EDITOR’S NOTE: Donna Hoffman has revived and reenergized Women and Course since these events of 2016. You can read about the comeback here.
BUSINESS SEEMED to be booming for Women on Course. Founded by Donna Hoffman in 2005 and acquired by Billy Casper Golf in 2013, the unique social golf group regularly announced astounding growth rates — 400 percent in November 2014, for example. Press releases described it as “America’s premier networking organization.” As recently as December 3, Billy Casper Golf touted a new website “to fuel growing appeal of golf among females.”
But in February of 2016, as the golf industry convened at the PGA Expo in Orlando, Fla., to try to figure out how to get more women and young people into the game, Women on Course informed its members that as of February 29 it is “dissolving as a business.”
The Facebook and Twitter pages have already shut down. A January 27 email told members: “After February 29, the website and event service will end.” Already all signs of Women on Course have been removed from the Billy Casper Golf website except for a small, unlinked box on the home page.
The Billy Casper Golf spokesman to whom GottaGoGolf was referred did not return calls Monday and Tuesday; the person answering the phone at Women on Course said she could only say, “It’s a business decision.” But Hoffman answered her phone in Fairfax County, Va., and could shed no light on the sudden and mysterious demise of Women on Course.
Hoffman said she had been shocked when members forwarded her the final email.
“I was terminated two weeks ago,” said Hoffman, who had remained the face and voice of Women on Course after the transition. “They made the decision to dissolve the company. I’m not at liberty to give any answers because I’m not sure myself why this decision was made to dissolve. I’m not really happy right now… This is a little shocking to me, because the interest and the need is still there.”
Pam Swensen, executive director of EWGA, the only national golf organization with a local chapter footprint across the United States, said, “My reaction is, I was surprised. But I don’t think it’s a reflection of a trend in golf. I think it was a business decision by Billy Casper Golf. I don’t know that for a fact, but I think they saw they could potentially align the women players at Billy Casper clubs and just develop that without having a third name involved… I think we’ve only seen half the story.”
SO WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO WOMEN ON COURSE?
The other half of the story no doubt involves red numbers. Hoffman became a thought leader in efforts to get more women interested in golf by creating a community for them that, oh, by the way, happened to have a golf theme. There were happy hours and fashion shows and girls nights out, along with signature events and wine-and-nines.
For women, she said over and over again, it can’t just be all about golf.
“What I enjoyed most was creating a community of ladies who just so enjoyed each other, and they happened to enjoy golf,” Hoffman said.
“I don’t work for the golf industry. I work for ladies, and when I went out in the public I found that women who didn’t play golf thought about golf, were interested in getting into the game, and I offered them a way. I said, hey, let me show you how to get in here, it’s a little intimidating … (A woman) wasn’t as confident going on her own to play. She wanted the group to pave the way.”
But after eight years of developing the membership and a busy events schedule for Women on Course, Hoffman was so eager to sell out to Billy Casper Golf in 2013 that she settled out of court a lawsuit from members of the National Coalition for Men, who said they had been excluded from an event in California strictly because of their gender.
(It should be noted that both Women on Course and EWGA have clear nondiscrimination policies spelled out in their charters and on their websites.)
“I cleared the lawsuit so that I could dissolve the company and become part of a new company called Women on Course Acquisition Co., where I owned 40 percent and Billy Casper Golf owned 60 percent,” Hoffman said.
It’s every entrepreneur’s dream, really, to sell out and yield the responsibility yet still be the face of the organization. But Hoffman had only 40 percent of the power, which meant nothing in the end.
Billy Casper Golf runs more than 140 golf courses in 29 states, and owns stakes in many of them. Hoffman herself admitted the opposite of a famous American Express commercial — in this case, membership had its headaches, from sales to tracking to customer service. The current situation doesn’t flatter Billy Casper Golf or help its PR efforts, and so let’s just assume, hope and demand that there’s a woman-friendly alternative on its way.
Donna Hoffman won’t be part of that. But she’ll be creating something. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Events_19.