Submitted by Justin Barnes, Scott P. Barnicle and Amber M. Lee

Golf is a game played and enjoyed by millions, yet this enjoyment can quickly turn to frustration when psychological factors become overwhelming. More important, how one chooses to play and behave on the golf course may provide benefits to professional development if practiced properly. Grounded in sport enjoyment theory (Scanlan & Lewthwaite, 1986; Stodel, 2004), this study examines the difference in the psychological factors, which contribute to sport enjoyment and stress in female amateur golfers. With support from five state golf associations, this mixed-methods study (n=50) demonstrated statistically significant results regarding the socialization process of females in golf participation to better understand the purpose of a round, and to enjoy the experience more, regardless of performance. This research can help golf organizations such as the PGA and LPGA of America, PGM Programs, and developmental academies improve training and tailor instruction and marketing strategies to female recreational and professional golf populations. In addition, this research could serve as a guide to individuals, especially females who may use golf as a catalyst to enhance professional development as well as provide understanding to the positive relational impact a round of golf may have on participants.

Females comprise a growing population of the business world, and often encounter resistance to career advancement. On paper, females are supposed to be provided the same opportunities as males; however, certain traditions and cultures that have filtered through from the all-male business mentality can put females at a disadvantage. One such tradition is the business round of golf. If females can learn to meet social expectations of golf, and be comfortable in a zone that is traditionally male, the gap between gender opportunities in business can be decreased.

Sport and Building Self-Esteem for Females
As sport continues to be a vital part of North American culture, some are unaware of the positive impact participation can have in building relationships. In addition, sport may be a catalyst to business growth throughout a career. What appears to have received even less focus is the correlation between sport and career advancement for females. Before one can hypothesize about affect on professional development through sport, audiences need to understand the effect participation has on participants at the youth levels, and more specifically, during formative years of females.

According to research commissioned by Dove in the United Kingdom, females between the ages of 11-17 who admitted a lack of self-esteem, are less likely to reach full potential (PR Newswire, 2012). As a result, the research suggests that the corporate environment could suffer due to growing number of young females entering the workforce. If the status quo remains, the study claims the UK could be deprived of 200,000 female business professionals and 42,000 successful female entrepreneurs by 2050 (2012). The research proclaims that medical and legal professions could be effected most significantly, with the potential number of female doctors and lawyers declining by 17%. According to the research, that figure would lead to a deterioration of 20,000 female lawyers and around 35,000 doctors over the next 40 years (2012).

Simmons (2003) claims that the adolescent period in females is a time of transition, as some struggle to deal with physical, cognitive, and social changes. Simmons also claims that during this time, a decline in self-esteem can have a significant impact on the long-term choices females ponder. Simmons suggests that although this decrease in self-esteem happens for both sexes, adolescent females in particular, demonstrate significant declines in self-esteem throughout this developmental period, and the decline for adolescent males appears to be less dramatic.

Dr. Mary Pipher supports this notion in the book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Pipher discusses that the physical and emotional changes females encounter during adolescence often leads to a decline in self-esteem levels. Pipher suggests that in early adolescence, a female may lose resiliency and optimism and become less curious and inclined to take risks. Pipher also claims that in addition to losing assertive, energetic and tomboyish personalities, some females become more deferential, self-critical, and often depressed.

Nonetheless, there have been studies conducted regarding factors that improve self-esteem levels within female populations in this age group. One common influence uncovered is the positive impact sport has on self-esteem development. Simmons (2003) found that participating in sports could have benefits for adolescent females that reach beyond simply staying physically fit. Simmons suggests that females participating in sport have enhanced images of the body, higher levels of self-esteem, and more trust for others.

Ultimately, sport participation may help females build greater self-esteem and more confidence as well. This is not only limited to an improved self-esteem in athletics, but participation in sport appears to translate to other areas of life such as relationships, academics, and career advancement. Pipher suggests that as athletes, females are able to express inner character with energy and confidence. In addition, Pipher claims that participation in sport during adolescence helps to create a space where females can gain self-assurance, and are permitted to exhibit and develop other skills that might not be available in other extracurricular activities. Another encouraging aspect of sport is the positive correlation between participation and improved academic achievement within female populations (New York Times, 2005).

