 years and that alone provides some clout. Think what would happen if the association made a big international push.
“We’ll take it as it comes,” she said. “We have a tiny staff and we have to take care of our members first.”
Although the EWGA may not be actively seeking international expansion, that doesn’t mean they aren’t being actively sought.
“We’ve had some keen interest from Asia (read South Korea) because of the popularity of the LPGA there,” explained Swenson. “We’ve just opened a small chapter in Venice, Italy. A woman there has a travel business and she feels that an EWGA chapter there will enhance her business to the United States.”
Closer to home, the EWGA honored LPGA great Lorena Ochoa for her contributions to women’s golf. The former World No. 1 immediately became interested in the EWGA and offered her support in Mexico.
“I immediately told her that we don’t let offers like that slide, and we follow up, and we will,” Swenson said
It’s been 20 years, two decades. There have been good times and not-so-good times. There have been contentious battles of the sexes and there has been reconciliation. Through it all, the EWGA has emerged bigger and stronger. As the rest of the golf industry endlessly searches for answers to grow the game, it might be time to step back and see how the EWGA business model might apply to them.