27 May 2024

Gaudet rings the changes for women’s golf

Elisa Gaudet, Founder of Women’s Golf Day, talks exclusively to Rick Bevan about the side hustle that has grown into the world’s biggest female golf development initiative.

Ronald Reagan did it in 1985. Nelson Mandela did it in 2002. Sylvester Stallone, Robert Downey Jnr and Bradley Cooper are among those from Hollywood’s A-List to have had the honour. Tiger Woods did it in 2007 and, as was often the case in the noughties, Phil Mickelson chased on his coattails and followed suit in 2008.

Presumably, unless you have Jedi-like pub quiz knowledge, you haven’t guessed what I’m referring to yet so let me explain…

The thing that all these esteemed high achievers have in common is that they have all been granted the rare privilege of ringing the bell to signal the opening of the New York Stock Exchange on the trading floor.  

It’s an honour given to heads of state, CEOs of global corporations, famous movie stars and global sporting icons. Game changers in their respective fields. 

 

 

When Elissa Gaudet set out on her mission to get more girls and women playing golf in 2016, it’s fair to say she could never have imagined that just five years later, she would be joining that illustrious list. But that’s exactly what happened when she rang the bell to open the world’s most influential trading market in May 2021 to coincide with Women’s Golf Day’s first ever online event, WGD Palooza, which generated over 4.2 m impressions in less than 3 hours!

Not many people get to chime the famous bell, even fewer do it twice. But Gaudet is a member of that more exclusive group having been invited back to do it again last year, again to coincide with Women’s Golf Day, granting her a unique opportunity to use the global platform to amplify her message.

“It was a tremendous honour and a dream realised,” says Gaudet. “We opened the New York Stock Exchange for Women’s Golf Day with our partners that are listed on the NYSE on two occasions, in 2021 with Callaway and 2023 with Acushnet.

“Bringing women to the forefront of the conversation and giving them more opportunities is our goal. The tradition and ceremony of, and around, the NYSE opening bell was amazing. Seeing the podium filled with strong women from different parts of the golf industry really sends a message that this is possible for anyone. Our company mission is to engage, empower and support and we really try to live out and execute those ideals in all we do. Not just talk the talk but walk the walk. Shining a light on women and golf at the biggest financial platform was a great way to walk.”

Gaudet developed the idea for Women’s Golf Day having worked in the golf industry for over two decades. She’d seen sporadic initiatives here and there but nothing on a global scale and nothing that really got to the heart of the matter.

Increasing female participation in the sport was clearly a key objective, but what she really wanted to do was to create a global movement connect and engage women in a wider sense, using golf as the glue.   

 

 

“We had this thing, in the US, Golf 2020. It was like a symposium where they discussed best practices and got people together from all parts of the industry in Ponte Vedra, Florida,” says Gaudet whose golf industry experience spans USA, Europe, Asia and Latin America, and has included running the 2002 EMC World Cup for the PGA TOUR and spearheading sponsorship, marketing, and PR for the Tour de las Americas.

“And they’d talk about it whenever there’s a downmarket…it’s amazing how many people come out of the woodwork when there’s a down economy saying, ‘I want juniors and women.’

“But it’s not like getting a carton of milk. You can’t just go to supermarket and pick it up. It takes a little bit of nurturing and growth, it’s a relationship like any other relationship.”

The concept for Women’s Golf Day events is a simple but effective one. Clubs and golf venues around the world are encouraged to put on an event specifically for women and girls.

Events are typically four hours with the first two hours being a fun nine-hole shotgun scramble or participants can opt to use that time taking a golf lesson. In the second two hours all the participants come together for a social activity. The latter section will sometimes feature a guest speaker or business development and networking element. The idea is to create an environment where women and girls can build a foundation in golf by establishing network of friends and golf professionals that will ultimately support their continuation in the game. It’s also about making new connections and fostering opportunities beyond the golf course. 