Gender Differences in Mental Skills Training
Working with self-esteem in mind, Shaffer and Wittes (2006) found enjoyment in sport significantly increased overall self-esteem in teenage female athletes. Through survey research, the sample of 245 indicated several key components of sport enjoyment for females that lead to increases in overall self-esteem. Shaffer and Wittes suggest these factors include parental influence, maintaining a healthy body image, and psychosocial components such as team cohesion and peer support. However, other studies indicate a female may experience difficulty maintaining traditional feminine gender roles in highly competitive environments, which may lead to a negative influence on self-esteem and sport enjoyment (Van Raalte, Schmelzer, Smith, & Brewer, 1998; McClung & Blinde, 2002).

Nonetheless, there appears to be sufficient research supporting a positive correlation between sport and social development for participants. However, there is a lack of research examining the affect sport participation, in this case golf, may have in aiding professional development and career advancement for females. More important, examining the effect of how female populations process a round of golf socially when compared to male equivalents. Due to this question, the purpose of this research was to examine the psychological sentiments female populations experience during a round of recreational golf. Perhaps by understanding the sentiments females experience during a round of golf, this research could be a catalyst for increased participation among female populations in recreational and professional settings.

Business and Golf
Enjoyment has been shown to have a signficant affect on golfing partners during a round (Barnicle et. al, 2012; Stodel, 2004). For females and males alike, there is an importance in understanding the socialization process in order to maximize the effectivness of a round of golf for all participants. Some may wonder, why golf was chosen as the vehichle for this research? The reason is because often participants, and more specifically business professionals, search for activities conducted where relationships can be fostered (Duke, 2009). Golf is also considered to be a great avenue to conduct business, because a round can last several hours, and allows multiple opportunities for positive interactions between playing partners (Belden, 2002).

According to Woo ( 2002), the golf swing takes on average about 1.4 seconds. If a particpant scores 100, that participant has swung the club an average of 140 seconds, or slightly more than 2 minutes. Woo claims that if a participant is playing with three others, then only about ten minutes are spent actually hitting the ball. Duke (2010) suggests that the time between golf swings is an opportune moment to bond and learn about other backgrounds, families, and career histories of playing partners. Additionally, a round of golf regularly consists of several highs and lows during the outing, which if socialized in a professional manner, increases the opportunity of establishing a stronger relationship with the other participants. According to Duke, research indicates that business golf, when played correctly, improves chances by 15 percent of making a bigger sale than if golf was not played. In addition, Duke belives the chance of repeat business is improved by 40 percent when golf is played with the customer than if not. With research suggesting a positive correlation between golf and business, one could argue that there may be even more of a benefit for the females who have a lower participation rate than males (Andrews, 2012).

Some allege that a good performance is also necessary to make a round of golf a successful buiness outing as well. Negative perception of golf performance is often the factor for why several individuals choose not to participate in bussiness situations, especially novice particpants (Andrews, 2012). Some theorize that golf performance is even more intimidating for females, because habitually in business settings, the majority of participants are males (Duke, 2009). Moreover, participants may feel the need to perform well at physical activities because a good peformance is a reflection of competence in business (Marlett, 2008). With those sentiments known, golfing ability may have little correlation with a positive business experience on the golf course. Duke believes adequate preparation and a thorough understanding of proper decorum and rules are perhaps more essential. This notion supports the importance of understanding the feelings of participants during a round of golf, because how golfers behave and react to play may be even more important than performance alone.

Recreational golfers report stress levels and fits of rage more frequently on the course than anywhere else (Stodel, 2004). These insights into the stress and anger patterns of individuals can not only negatively affect performance (Barnicle et. al, 2012; Thomas & Fogarty, 1997; Belden, 2002), but can hurt social identification and professional reputation in the eyes of playing partners. Golf is growing as a business venue (Jeter, 2005; Belden, 2002), yet the relationship between business and personal, which may be evident in a professional setting, can be blurred during a round of golf.

Stodel (2004) claims that etiquette is a major component of the game, and errors are easily identified when one does not understand proper conduct. These mistakes can range from standing in the line of sight of another player or, how to proceed when a round has concluded (Palmer & Yocum, 2008). Recreational amateurs tend to understand golf propriety less than elite amateurs (Rubenstein, 1999), and thus an error in decorum could negatively impact a business relationship as well. Rubenstein believes that etiquette is often one of the main sources of stress in novice recreational golfers. Additionally, there is an entire world of corporate golf etiquette, revolving around when and how to discuss business, who pays for the round, and any food or beverage, and even attire (Waitkus, 2012). As executives have reported, the lack of etiquette is one of the largest liabilities of business golf (Trend, 1995; Anderson, 1996). The goal should actually be to develop relationships built on honesty and mutual respect, which are vital to business relationships (Monahan, 1998). Duke (2010) states that apart from competition, golf is a game of courtesy, respect, and consideration. Additionally, the rules of golf involve informal intricacies that can signal where one falls in the rating scale of the aforementioned qualities.

