04/10/2015 11:41 am ET Updated Jun 09, 2015

The Masters Highlights Golf's Growing Need To Attract Female Fans

This weekend, millions of eyes will be drawn to Augusta, Ga. as golf's greatest players tee off in the Masters. While many eyes are on Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson as they compete in the weekend's tournament, an important storyline at the Masters is the role that women play in golf in 2015.

Nearly three years ago, the Masters' home -- Augusta National -- made national headlines when the club admitted the first two female members in its then 79-year history. The move was seen as marking golf's growing inclusion of women into its game, which historically has been dominated by men. While great strides were made in this regard, in 2015, though, the question becomes: what subsequent strides have golf's leaders made to include and attract women to the game?

According to World Golf Foundation CEO, Steve Mona, only 20 percent of golfers are women. Recognizing this, the World Golf Foundation has made bringing more women to the game a top priority. "One of our top targets is bringing women into the game at a greater rate than they've historically played," Mona noted.

To attract more women to the game of golf, the World Golf Foundation and other organizations have engaged in research to determine what changes or additions could be made to attract women at a higher rate to golf. In this regard, they've found that "the biggest issue with engaging women with the game is making the experience welcoming and non-threatening," Mona said.

In order to make the golf experience less threatening, golf leaders have engaged in a number of initiatives. One such initiative is a player development program called Get Golf Ready, which boasts a 60 percent female graduate rate. While Get Golf Ready is offered to both genders, female specific programs are also being utilized increase women's participation in golf. "Girls learn the game better with other girls. We have over 40,000 girls between the ages of 7 to 14 participating in LPGA and USGA girls programs," Mona noted.

Beyond offering opportunities to learn the game of golf, golf's leaders are working directly with courses to ensure that they promote female-friendly environments. "We are working with course operators to make sure that facilities are as welcoming as possible for women. In this area, we consider factors ranging from what the golf shop looks like, to how women are greeted upon arriving at the course and the number of female employees they see at the course. You have to be intentional about it," Mona said.

While golf's leaders have launched initiatives to close the game's gender gap, the role that women's salaries in America play in their participation in the game should be questioned. Could the female-male wage disparity be an underlying issue impacting women's participation in the sport? In 2013, female American workers earned 78 percent of what their male counterparts earned in wages. What role do lower incomes play in the disparity between male and female golfers?

In broad terms, there is a possibility that America's gender income disparity is a cause for the low percentage of women golfers. According to Mona, the highest grouping of golfers have average annual incomes over $150,000 per year. However, Mona points to reasons why this statistic might not be a reason behind women's low golf participation numbers. "The median green fee in the U.S. is $26. 85 percent of rounds played are played at facilities open to the public. The game is on average, public and affordable. On balance, golf remains an affordable, accessible game in its midsection."

Going forward, golf must continue to utilize unique, researched initiatives to drive more women to its game. While meeting women where they are and catering to their needs and desires is a logical way to accomplish this, at some time, golf's leaders must determine how they can fully integrate female involvement in the sport with male involvement.

One way to accomplish gender integration within golf is by utilizing events like the Masters and other premier golf events to market to female clientele. Golf must make its top events more female friendly and accessible by creating events and activations that cater to women's needs, interests and schedules. If it can succeed in accomplishing this, it will not only increase women playing on the golf course, but also the number of women attending tournaments, which ultimately drives revenue for the game.