Do I have to ask before I pat a woman’s bottom?

I’ll be blunt: we have seen a large increase in sexual harassment in golf clubs in recent months.

Not between employees.  For the most part, they abide by the rules, and when there is an incident, it’s dealt with quickly, effectively and by the book.

So, what’s the problem?

In a word: the members.

I won’t teach you to suck eggs, but we both know that – for the most part – golf club membership is dominated by white males, from a previous generation.

Chances are you’ve had to deal with your fair share of challenges from this demographic – I’ve had plenty of managers tell me about members who felt they owned the club and had the right to be involved in all decisions, despite not stepping up to take any responsibility.

But, sadly, in 2024, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as we grapple with an epidemic of sexual harassment.

It might sound over the top, but here’s a selection of recent incidents we’ve been made aware of:

  • The member that patted all female bar staff on the bottom as they went past. When disciplined, he exploded with “Do I have to ask everyone now before I pat them on their bottom?”

 No, you are not allowed to pat anyone in the club on their bottom. Don’t touch what is not yours.

  • The Chairman (!) going up to an ample-breasted waitress and laying his face on her breasts at the same time as smelling her perfume.

This wasn’t even the sum total of his transgressions – he also uttered these immortal words to all female bar staff: “You all think I want to shag you, but I don’t”.

 In the disciplinary he didn’t dispute or apologise for either of these things:

“I’m just a direct kinda guy, and I like to show my appreciation for attractive females, what’s wrong with that?”

  • The member who suggested a romantic liaison with the female bar manager, when offered a lift home at 2pm because he was too drunk to walk:

 “We’ll get home and then we can have a little bit of sex? Not too much, because it will upset my dogs”


To their credit, England Golf have been trying to effect change, insisting that all Clubs have a member disciplinary policy in place. Which now most of them do.

But here’s the problem: a policy’s worth nothing if it’s not acted on.  And too many clubs are doing everything they can to avoid using the process outlined in their policy.

In our experience, rather than following the process and disciplining the member properly, too many clubs are treating accusations of sexual harassment with a quiet word and “Bob won’t do that again”.

They don’t want to be “bad guy”, create bad blood, or – in some cases – they’re just plain scared of the person accused, so they brush it under the carpet and hope for the best, hope that Bob behaves next time (which he won’t, because there aren’t any consequences).

From October this year, this won’t be good enough.

Get taken to tribunal for sexual harassment from October onwards, and you’ll have to demonstrate that you’ve taken necessary steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place.

In practice, this means training ALL your staff, AND your committee on the subject, so that everyone’s on the same page about what is and isn’t acceptable in 2024, and what needs to happen in the event of possible sexual harassment.

And just for the avoidance of doubt, golf clubs are NOT exempt from this.  In fact, because of your membership structure, you’ll be legally responsible for your members’ behaviour.

If you’re found to have failed in your duty to deter sexual harassment from happening in the first place, you can expect a 25% uplift on any tribunal award made against you.

That’s a £50,000 award transformed into £62,500.  £100,000 to £125,000.  You can do the rest of the maths, and because sexual harassment cases don’t have a cap on them, these figures really aren’t unrealistic.

And clearly, finances are only one part of the puzzle – tribunals are a matter of public record.

Everything about the way you’ve handled a case could be a matter of public record – if you’ve ignored a member asking your employee for “a little bit of sex”, that’ll be in the public domain forever.

The ramifications are wide-reaching – your finances would be affected, your reputation would dwindle, and your ability to recruit females would suffer.

All because you didn’t take action.

Don’t be that manager, don’t be that club – start training your staff AND committee NOW, so you’re ready to go when the rules change in October.

And if you want to know where to access the correct training, contact me and I’ll be happy to point you to our recommended online resource.

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