ParkTalk Blog: Women’s Golf in Naperville

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The modern game of golf originated in Scotland in the 15th century, and over the last several centuries, it has undergone significant changes. Whether it was the banning of the sport in 1457 or modifying the initially standard 22-hole game to 18-holes, the game of golf and its popularity has withstood the test of time. While today's game of golf is a recreational activity anyone can enjoy, it used to be a sport reserved only for men in the upper class and royal circles. For centuries, women were forbidden from even entering the tee box. Even after the first woman golfer, Mary Queen of Scots, played in 1552, it wasn't until the 20th century that women were viewed as serious players or even competitors.

While golf enjoyed a boom back in the late 90s/early 2000s (during Tiger Woods' heyday), it waned again during the market crash of 2008. Then, the game's popularity soared in 2020, as it was one of the only activities that could be enjoyed in the early days of lockdowns and closures during the pandemic. Post-pandemic, the interest in golf continues, and perhaps one of the most notable aspects of this surge has been the influx of women golfers. According to the National Golf Foundation, the female golfer demographic jumped 15%, from 5.6 million golfers to 6.4 million over the last three years. Compare that growth to the 2% rise among male golfers, about 800,000 more women than men began golfing since 2019. Given these statistics, the growth in women's golf is also recognized at Springbrook and Naperbrook Golf Courses, as participation in women's leagues and clinics has seen a healthy increase over the last three years.

"Women have outpaced men because the golf world has opened up to them," said Karen Palicka, Springbrook Golf Course Assistant Manager. "Men and boys have always had the opportunity to play."

Springbrook Ladies Golf League members, Nadine Hummel and Marilyn Platte

Pam Demaine and Nadine Hummel during the Springbrook Women's Invitational

Karen started golfing only 10 years ago and she loves the game like she's played it her whole life. She started out taking a group lesson with a friend before realizing she needed to join a league if she wanted to really learn the game. Once she joined the 9-hole league Naperville Women's Golf League at Naperbrook, she became captivated with the game and joined the 18-hole league at Springbrook - the Springbrook Ladies Golf League.

"The ladies were very kind and encouraging, and Tim Dunn was also friendly and helpful," Karen stated. "It was a welcoming atmosphere, and I quickly became obsessed with the game."

Culture in the sport overall has changed drastically in the past decade, but it has especially shifted in the last four years. Don Harshaw, a PGA golf professional at Naperbrook Golf Course, has golfed for approximately 40 years. He has been teaching women's-only clinics for 10 years at Naperbrook and has witnessed this change firsthand.

"Women's golf has surged, in my opinion, due to the education of the game and the benefits it provides," Don began. "Stigma over the years was that it was a man's sport. With the explosion of golf the last four years, there has been much more national attention and social media exposure."

Naperbrook and Springbrook Golf Courses continue to contribute to the rise of women golfers. Karen mentioned that Head Golf Professionals at Springbrook and Naperbrook, Mike Lyzun and Tim Dunn, are always a welcoming presence on the courses. Off the greens, Kody Willis, Assistant Golf Professional at Springbrook Golf Course, includes stylish women's golf apparel in the pro shop, helping ensure that this new wave of female golfers not only look good, but feel good while playing. However, one of the greatest indicators of the popularity of women's golf is the popularity of the Naperbrook and Springbrook women's leagues.

Both courses offer women's leagues made up of approximately 250 players in total. In fact, leagues have become so popular that Naperbrook and Springbrook have added more leagues to accommodate the demand, bringing the total number of women's leagues to nine.

"Our women's leagues have been quite strong as far as participation and membership prior to the pandemic," said Don. "Since 2021, however, we have noticed that many of these leagues have waitlists to join."

Springbrook Women's Team and Naperbrook Women's Team at their Crosstown Classic

Women's golf continues to rise in popularity. If trends continue the way they have over the last three years, then the sport of golf will grow to new, unseen heights. While the sport can be intimidating for new women golfers, Don and Karen shared their expert advice for those just starting out.

"For new players, I would recommend trying to find a friend who has golfing experience and shadow them," said Don. "We also offer many lesson options that not only teach how to play the game, but the ins and outs of it so when they are ready to get out on the golf course, they feel comfortable."

"Take a lesson, take a lesson, take a lesson," Karen echoed. "It's a hard sport so give yourself a chance by taking a lesson. Don't be hard on yourself. Have fun with it. Do it with a friend or join a league. Find someone who plays at your level and get better together."

If you are interested in taking a private lesson, joining a league, or reserving a tee time at either Springbrook or Naperbrook, visit www.golfnaperville.org.

Springbrook Ladies 18-hole League meets Thursday mornings starting April 25