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Behind the scenes: Women’s golf is a growing business

For most of us duffers, we play a round of golf hoping to finish with a few holes to brag about, and then head back to whatever is our main business. But for professional golfers, golf is their business.

“The playing part is my main business, but there’s no doubt it’s a business,” LPGA legend, Annika Sorenstam said.

Sorenstam was at The First Tee of Augusta on March 27 to take part in Bank of America’s Play it Forward Golf Clinic with the Boys and Girls Club. The event included players taking part in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament and Suzy Whaley, also a former LPGA player and the first female president of the PGA.

Sorenstam certainly did well in her business of golf, winning 72 tournaments on the LPGA tour, including 10 major championships.

But Whaley said a lot happens behind the scenes that most people don’t realize when watching a tournament on TV. Players have people like their caddy, golf coach, and even mental coach who are part of their support staff, and they make their own travel arrangements, often in cities they’re unfamiliar with. A part of their duties includes marketing themselves and finding sponsorships.

“They often find it difficult to manage that side of it,” Whaley said. “They really are their own brand.”

That can have benefits down the road when a golfer eventually leaves the course for the business world.

“I tell these young ladies that when their career is over, any company will hire you because you’ve done every facet of the business,” Whaley said.

Amateurs, Megha Ganne and Latanna Stone, who are playing in the ANWA, and Annika Sorenstam instruct young players at The First Tee.

Often, golfers become involved with side businesses, even during their playing careers, especially in golf course design. But until recently, those opportunities have been rare on the women’s side of golf.

“What’s interesting is that golfers throughout time, like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, have all had businesses they started,” Sorenstam said. “They designed all kinds of stuff. But not a lot of women did that.”

Sorenstam added that she’s fortunate to have had the chance to lend her expertise to designing some golf courses.

“I can’t think of many (LPGA) players who’ve built something in conjunction with their careers like that,” she said. “A lot of things we do are focused on playing appearances.”

Whaley said women’s golf has suffered from a lack of media attention, which makes it difficult to raise interest among younger women.

“If they can’t see it, they can’t follow it,” she said.

Suzy Whaley, a former LPGA player and the first female president of the PGA, talks with some of the participants at the Play it Forward Golf Clinic.

But that could be changing. Whaley said the biggest growth demographic in golf is youth, and 35 percent of that is girls.

“The things we’ve put in place are starting to show up,” she said. “Women are starting to become part of the picture.”

Whaley credited Shirley Spork, one of the founders of the LPGA in 1950, with creating the vision for her and other women playing professionally.

“I wouldn’t have the career I had if not for her,” Whaley said. “She gave many of us an eye-opening vision.”

Whaley also praised Augusta National and The Masters for their help in elevating the importance of women’s golf through hosting the women’s amateur in the week leading up to The Masters.

“I’m so respectful that they used their enormous platform to elevate women’s golf,” she said. “They’re using their massive global voice to say women’s golf matters.”

Seeing someone like young Anna Davis with her bucket hat winning the amateur event last year generates interest for girls. More LPGA events on television showcasing exciting young players like Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, and others also help.

More corporations are now adding LPGA players and events to their sponsorship list. Marissa Smith, a market executive with Bank of America in Augusta, said sponsoring women’s events checked a lot of boxes for the company.

“Bank of America is driven by the community it lives in,” she said. “The Augusta National Women’s Amateur helped us inspire the next generation and allowed women to achieve their dreams. Sports in general is a great way for businesses to promote themselves.”

Whaley added that events like Monday’s program at The First Tee are vital for golf in general, but especially for women’s golf.

“When they catch the vision at this age, it can change their perspective,” she said. “It’s something you can enjoy all of your life. What other sports can you say that about?”

Annika Sorenstam helps a young player from the Boys and Girls Club learn to play golf.

Even if they don’t end up as playing professionals, or even playing for fun, Whaley believes it can develop a sense of discipline and responsibility that will spill over into all areas of life.

Sorenstam embodies the success that female golfers can enjoy on the course, but also in how it translates into a post-golf life. Sorenstam said much of her focus these days is on her Annika Foundation. But she is also now a business entrepreneur selling her line of Fizzy Beez sparkling cocktails.

“My husband and I came up with Fizzy Beez during covid,” she said. “I made the drinks and he tasted them.”

Her celebrity status has helped with sales but she has been involved in the marketing and distribution side of the business as well.

Sorenstam hopes that her efforts and those of Whaley and others will be beneficial for players on the LPGA tour.

“I hope we can build something that these girls can do 15 years from now when their careers are over,” she said.

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