By Kay Stephens

It’s a lovely spring day in New England and a couple checks into a renowned golf resort nestled on the coast of Maine. He is excited to get on the fairway; she is looking forward to spa and shopping. As much as this sounds like a cliché, there is an opportunity hidden in this typical scenario to attract more women to the sport.

Much has been written about drawing professional women to golf and how it boosts their confidence and networking skills. And although the numbers look promising  (National Golf Foundation’s 2018 Golf Industry Report states that 24 percent of all golfers are women, reflecting an increase of more than 13 percent over the prior five years), the game consistently fails to attract women who just want to play the game without networking. They just want to have fun. But where to start?

While golf marketing professionals are doing their best to point to solutions which requires a shift in the entire industry’s attitude, e.g., hire more female golf professionals; be more inclusive, or host more women-centered female golf camps, one Maine woman had an idea so elemental, it almost seemed counter-intuitive. 

Susan Kelly, RN, was born and raised in Maine. Certified by the American Academy of Medical Aesthetic Professionals, she is the founder and owner of the Skin Klinic and Day Spa in Rockland, Maine.

“My husband’s an avid golfer and so, about three years ago, I decided to taking lessons at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine with their golf pro Gary Soule,” she said. “He was an amazing teacher.  He not only taught me the basics, but he also taught me how to just relax and have fun with the game.”

New to the game, Kelly observed right off how competitive the sport was for men, but she picked up a different dynamic with women. “As it turned out, I never played golf with my husband, which is what I’d envisioned when I started,” she said. “There were several women at the Samoset who kept asking me when I’d be done with lessons so I could come play with them. They’d been playing for years, and here they were, so supportive of a beginner. They were always like: “Sue, it’s a chip and a putt away, you got this!’ Of course, it was more than a chip and a putt every single time for me,” she said, laughing. “If I were over my head, they’d whisper, ‘Pick up the damn ball and throw it!’ These women were the ones who inspired me to get better at the game.”

“I started thinking, ‘Why do women like to play golf? Why is this so much fun?’

A 2016 ESPN article “How golf courses can grow the women’s game,” posed the same question. Donna Hoffman, founder of Women On Course, which connects business professionals with golf, said in the ESPN article, “The first thing that attracts women to the game are the people [women, instructors, etc.] and then connecting to the environment around them, whether it’s the golf course, the facility and its accommodations.”

As a newbie to the course, Kelly only knew what worked for her: she got to learn the game while socializing with women she liked. 

“They’d ask me all of the time, what to do with their hair, their faces, their makeup—it’s a friendship thing,” she said.

After two years of playing with these women and enjoying their encouragement, Kelly wanted to give something back. And of course, what she does best is makeovers. 

So, Kelly approached three of the women she plays golf with the most, Karyn Rizzo from Spruce Head, Maura Kelly from Camden, and Jackie Merrick from Union about a makeover—women in their early 50s to their early 60s. “I told them it would be my way of thanking them for bringing me into the sport, but they had to put themselves in my hands and let me and my team do whatever we wanted,” she said.

“It was a two month process,” Kelly explained. “I started out by doing an IPL photo-facial for all three, which totally cleared their complexions and took off age spots, sun spots, and blood vessels on their face. They all had sunspots from playing golf. And after a little time, the IPL even built up a little collagen in their faces. 

“Then, we waited a month, and gave them another follow up with the laser. Next, I did a Xeomin, a neuromodulator similar to Botox. In their cheeks and lower area of the face we added Radiesse. Under the eyes, we used a hyaluronic acid filler called Volbella. We plumped their lips with Juvederm Ultra Plus. Then we microbladed their eyebrows, colored and styled their hair, applied eyelash extensions and did their makeup.”

Jackie Merrick, was one of Kelly’s willing (but intrepid) guinea pigs. She’d been raised in a sporty environment playing hockey and baseball competitively in her native Toronto, before putting her energy into her children and career as an adult. When her kids were older, she got back into the game, around the same time she and her husband Paul retired to Maine and joined the Samoset Golf Club. Merrick credits her strong friendships with her female golf friends after Paul passed away. 

“I was never the type to even wear makeup,” Merrick admitted. “What Susan was able to do was so different for me, but it me feel really fun! I looked in the mirror, I had these long, sparkly eyelashes; my lips and face were done. She’s got a fabulous sense of humor and the whole process was just fun.”

On a micro level, Kelly is just one woman, who’d figured out how to bring more women to the sport.  In her endless quest to show women that everyone has a perspective of herself that may not be how the world sees her, she discovered that a trip to the medical spa could actually be the key.

“Golf is all about confidence,” said Kelly. “It’s a huge head game. You can be out there and second-guessing yourself by not feeling good about yourself, and chances are, you’re going to off your game. By the same token, you leave in the morning after a glance in the mirror thinking, ‘I feel good today’ and it’s no surprise when you consistently make good shots.  It doesn’t have to do with physical beauty. It’s about feeling good with what you’ve got. I’ve seen women get a makeover here and the first time they see themselves in a mirror, they cry. “I didn’t know I could look this good. No one ever showed me before.”

Of course this is one person’s story, but on an intuitive level it makes sense: if the best way to get women into the sport is to encourage them to look good and feel good while availing them of female mentors and friends who provide the support and camaraderie—golf clubs with in-house spas are the first place to leverage that synergy.  Promote more events that combine pampering and female friendships with an introduction to the game. 

As Merrick said, “From my experience, most women who get into the game are in their 40s and older, when they have more free time.  If more golf resorts spent some energy on social events outside of golf, I think that’s a great idea. Instead of women just going to the golf resort to accompany their husbands, they could go get pampered for a few days and then be introduced to golf from other women. Women are a lot of fun.”