May Gray was in full force the morning I dragged myself out of bed on a Saturday to play golf at Riverwalk GC in San Diego. Since moving to California from Cleveland, I’d become a fair-weather golfer and swore I would never again play in less-than-perfect conditions. Although on this particular morning, I already committed to playing in an all-women’s golf outing — my first ever that didn’t involve Golfstat or college coaches. Grumbling about the dismal weather I rolled out of bed, loaded up my car and headed to the course.
As a lifelong competitive golfer and millennial too frugal to spend money on golf, I was jaded by the game and skeptical about anyone who wanted to learn it “for fun.” Despite my golf funk, I was curious to meet the women attending the outing. They traveled from all over the U.S. to spend an entire weekend playing golf with total strangers. I was also eager to meet the organizers, Tisha Alyn Abrea and Nikki Bondura, founders of a new organization called Women With Drive. The two just-out-of-college women were passionate about golf and have visions to grow the game among young working women.
On the driving range, 40 women began to gather and it was a sight to behold—an explosion of colorful golf skirts, ball caps and leggings. One woman sported knee-high socks and a purple skort, complete with blond pig tails under her baseball cap. Another woman popped a champagne bottle and began handing out red solo cups. “Cheers ladies,” she shouted while lifting her cup in the air. A few others joined suit and tapped their cups together while hooting and shouting. My first thought was: out with the old boys’ club, and in with the new girls’ club. Suddenly I was giddy. Who were these people?
“Alright ladies, gather around,” said Abrea, as she waved the women to join her on the range. “Let’s begin with the basics: grip and stance.”
Abrea was born and bred in SoCal. She grew up in Murrieta where she learned to play the game and went on the play for Cal State Fullerton. She and fellow founder Bondura summoned the women over to the tee line for a swing clinic to kick off the event, followed by lunch and an 18-hole shamble.
The attendees included working women ages 25 to 50 who traveled from New York, Houston, Naples, Denver and Salt Lake City. They were engineers, entrepreneurs, marketers, sales and insurance women and recent college grads with one common goal: to make friends and meet other women who play golf. It’s precisely the demographic the golf industry is working so hard to attract to the game.
GOLF & GUMPTION
About eight months earlier, Women With Drive was merely an idea. Peter Krastios, founder of GolfMatch (a social networking app dedicated to connecting golfers), was looking for ways to reach his audience when he found a social media and brand-influencer company called Golf Babes. After a few months of trying to use Golf Babes to promote the app, he found it wasn’t encouraging new women to join GolfMatch, so he decided to bring together some women from Golf Babes to brainstorm.
“Nine of us met in Arizona to create an inspiring video about women’s golf,” Abrea said. “We all agreed the name Golf Babes wasn’t right for us. Our goal for the brand is to empower women and get more females and millennials into the game of golf — that’s why we renamed it Women With Drive.”
Abrea said once they rebranded, the organization lost some of its audience, but she and Bondura still saw something special and were determined to help it grow.
“Tisha and I went to Peter and said: If there’s an organization called Women With Drive it should be run by women,” said Bondura, who hails from Northern California and played golf for Sacramento State. “Let us handle the social media and the communication with the members and bring a female voice and face to the brand.”
With the help of Krastios, Abrea and Bondura founded their LLC. They manage most of the business with some oversight from Krastios and the GolfMatch team.
“Nikki and Tisha represent the golf industry and everything that’s right with it,” Krastios said. “They are two different types of women golfers: Tisha is an aspiring professional golfer and Nikki just loves the game and wants to be involved from a media perspective,” Krastios said. “The common theme is that they’re both passionate about the game.”
GolfMatch, which launched in 2015, has an estimated 45,000 members, 6,000 of which are women—making up 13.3 percent of their total app users. Those numbers haven’t quite reached the national average, where women account for 24 percent of the total U.S. golf population, according to the National Golf Foundation’s 2016 annual report on golf participation. Krastios hopes that by working with WWD, they will be able to reach and surpass those national numbers. Abrea and Bondura believe the WWD movement, along with the power of social media, can help bridge that gap.
“The biggest thing for us is connecting women off the course so they can connect on the course,” Bondura said. “Social media is great because you can connect with women golfers around the world, as well as in your community, who you didn’t even know were in your area.”
While social media is only a small piece of the puzzle in growing the game and building a successful organization, it continues to play a larger role in how brands communicate with customers, and these two women already have an impressive audience. Women With Drive has 161,000 followers on their Instagram account—to put it in perspective, that’s more than the Instagram followers for GolfWRX, Golfweek and Golf World accounts combined.
As with many new startup businesses, the event came with a few bumps along the way. Abrea admitted there were areas of the event they could improve upon and it was a good learning experience.
“This was our first time running a golf outing,” Abrea explained. “Our goal is to provide great golf events, so when people think of social golf meetups for women our age they immediately think of Women With Drive.”
THE WWD DOMINO EFFECT
At noon the women started to head to the course when the golf gods decided San Diego needed a good soaking. It rained sideways for the next five hours, but that didn’t dampen any spirits. Laughter as well as hooting and hollering could be heard around the course the rest of the afternoon. I couldn’t recall the last time I laughed so much during a round of golf — it was, well, fun.
I left the event that day feeling reinvigorated about the state of the game and inspired by the wonderful women I met. All the women were equally as passionate for the game — and many of them business women or entrepreneurs exploring ways to grow the game, empower women or both.