One could argue that participants may damage business relationships and even lose opportunities because a lack of desire to play or learn golf skills, which may be more of an issue for females than males (Mize, 2012). Some executives underestimate the value of golf as a business tool, to the extent that sometimes paricipation is never even considered (Marlett, 2008). If played correctly, each round of business golf may produce another connection to a a possible partner that may not have been made in any other manor. In addition, solid business relationships are often hard to accomplish. Perhaps business golf for both males and females may open doors to desireable contacts that can enhance a career at a more rapid pace (Marlett, 2008).

Linda Lowen (2011) emphasizes that golf is more than a game. Lowen suggests that golf is a skill set that any professional female searching to advance professionally would do well to learn or perfect. Additionally, lowen is not the only female to support this notion, Ellen Hancock, former CEO, Exodus Communications agrees.

Hancock states:
If I were in school now, I’d learn [golf]; not learning was my biggest mistake. Maybe I still will. Why? It’s a game with quiet time where people can talk about things. It’s not like tennis, which I play and isn’t helpful… It’s not unusual to ask someone, “Have you talked to so-and-so recently?” and they say, “I played golf with him Saturday.” So I say, learn it and don’t make it a negative.

According to Lowen (2011), unlike direct competition on the job, females who excel on the green are less vulnerable to the same career hazards and risks such as going head-to-head in the office. Lowen feels that golf is a chance for females to earn the respect of males in a friendly, non-threatening environment. Golf for Females Editor, Susan Reed supports this belief stating that men know how hard the game is to play; however, if a woman has the guts and the persistence and the character to play golf, they respect that effort. Reed asserts that golf provides opportunities to network and get to know others on a more personal level. In addition, Reed defines golf as an extensive x-ray into a playing partner’s character.

Reed states:

We live in such a busy, stressful world where everyone is multi-tasking. It’s very rare that anybody spends four hours with another person these days, colleagues or family. And that’s four uninterrupted hours, free of cell phones and blackberries (which are prohibited on golf courses). If you think about it, a business meeting or a sales call or a business lunch usually lasts an hour at most. A round of golf lasts four hours; you talk about each other’s families, about work, about attitudes towards business and life. You can see whether someone is honest by the way they keep their score; whether they’re considerate and alert and socially gracious by the way they play the game. Golf expands your circle of contacts, especially if you’re new to the community.

Through the data and testimonials examined, the researchers posit that golf may be uniquely organized to exhibit physical skill, prowess, and social competence of female participants. More important, golf participation conducted in a constructive manner could possibly illustrate postive aspects of personality, which may not be seen in other settings (Barnicle et al., 2012). The literature suggests there is a value that golf has on confidence in business and professional settings, especially for females striving to advance in the coporate environment. If played properly from an emotional standpoint, the researchers conceive that golf could perhaps be a great businness opportunity for participants, especially females. In the words of sports writer Grantland Rice, “Eighteen holes of golf will teach you more about a person than eighteen years of dealing with them across a desk.”


50 female amatuer golfers from five states (Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Georgia) volunteered to participate in the study and provided informed consent. Subjects were recruited through social media outlets (i.e., Facebook & Twitter), email communication from the state golf associations, and word of mouth from other participants. The investigators have strong relationships with the various state golf associations, which in turn provided support and publicity for the study. Subjects were not screened in any way prior to participation. However, after data had been collected researchers determined that only responses from those meeting the following parameters would be included in the data analysis:18 – 65 years old, maintaining a GHIN handicap index (a method of skill & score assessment in golf) of 28.0 or below, reported playing at least one 18-hole round of golf per month.

Data were collected over the course of five months in the form of an author-designed 24-item questionnaire. This questionnaire was initially provided to a pilot study sample of 50 amateur golfers to determine the level of accuracy in capturing the different dimensions of stress desired. The scale was developed as part of a doctoral seminar at a northwest university. Although social comparison and competitive anxiety scales already exist, an important aspect of the project was to develop a golf specific scale. Also, while there are existing instruments examining stress in sport, a golf-specific enjoyment scale has yet to be developed.

