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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Golf programs help women enjoy tee time

Thursday, April 5, 2001

When lawyer Linda McCaffrey left her long-time government job a few years ago and entered private practice, she knew that she would have to do certain things to bring business to the firm.

Still, she was only prepared to go so far.

"Definitely, golf was not on my list," says Ms. McCaffrey, who joined the Toronto firm Lang Michener in 1997. "There are some limits."

But it didn't take long before Ms. McCaffrey found herself on the links.

She was invited to a golf tournament, and business being business, she took some lessons and bought some clubs.

It was an intimidating situation, no doubt about it, she says. Another lawyer she describes as "a real Mr. Perfect" razzed her about her game.

"I didn't come here to beat you at golf," she remembers telling him. By the end of the evening, she was having a drink with his client.

"I scored a victory, but not in golf."

There is nothing like a round of golf to generate goodwill between business contacts. Men have known that for years. Now women like Ms. McCaffrey are moving in on that turf.

"It's part of building good client relationships," says Toronto consultant Pamala Jeffery, who picked up a club for the first time three years ago. "You are out there on a beautiful day. There are no phones ringing. It's a way to make sure that my clients know me as a person."

With that in mind, Ms. Jeffery, who also is the founder of the Women's Executive Network, this week launched a new program to help women get comfortable with the game.

Called On the Green, the program is the latest in a series of attempts to capitalize on the growing interest among women in golf. Some are less formal programs, often involving non-profit organizations. Others, such as Ms. Jeffery's, see the business opportunities in women's new interest in the sport.

On the Green is offering tournaments, tournament schools, golf clinics and co-ed evenings with dinner and nine holes. It will run on courses in the Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver areas.

Ms. Jeffery says a day on the course can be fairly awful if you don't know what you are doing. Many of the women who come to the network's breakfast events expressed an interest in playing the game in a friendly environment.

She remembers her first games with clients as a tense experience.

"It was pretty nerve wracking, to be honest. The pressure is on. You want to look good."

Elaine Engel, a Toronto real estate agent who runs a local women's golf program with about 300 members, says the two most frequent comments she hears from women who join is that they have no one to play with and that they are not any good.

"It's the fear factor," Ms. Engel says. "Some are even nervous of me and I'm just like anyone else. I'm trying to break 100."

Ms. Engel's group, T-Ups Women's Golf Network, plays "non-competitive, non-aggressive" games four evenings a week on courses in the Toronto area.

She says the group is not designed to promote business networks, but relationships do develop between various members, including herself.

"I'm still trying to sell a house here and there," she says.

Susan Hodkinson, the senior vice-president of operations for ClubLink Corp., a partner in the On the Green program, says since she joined the golf course operator four years ago, female memberships have risen a few percentage points annually.

Women now hold between 13 and 30 per cent of club memberships with the firm, depending on the course and its location. Ms. Hodkinson says her company sees this as a market that is ripe for expansion, but it takes some work because many women are so reluctant to swing a club.

"Women are way more intimidated than men about doing something they do not know how to do," she says. Some also are uncomfortable with the idea of spending a work day playing outside, even if they are doing it with a client.

"I call it the fear of goofing off factor," Ms. Hodkinson says. "We feel guilty if we are not behind a desk turning out paper."

Back on Bay Street, Ms. McCaffrey figures golf is gaining in popularity precisely because people are spending so much time chained to their desks.

"Very often people work so hard, they don't have time for lunch, but they will take a day off and go golf," she says. Usually, she finds it is worth the investment of her time.

"It's more pleasant to work with people when you have had time to relax and get to know each other. Things just work better. The guys have known that for a long time."

To her amazement, Ms. McCaffrey says she has started to enjoy the game.

That said, she still draws a line at the amount of time she is willing to give to the sport.

"I promise myself to go to the driving range on the weekend, but there are so many other things to do."

She also has some advice for women who are quaking in their cleats at the thought of playing in an office tournament this summer.

"Get some lessons. Relax and enjoy yourself," she says. "Many of the men are not any better than you are."

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