“It’s really based on a lot of data that I had read about,” says Gaudet. “Women were quick to try golf, but equally quick to leave. What we’d read about how women interact, what they respond to, and all the data that came back had said, golf was too long, it wasn’t welcoming, it wasn’t friendly. So, we took all those data points and we flipped it on its head. We made it short format, we made it super fun and inclusive.

“It was a little side project, a side hustle. I was doing the consulting and the business side of golf. And, you know, it took off, so big!”

 

 

The Massachusetts native is not overstating. The inaugural Women’s Golf Day in 2016 was in itself, a smash hit with 418 events taking place in 28 countries around the world. The following year saw a 68% increase with 711 events in 46 countries getting on board and that figure has now swelled significantly further with 1300 locations in over 84 countries having participated, introducing thousands of new golfers to the sport in the process.

What started out as a single day each year now stretches across an entire week with golf venues across the globe hosting a female focussed event on at least one day between the last Tuesday in May and the first Tuesday in June in what is the fastest growing female golf development initiative in the world.

“Eighty-four is a really mind-blowing number,” says Gaudet. “I’d be hard pressed to think of 20 countries where you’d play golf and I tell you we didn’t do any outreach, other than social media, to engage these locations. We started with the usual suspects – Canada, UK, Europe, some in Latin America and then it just blew up.

“It’s really trying to get people to get involved and to succeed. And then it’s meant to be a feeder programme. So we’re not going to tell pros how to teach or what to do, or what’s the ‘Women’s Golf Day’ way to play golf. We’re bringing the horse to water, you have to make it drink.”

Gaudet believes that golf clubs and venues that don’t focus on attracting more women on a consistent, year-round basis, are missing a trick in a big way.

“Once you get the women there you should be talking about junior programmes and ongoing programmes they can access to keep them coming back,” she says. “All the clubs want to create more league players but they’re missing the forest for the trees. A woman could go have her daughter’s 16th birthday party, her 50th wedding anniversary or corporate outing at the club and they will make more money than having that woman be a league player and playing two times a week, every week, for a year.

“So, it’s really looking at our industry from an economic perspective. We have a slide in our deck and it’s got Taylor Swift, how much she made on the concert tour, how much she made in the movie. The Barbie movie made $1.4 billion and then there’s Beyonce… We have all these amazing data points about how women are responsible for $4.3 trillion a year. But nobody pays attention to it. Whether you like their music or not, or you saw the movie or not, you have to be living under a rock to not understand that women are economic influencers.

 

 

“And for the golf industry, it’s a ‘two for one.’ If you get the woman, you’re often getting the children too because they’re gonna see their mother playing and want to do the same.”

The impact of Women’s Golf Day has reached the very highest echelons of the sport, gaining support from the R&A, USGA & PGA as well as many other organisations, federations, governing bodies and industry leaders. “I always joke that on my tombstone, that’s probably what it’s gonna say,” she says with a smile. “I got the three of them (R&A, USGA and PGA) to work together because I don’t know any other entity that has them working together.

“What I found there’s a lot of fragmentation in the industry and we wanted to eradicate that. So, our webpage is really like a centralised resource for everything from how to get a handicap to club fitting, driving range locations, junior programmes, memberships – all of that stuff is on there for multiple countries.”

The website also features information on where to find official Women’s Golf Day events in your area as well as a ‘Golf Facebook’ type feature which allows golfers to connect with each other.  “We pivoted during Covid, like everyone did, and the digital element became more important,” says Gaudet who has received multiple international awards for her achievements with Women’s Golf Day. “Which I guess some ways was probably a blessing as that’s just where the future is.”

Indeed, Women’s Golf Day’s digital impact has been equally as impressive as its physical one. The  WGD Palooza event has been so successful its now an annual online gathering and last year #womensgolfday generated a staggering 194 million impressions with 397,143 engagements and a reach of over 92 million.

Gaudet’s journey from conceptualising Women’s Golf Day to ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange epitomises the intersection of passion, purpose, and perseverance. Her vision transcends the boundaries of the golfing world, empowering and connecting women globally. From igniting a movement to fostering economic influence, it’s an impact that reverberates far beyond the fairways.

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