Through the use of factor analysis and assessment by several experts in the field of sports psychology and the sport of golf, the researchers determined that the final version of the questionnaire included items that accurately represented each of the dimensions of stress that questionnaire was initially intended to capture. The final product included four demographical items, followed by 20 items designed to examine the following four dimensions: goal-setting, competitive anxiety, enjoyment expectations, and social comparison. A five-point Likert scale served as item response options, anchored by strong-disagree and strongly-agree.

The questionnaire was posted online (, and was distributed in-person at a northwest university golf course and at a country club in the northeast. Each participant received an introductory letter explaining the study, which included an informed consent contract, and received an appreciation note upon completion of the questionnaire. A link to the questionnaire was posted on the homepage of Maine State Golf Association, as well as posted in the e-newsletter of the Georgia State Golf Association.

Descriptive statistics were used in the analysis for this study through Survey Monkey. Responses were initially analyzed at the level of individual questions after coding each response option with a corresponding number value (1-5), followed by analysis of each dimension. The data were analyzed by level of golfer across the different dimensions of stress using a one-way analysis of variance technique. Following the analysis of variance a Turkey’d HSD post-hoc test was used to control the type I error rate for multiple comparisons. The statistical significance level was set to p

Female Golfers and Sport Psychology Use
Compared to a similar study examining sport enjoyment and stress factors in male golfers (Barnicle et. al, 2012), female golfers were more likely to use stress management and self-talk skills than male golfers. These skills appear to aid female golfers in appreciation and enjoyment during a recreational round of golf, as well as limit anger and frustration, which may arise from poor performance. Female golfers demonstrated lower levels of social comparison and performance anxiety when compared with males, further supporting the research premise that female golfers are more adept and more socialized to appreciate and enjoy recreational and business-orientated rounds of golf due to an ability to manage stress when performance is below standard. However, Barnicle’s research suggests that in comparison to males, female golfers were less likely to use psychological skills such as goal setting and imagery to improve performance. These findings may signify a lack of understanding or exposure to traditional psychology skills training, or may indicate a lack of importance on the competitive nature of recreational golf discovered in males. The results suggest that females may find some value in golf beyond recreational benefits, which could be useful to know considering the possible correlation between career advancement and business golf. More important, the research posits that females tend to have an enhanced ability to process golf experiences positively regardless of performance, which may be a constructive instrument for developing business relationships like males have been doing for years.

Female Business Golfers
According to the National Golf Foundation, females comprise 22 percent of the 27.2 million golfers in the United States. According to golf pro, Cathy Matthews, females are the fastest growing segment of the golf population within the sport. With the known results from the study, perhaps this research will provide increased motivation for female populations to participate in business golf. Nevertheless, this may already be the case, as more females appear to be using golf as a networking tool (Andrews, 2012). Moreover, Lepore (2011) proclaims, an estimated 90% of Fortune 500 females in CEO positions play golf. According to Barrons, one quarter of the 25 million golfers in the United States are top management executives, and a full 80% of that number agreed that participating in golf is an important business development tool.

As discussed earlier, novice participants may have a concern embracing golf in business settings due to a perceived lack of skill, which tends to be the sentiment within female populations (Lowen, 2011). Andrews (2012) recommends that females beginners as well as veterans need to have reasonable expectations of how well performance should be. By managing expectations, Andrews suggests the likelihood of embarrassment will decline. More important, this feeling aligns with the results of this research, which posit that females tend to manage expectations better than males during a round of golf.

Regardless of skill level or sex, participants need to act as a professional businessman or businesswoman when golfing. This may be another benefit for why females should consider participating in golf; since the results conceive that females appear to be better suited to display positive behavior during a round of golf. Contrarily, the psychological behavior of the other participants may provide insight for females on how golfing partners may behave during an acutal business setting. Studies indicate that business golf, at the very minimum, builds stronger business relationships than any other form of sport activity, which could only benefit participants (Anderson, 1996; Belden, 2002; Jeter, 2005).

Cary Jehl Broussard, Corporate Vice President of Diversity for Wyndham International, Inc., stresses how golf clinics have been a major confidence builder for helping females learn to play the game as well as conduct business with clients (Andrews, 2012). One could argue that the more novice female participants learn about the game, some of the myths will be dispelled about how hard golf is to play at a suitable pace for leisure and business. In accordance with Andrews, the researchers believe that the results of this study should allow participants, specifically females to feel more comfortable playing golf tournaments sponsored by companies, charities, and potential business partners.

