Women get in the swing, packing golf classes that fit beginners to tee

August 06, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

As is happening in many sports, women golfers are catching up to men in their enthusiasm for the pastime.

In Anne Arundel County, the YWCA quickly added three classes after the initially offered class filled with 10 women in a few hours the day the notice appeared in the newspaper. The additional classes, six sessions for $100 for YWCA members and $110 for nonmembers, filled up with 30 more women in less than a week, YWCA officials said.

One who joined, Bobbi Pedrick, 36, had played golf about 20 times in her life, but finally wanted to learn how to do it right.

"I never felt like I knew what I was doing," she said of her games, usually played during the cheaper afternoon times. "I was more comical than expert, but it was fun."

Other students on a recent class day at South River Golf Links in Edgewater are brand new to the game.

Only one woman out of 10 raised her hand when instructor Winnie Sewell asked how many women had played golf more than 10 times in two years. Only five had ever driven a golf cart.

Sewell bills the course as an introduction for someone who has never picked up a club or someone who just wants to know if they should invest any more time and money into the sport.

The popularity of the classes is no surprise to Leslie Day, editor-in-chief of Golf For Women magazine. She said women are more likely than men to take golf classes.

"Women tend to want to get all their ducks in a row," Day said. "They are methodical to their approach in taking up a new sport." Men, she said, are more likely to grab a set of clubs and go to a course or driving range and start swinging.

The women in Sewell's class do start swinging on the first night.

And among the first golf terms she teaches is "whiff." That's what happens when a golfer swings but completely misses the ball.

"Expect at least 1,000 whiffs the first year of golf," Sewell advised. Sewell, an assistant professional at South River Golf Links, where the classes are held, will tell anyone who will listen that golf is the most difficult of sports.

"It's difficult because it requires you to get your body to do exactly the right thing," she told the class of neophytes recently. "But it doesn't take brute force. It's got a lot to do with gravity and what you do with it."

Her first class focuses on the basics like the way to grip a club, the difference between a 3-iron (designed to hit low for greater distance) and a 9-iron (designed to loft the ball for shots closer to the pin), and how to stand for a swing.

Susan Hagler, a 31-year-old social worker, said she liked the detailed, basic instruction, whiffs and all. "I'm ready for the driving range," the Eastport resident said after her first class.

She'll be in good company, as the increase in the number of women taking up the game outpaces that of men.

Roughly 800,000 more women around the country picked up golf in the past year, bringing the number of women golfers from 5 million to 5.8 million, according to a report by the National Golf Foundation, said Day.

That's a 16 percent increase, compared with a 6 percent jump in the number of men golfers, who now number 20.7 million, she said.

"One of the big influences of women participating in golf is that women in business have realized that the golf course is a terrific place to network and conduct business," Day said. "They have discovered what men have known for a really long time."

Cynthia Thierry, 35, owner of a computer consulting business, was using the course to brush up on her grip and other basics, so she could use the game while working with clients and while running team-building workshops.

"They conduct business on the golf course in the afternoons," the Stevensville resident said of some of her clients. "It builds camaraderie and you get to know someone a little bit better on a golf course as opposed to a conference table."

Other women, like Pedrick, 36, were just looking to take up the sport as recreation. An avid long-distance cycler, volleyball player, skier and rower, Pedrick said golf would be a change of pace.

"It's quiet, it's peaceful and it's calm," she said.

But one thing some women get nervous about is moving from the practice range to a golf course, Sewell said.

So the last class in each six-week session is dedicated to what she calls "the longest hole," where she walks students through how to play from the tee to the putting green.

"Most of these people are just terrified of embarrassing themselves," Sewell said.

The hour-plus session covers everything from driving, to playing quickly, to the all-important etiquette of golf.

Knowing not to step on someone's putting line can make or break a networking session on the golf course, according to Nancy Oliver, founder of the Executive Women's Golf Association.

The group, which has 14,000 members, offers beginner courses that focus as much on etiquette as on developing a swing.

"That's 50 percent of the game when it comes to business golf," Oliver said. "You could blow it just by not knowing the rules."

YWCA will offer another set of once-a-week beginner classes, starting Sept. 14. Information: 410-626-7800. Executive Women's Golf has several chapters in the area. Annapolis, 1-800-995-7128. Baltimore, 410-624-GOLF(4653). Washington, 202-737-GOLF (4653).

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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