Where To Golf Next

Gaudet's passion, energy fuels Women's Golf Day growth

Led by founder Elisa Gaudet, Women's Golf Day, an initiative started in 2016 to get more female golfers onto the course, will be celebrated internationally on Sept. 1

Elisa Gaudet, a longtime golf industry veteran, has the kind of mind that spins as fast as a jet turbine engine. Over the past 20-plus years, her robust resume has nearly burst at the seams.

Gaudet has been involved in partnerships, promotions, strategy and marketing for several endeavors, and even found time to publish two books. Throw in golf activist, too, perhaps the most rewarding part of her indefatigable efforts. That comes as no surprise since founding Women’s Golf Day (WGD) in 2016.

“She’s a very convincing lady,” said Earnie Ellison, formerly of the PGA of America as director of business and community relations and now managing partner of Ellison Consulting Group, LLC. “How do you tell Elisa no?”

Gaudet persuaded the affable Ellison to become a WGD ambassador, an unpaid role, after he had forged important alliances while with the PGA of America. Ellison was all in.

“There is a level of sensitivity, which is an issue for women on the golf course,” Ellison said. “There is so much that could be done to make women feel more comfortable. If you think how uncomfortable a white female is on the golf course, magnify that with a Black or Hispanic female. So I think it’s much more about what the industry could be doing to really approach and welcome in women differently than what we’re doing today.”

Women's Golf Day
Since 2016, annual Women's Golf Day celebrations have taken place around the world.

Those thoughts align with Gaudet’s self-described “passion project,” driven by making golf more accessible for women. She started WGD five years ago aware of her own empirical evidence that showed females weren’t being given enough attention in the sport. The National Golf Foundation, through various reports, consistently confirmed that. The NGF cited that more females — of all colors — were taking up the sport.

According to the NGF’s 2019 Golf Industry Report, for instance, 5.7 million females in the U.S. played golf on a course in 2018; women accounted for 23 percent of the on-course golfer base; and 44 percent made up off-course only players. The eye-catching nugget could be found in one number: 31 percent of newcomers to the sport were female.

This wasn’t anything Gaudet didn’t already know. She had attended enough Golf 20/20 meetings and Golf Business Journal seminars to see that females weren’t being fully engaged. For years she heard that more females needed to be involved in golf. It facilitated a painstaking, diligent approach on Gaudet’s part to figure out how.

“If you’re looking for growth pockets, a large one can be found in the number of female youths in junior golf,” Gaudet said. “But there really hadn’t been many attempts or anything that was really female focused.”

On a tangential note, statistics don’t lie. More than 36 percent of junior golfers are girls, up from 17 percent in 1995, according to the NGF.

Gaudet decisively got Women’s Golf Day off the ground after seeing what other sports were doing for females, in how they were being targeted as players and consumers.

“I felt we weren’t really strategically approaching females in golf for whatever aspect,” said Gaudet. “And we were the only sport that had a negative connotation — golf widow.”

Using that formidable crux, Women’s Golf Day became a yearly global event that informs females of all ages about the joys of the sport. It’s a celebration in which various locations, such as golf courses or anywhere a club can be swung, devise the day the way they see fit. It’s normally made up of about four hours that could include anything from a nine-hole scramble, lessons and range practice to speaker(s), charity auctions and social events.

Elisa Gaudet and Annika Sorenstam
Elisa Gaudet, left, founder of Women's Golf Day, with Hall of Fame golfer Annika Sorenstam, who is among several high-profile players and courses that have pledged support of the initiative to get more females engaged with the game.

Featured supporters and sponsors make up a who’s who list within the industry. Jack and Barbara Nicklaus have put their name behind it, as has Annika Sorenstam, Renee Powell, Michelle Wie, as well as some recognized courses.

Due to the pandemic, it was decided to split up this year’s WGD into two events. The first virtual ceremony occurred on June 3. The event’s largest single day celebration will occur on Sept. 1 — providing clearance is given by the World Health Organization and governing bodies.

This year marks the fifth WGD. Gaudet said participation numbers have grown since year one. For example, the David Leadbetter Academy had 12 people take part in 2016. The following year the number mushroomed to 148, she said.

Gaudet and her team carefully carved out Women’s Golf Day to fall mid-week so it doesn’t compete with professional tours or weekend club traffic. WGD is not so much about learning to play as it is about having fun and developing awareness, she said. For those wanting lessons or more information, WGD will direct interested parties to the right places.

For the June 3 event, videos from around the world were submitted to the WGD site. Videos flowed in from women in places as far away as Croatia, Nigeria, Singapore and Slovenia.

Asmaa Bensalah, who serves as a WGD ambassador from Morocco, organized her first Women’s Golf Day in 2016 at her club in Rabat with the help of the American Embassy. The next year the Royal Moroccan Golf Federation got involved, organizing events in Rabat and Casablanca. By last year, nine Moroccan clubs were involved. Although male players still far outweigh female participants there, Bensalah sees positivity.

“This sport has contributed a lot to my balance and therefore it can help other women more,” she said. “It’s playful and sociable aspects allow for interesting meetings. I have noticed that a lot of women and small girls started golf thanks to Women’s Golf Day, which is very encouraging. I think that women's golf in Morocco will be practiced more.”

Morocco offers just a glimpse of how much more could be done.

“With today’s issues, there is a higher focus on diversity, inclusion and equality,” said Ellison. “The power of the woman is so elevated now and they are recognized across business sectors more so than ever before. I think with what [Elisa’s] doing, bringing in an element of women in a higher visibility and the value to golf, is appropriate.”

Asked how she sees WGD evolving, Gaudet simply wants to see more inclusion across a global spectrum.

Gaining further penetration into Argentina, Germany, Great Britain and Japan would be a win.

“It would be wonderful to get more countries,” said Gaudet. “If we get more countries and locations, then we will automatically get more women.”

Any entity interested in participating in the Sept. 1 event can sign up at www.womensgolfday.com. The $79 registration fee will be waived for a short time by using the code “WGDUnites.” The code expires on Aug. 1.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.