An assessment by Broussard appears to match the results disclosed in the research as well stating:

Even if you don’t learn to be the greatest player with great score, learning the etiquette and the mind-set is very helpful for a couple of reasons. You can play with better golfers if you learn the etiquette…and you learn that the mind-set and confidence you need for golf is very helpful in business. The main thing is to be a good sport, because as most men know, the way a person behaves on the golf course is probably the same way they behave in business.

Similarly, Andrews supports this thought stating:

In truth, most people are average — at best — at golf, which is to say, most people are or think they are ‘lousy.’ The difference between men and females is that many men (to their credit) have no problem playing in business outings regardless of their skill level. It really doesn’t matter how well you play. It matters that you play. The road to the boardroom leads through the golf course. Truth be told, the road all the way up the corporate ladder is made all the easier to traverse by learning to play golf.

As stated previously, business golf for males, and more specifically females can expand networks, establish an image as a team member, and help enhance relationships and trust more effectively than most other activities; therefore, entertaining potential business partners and ensuringing enjoyment (Woo, 2002). Naturally, there will be many rounds of business golf, around 35 percent, that will not produce any direct business (Duke, 2009). This is a much better rate since over 60 percent of the contacts made during other business networking or development activities do not produce any direct, indirect, or even a business relationship (Duke, 2010).

Andrews (2012) states that if females can arrive to work on a Monday morning with some golf experiences from the weekend, the stories may relate to some compatible coworkers. In addition, Andrews claims that these shared stories build relationships and comfort among coworkers and potential business partners. Most important, Andrews asserts that golf tends to generally be very popular activity among senior — mostly male — executives. “If females can participate in that camaraderie, it’s almost like getting the key to the executive washroom!”.

Unfortunately, male executives have traditionally enjoyed golf outings, leaving females out of the foursomes. However, Andrews (2012) says that if females are willing to participate, golf may permit the opportunity to obtain access to individuals that may not have been possible. Andrews conceives that the notion of missing work for a recreational activity may be harder to fathom for females than males. Nonetheless, one could argue golf may possibly be time well invested.

Susan Reed, Editor in Chief of the magazine Golf for Females, writes:

Females resist going out for the afternoon because they’re generally too responsible, shortsightedly so. Like men, they need to realize that leaving the work on the desk (which will be there anyway) and going out to play golf with a valuable business prospect is a good decision. One woman, a corporate attorney, found herself the only lawyer in the office Friday after Friday, fuming, while her colleagues were out playing golf with clients. Finally, she says she realized, “Who’s the dummy here?

Golf champion, Dianne Durkin personally stresses the positive impact golf has had on career advancement. Currently the president of Loyalty Factor, a training and management-consulting firm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and author of The Loyalty Advantage, Durkin has often seized the platform golf provides. Durkin advocates that golf has aided business ventures with recommendations, advice on how to approach various business situations, opportunities, and hiring leads for skilled individuals that the company desires.

Durkin states:

Golf is a great way to build long-term relationships in a non-threatening environment. It is also an exceptional way to size-up people. Golf brings out the best and the worst in individuals, so you can clearly see their personalities under favorable conditions as well as stressful conditions. It gives you great indication of how to approach them in the future.

Female Social Development through Golf
Jo Hoffman states that success in the meetings and hospitality industry often revolves around establishing strong relationships with business associates (Clayton, 2012). The researchers feel that participating in golf is a wonderful avenue to achieve this goal, especially for females. According to Hoffman, many females work in an environment that is still very much predominantly male-oriented. Accepting the challenge of learning to play golf–a male-dominated sport–offers skills that will overflow to everyday interactions in the office (Clayton, 2012).

Lowen (2011) cites in Exchange, which is the magazine of the Association for Financial Professionals:

Females take up golf – in some cases because their companies suggest it. Think of the corporations that maintain club memberships just to entertain clients. Increasingly, females play because their careers can’t survive without it. As females make inroads into middle or upper level management positions in a variety of fields, the advantages associated with playing golf provides are abundantly clear. Playing golf enhances your standing among colleagues and clients.

If females desire to play golf for business purposes, the experience should be viewed as an educational process. Much the same as one who enrolls in computer workshops or attends sales training seminars, females or males need to invest in the time to practice and play. Along with getting to network with different clients, becoming a better golfer could put one on the winning team at the next industry golf outing. Whittling down a golf score through practice and lessons is great for self-confidence, which could carry over into other aspects of life. Hopefully, the results of this study may motivate more participants to experience the benefits golf provides, especially females.


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