Girls’ high school golf participation skyrockets, but boys are leaving the game in droves

August 30, 2018

The game of golf has long been a boys’ club. Despite many efforts to increase women’s involvement, their participation in the sport has failed to rise in a meaningful way over the years. But a new report claims that trend is changing.

On Wednesday, August 29, the NCAA Research account tweeted out data about high school sports participation over the last five years. The data comes from the National Federation of State High School Associations and shows some surprising trends among America’s youth.

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Girls golf is finally starting to see some substantial growth. in 2017-18, 78,781 girls played high school golf in the United States. That’s a massive 10.9% increase from 2012-13. At the same time, girls’ involvement in basketball, which was second only to Track & Field in 2012-13, fell 4.8%.

This could be a great sign that grow-the-game initiatives are working. But the data on the boys’ side dampens some of that hope. Their participation in golf dropped 5.6% over the same span. That’s even worse than football (-4.7%), which has faced numerous headwinds due to rising fears about safety.

Despite the positive changes in recent years, the 144,024 boys who played high school golf this past season is still almost double the number of girls.

Compared to tennis (a sport often compared to golf), the golf participation numbers are distressing for advocates of the game, especially when it comes to girls’ representation on the course. 158,151 boys play tennis (+0.6), while a whopping 190,768 girls play the game (+5.3%).

Presumably there are many factors that lead to that massive disparity between the sports, but the difference is reflected in the pro game.

In pro tennis, the women’s and men’s Grand Slam events are played concurrently at the same venue every year. The result is that women’s pro tennis is covered and followed nearly as widely and thoroughly as the men’s game, by both media members and fans. Furthermore, women tennis players battle for the same amount of prize money as they do on the men’s side.

The same cannot be said for golf. The PGA and LPGA tours operate separate from each other. They play different majors at different times on different courses. There is little doubt that reality depresses the amount of coverage given to the women’s game. That, in turn, negatively affects the interest and visibility of the game.

The best proof of this is the massive difference in purse sizes on the two Tours. Brooks Koepka made $2.6 million for winning his second-straight U.S. Open this year. Ariya Jutanugarn, on the other hand, took home only $900,000 for her victory at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Conversely, both the men’s and women’s champion at the 2018 U.S. Open in tennis will receive $3.8 million.