Why More Female Executives Don’t Play Golf—and Why That’s a Problem
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Why More Female Executives Don’t Play Golf—and Why That’s a Problem

According to a new study, women miss out on a lot of networking opportunities by not playing the game

By LISA WARD
Mon, Apr 17, 2023 8:40amGrey Clock 3 min

Female executives face all sorts of barriers when it comes to using one of the great networking tools for business: golf.

That’s according to a new study, identifying some of the benefits female executives derive from playing golf, as well as the reasons more female executives don’t golf. The study’s authors conducted a content analysis, reviewing almost 100 articles from academic journals, trade publications, general-interest publications and golf associations.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Deborah Gray, a professor of marketing at Central Michigan University and one of the study’s co-authors, about the research. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation.

WSJ: What were your overall conclusions?

DR. GRAY: Golf is so much different than other networking activities. The game takes hours, and gives you a chance to learn about someone’s life and personality. You learn how they react when things are not going well. You also get a sense of their integrity by seeing if they are honest on the course. Not surprisingly, many executives say their careers benefit from playing golf. We found one article stating that 71% of Fortune 1000 CEOs reported doing business with someone they met on the golf course, and another article that said 80% of Fortune 500 executives say golf has helped their career.

But only about a quarter of all golfers are women. That’s a problem because women’s careers may benefit just as much as their male counterparts. By not golfing, women not only miss out on the experience but also conversations about the experience. They also miss out on the chance to be more visible within their organisation, converse with decision makers and put themselves in a better position for promotions.

WSJ: Your literature review also found that men and women often network differently.

DR. GRAY: Academic researchers have found women’s networks tend to include people who are more like themselves, whereas men’s networks tend to be less homogeneous and more strategic and include more powerful people. One way men create more diverse networks is through golf. They connect with business associates over shared interest rather than a common background. Women should do that, too.

WSJ: What are some of the barriers female executives may face when it comes to using golf as a networking tool?

DR. GRAY: Women often have unequal access to leisure time. Female executives may be caring for children and ageing parents in addition to their professional responsibilities. Consequently, they may prioritize paid work during business hours and skip networking opportunities. That’s especially true for golf because it is very time consuming. Playing 18 holes of golf can take four to five hours.

WSJ: Are there any barriers specific to the game of golf?

DR. GRAY: Female executives may also spend more time worrying that they are not strong enough or good enough to play with male colleagues. But most people are just average golfers. According to the USGA, the average man’s handicap is 14.1 and the average women’s handicap is 28, which is a long way from being a scratch golfer.

Those numbers from the USGA also suggest that the average woman swings her club 12 more times over a round of golf, which isn’t a lot of waiting time over 18 holes, especially if the ball is hit right down the fairway. A common misconception is that higher-handicap golfers, often assumed to be women, are slower golfers. But golfers with low handicaps can be slow, too. The key for any golfer is knowing when to pick up the ball.

But the idea that women play slower has been used by private golf clubs to exclude women from playing during popular times on the golf course, like Saturday morning, though the practice is now changing. Other parts of the game can be updated to be more inclusive. For instance, the forward-most tee is still frequently called the woman’s tee, though some courses now suggest that someone’s handicap dictates where they tee off. Male executives shouldn’t just assume their female colleagues will tee off at a different spot.

WSJ: Aren’t more women starting to play golf?

DR. GRAY: Major golf associations, including the LPGA, are running marketing campaigns to increase the number of women playing golf. These associations are also trying to get more girls to start playing the game. Girls now make up about 36% of all golfers ages 6 to 17 years old. But corporate America could definitely do more to get women into the game.

WSJ: What can companies do to encourage more female golfers?

DR. GRAY: Companies could teach employees more about networking and include golf as part of their training. They could even help employees evaluate gaps in their network and identify key people who can help them accomplish their career goals. I tell my business students to think about a round of golf like any other business meeting, and consider their objectives beforehand. After all, few people would go into a meeting without an agenda. Companies could also sponsor golf lessons at local courses. The key is that it happens during the workday, just like other professional development activities, encouraging people who tend to skip after-hour events to participate. Lessons and clinics also provide opportunities for employee team building, so there are many reasons for employers to think about sponsoring golf lessons.



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Booming demand for wellness tourism shows no slowing, with travel related to health and well-being projected to have reached $1 trillion last year and to hit $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami.

Curated wellness travel programs are especially sought-after, specifically holistic treatments focused on longevity. Affluent travellers not only are making time to hit the gym while gallivanting across the globe, they’re also seeking destinations that specifically cater to their wellness goals, including treatments aimed at living longer.

“I believe Covid did put a spotlight on self-care and well-being,” says Penny Kriel, corporate director of spa and wellness at Salamander Collection, a group of luxury properties in places like Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. But Kriel says today’s spas are more holistic, encouraging folks to understand the wellness concept and incorporate it into their lifestyle more frequently.

“With the evolution of treatment products and technology, spas have been able to enhance their offerings and appeal to more travellers,” Kriel says.

While some growth is connected to the variety of treatments available, results and the digital world are also contributing to the wellness boom.

“The efficacy and benefits of these treatments continue to drive bookings and interest, especially with the support of social media, influencers, and celebrity endorsements,” Kriel says.

While genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods, sufficient sleep, and human connection play essential roles in living well and longer, experts believe in holistic therapies to help manage stress, boost immunity, and ultimately influence length and quality of life.

Anti Ageing and Beyond

“For years, people have been coming to spas, booking treatments, and gaining advice on how to turn the clock back with anti ageing and corrective skin treatments,” Kriel says. However, today’s treatments are far more innovative.

On Marinella Beach in Porto Rotondo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, guests at the five-star Abi d’Oru Hotel & Spa can experience the resort’s one-of-a-kind “longevity treatment,” a unique antiaging facial using one of the island’s native grapes: Cannonau. The world’s first declared “Blue Zone”—one of five designated areas where people live longer than average, some into their 100s—Sardinia produces this robust red wine varietal, the most widely planted on the island.

Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, Cannonau supposedly contains two to three times more antioxidants than other red-wine grapes. By incorporating Cannonau, Abi Spa says its unique 50-minute longevity session increases collagen production for firmer, younger-looking skin.

Maintaining a youthful appearance is just one facet of longevity treatments, which range from stress-reduction sessions like massage to nutritional support and sleep programs, Kriel says. Some retreats also offer medical services such as IV infusions and joint injections.

Keeping with the trend, Kriel is expanding Salamander Collection’s existing spa services, such as detox wraps and lymphatic drainage, to include dedicated “Wellness Rooms,” new vegan and vegetarian menu items, and well-being workshops. “Sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness will be a big focus for integration in 2024,” she says.

Data-Driven Wellness

Skyler Stillings, an exercise physiologist at Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort—an adults-only wellness centre in Lanai, Hawaii—says guests were drawn to the social aspect when the spa opened in November 2021.

“We saw a huge need for human connection,” she recalls. But over the past few years, what’s paramount has shifted. “Longevity is trending much more right now.”

Human connection is a central draw for guests at Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Billionaire co-founder of tech company Oracle Larry Ellison and physician and scientist Dr. David Angus co-founded Sensei. After the death of a mutual close friend, the duo teamed up to create longevity-based wellness retreats to nurture preventative care and a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the Lanai location, the brand established Sensei Porcupine Creek in Greater Palm Springs, California, in November 2022.

Sensei has a data-driven approach. The team performs a series of assessments to obtain a clearer picture of a guest’s health, making wellness recommendations based on the findings. While Sensei analyses that data to curate a personalised plan, Stillings says it’s up to the guests which path they choose.

Sensei’s core three-day retreat is a “Guided Wellness Experience.” For spa treatments, each guest checks into their own “Spa Hale,” a private 1,000-square-foot bungalow furnished with an infrared sauna, a steam shower, a soaking tub, and plunge pools. The latest therapies include Sarga Bodywalking—a barefoot myofascial release massage, and “Four Hands in Harmony,” a massage with two therapists working in tandem. Sensei Guides provide take-home plans so guests can continue their wellness journeys after the spa.

Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Sanctuaries for Longevity

Headquartered in Switzerland with hotels and on-site spas across the globe, Aman Resorts features an integrative approach, combining traditional remedies with modern medicine’s advanced technologies. Tucked behind the doors of the storied Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan, Banya Spa House at Aman New York—the brand’s flagship spa in the Western Hemisphere—is a 25,000-square-foot, three-floor urban oasis.

Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at Aman, says the centre provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Aman’s customisable “Immersion Programs” consist of a three- or five-day immersion. “The programs encompass treatments and experiences that touch every significant aspect to create a path for longevity, from meditation and mindfulness to nutrition and movement,” Kiyono explains.

Banya Spa House at Aman New York.
Robert Rieger

The spa’s “Tei-An Wellness Solution” features 90- to 150-minute sessions using massage, cryotherapy, and Vitamin IV infusions. Acupuncture is also on offer.

“With its rich history of Chinese Medicine, modern research, and the introduction of sophisticated electro-acupuncture medicine, acupuncture has been proven to assist with problems and increase performance,” Kiyono says.

Resetting the Mind and Body

Beyond longevity, “healthspan”—the number of years a person can live in good health free of chronic disease—is the cornerstone of Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat’s program in British Columbia, Canada.

Kirk Shave, president and program director, and his team employ a holistic approach, using lifestyles in long-living Blue Zones as a point of reference.

“We improve our daily lifestyle habits, so we live vitally as long as we’re meant to live,” Shave says of the retreat. He built the program from an anthropological stance, referencing humans as farmers, hunters, and gatherers based on their eating and sleeping patterns. Food includes vegetable-centric meals sans alcohol, sugar, bread, or dairy.

Guests wake at dawn each day and have access to sunrise yoga, several hours of “flow” or slow hiking, spa treatments, forest bathing, calming crystal singing-bowl and sound therapy sessions, and classes on stress reduction—one of Mountain Trek’s primary goals. The program motivates people to spend much of their time in nature because it’s been proven to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to inflammation and disease when elevated for extended periods.

While most guests aren’t aware of how immersive Mountain Trek’s program is when they arrive, they leave the resort revitalized after the structured, one-week program. Set in the Kootenays overlooking its eponymous river, the resort and adventure promise what Shave calls a “visceral experience of transformation.”

“They’re interested in coming to be in nature,” Shave says of the guests. “They hit a wall in their life and slipped backwards, so they know they need a reset.”

Banya Spa House at Aman New York provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being.
Robert Rieger

This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.

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