“If you can swing in it, and it looks relatively tidy, then you can wear it.” Nicola Bennett and Lauren Prince are two women who are shaking up the golfing scene. We talk to them about bringing style and fun to a traditional sport
By Imogen Clark
Photography by Dan Burn-Forti
There are many common misconceptions about golf. Usually, what springs to mind is an image of four middle-aged men in Argyle-patterned knitted vests and pleated trousers, standing on a freshly mown 18-hole course. Although there are traces of this overly traditional approach to the sport still lingering on putting greens, this is not quite the reality of those who own clubs. Scrapping this seemingly outdated notion away, Lauren Prince, aka @GuiltyOfGolf and Nicola Bennett are two female golfers transforming the British golf landscape by rewriting the rules through empowering women and updating its fashion, proving that this sport is anything but boring.
Picking up her first golf club at the age of 10, Nicola Bennett’s first taste of the game was down to Tiger Woods. “No one in my family was actually a fan of golf but when Tiger Woods came on the scene it provoked an interest for my dad,” explains Nicola, as she recalls how her father dragged her and her sister along to try it out. Soon after realising her natural knack for the game, an underlying passion began to burn bright, leading her to play on the weekends with her father on a public nine-hole course in Stanmore, north-west London.
“Eventually it progressed into a membership at Pinner Hill,” she recalls. “I played loads because I had a few girlfriends there, so I was more or less at the club all the time.” By the age of 13, Nicola’s handicap was a highly commendable six, making it clear she had one of those rare preternatural gifts when it came to golf, inevitably taking her on to different, much harder courses in Hertfordshire.
While she may not have been introduced to the sport until two years ago, Lauren Prince discovered this same contagious nature of golf during her twenties. “I’ve always loved the idea of challenging male-dominated sports,” says the 32-year-old with a smile, as she remembers playing touch rugby among other generically masculine sports at school. “I think with golf, it’s one of those sports where it can be really tough but when you hit a good shot, you’re hooked. It’s such a win when you do get something right.”
Though not initially striking luck finding other women to geek out over her new hobby, Lauren decided to start an Instagram page to find like-minded individuals. “The name @GuiltyOfGolf comes from the concept of a guilty pleasure,” she reveals. “[Golf] is perceived by girls my age as an old man’s sport, so when I first started, that’s how it felt.” Thankfully, it didn’t take long before people started following her, and she found a plethora of women who felt the same. “I was quite intimidated when first coming into the sport. I think that’s why I set up my Instagram account. But I also think the fact that I didn’t see many women playing intrigued me even more to get involved.”
Whilst Lauren uncovered a whole tribe of female golfers online, Nicola utilised her professional qualifications and career within the sport to teach and encourage women to get on tee at Bush Hill Park Golf Club in north London. “When I first started there were 50 lady members and now we’ve got 123,” she says proudly. “I think I’ve got 15 going into full membership now and 30 starting year two in April.”
These figures are a clear indication of the exciting new progressive wave of golfers entering this sphere, and while more women are picking up clubs, the stigma behind the rigid approach to the game is slowly falling away too. “I make all the lessons really unconventional. I will literally get props and make it creative,” she says. “I make them very, very comfortable, fun and social. We listen to music during our sessions and have drinks and stuff afterwards.”
Continually adapting and recalibrating her method to teaching in aid of changing the narrative, Lauren is likewise adamant to show the ease of picking up and continuing to practise a sport like golf on her Instagram. “It’s one of those sports where you can take your clubs to the beach or practise in your garden, just mess about, doing chipping practice,” she says. “And when you realise that all you need is a ball and driver rather than a court and partner, you can’t help but be envious of the reality of its practicality. It’s become a part of my lifestyle now rather than just a side hobby. I take my clubs everywhere,” she adds. She recalls the most unexpected place she has ever hit a few balls: a beach – where she used golf balls made from fish food that would dissolve in the water.
By now, your view on golf has likely undergone a reappraisal, but Nicola and Lauren’s main aversion when it comes to golf is the accompanying attire – both have distanced themselves from knitwear and tonal coloured shorts. “A woman’s first experience of golf tends to be fashion. And it’s like, ‘Why are you wearing stuff like that?’” comments Lauren, who delves outside of the usual generic golf stores and into the high-street, online independent brands and local vintage boutiques for her outfits. “It is the only sport that has rules on a dress code, and we are the worst dressed people. I think as long as you keep within the boundaries and don’t wear something completely silly, you’re fine. But there’s no need for rules on having a type of collar – t-shirts are equally ok. It just lets the sport be more inclusive. My motto is ‘if you can swing in it, and it looks relatively tidy, then you can wear it.’”
In the same breath, Nicola shares a mutual understanding of the problem with formatted formal wear. “One of the things that most golf clubs get wrong is the dress code and these harsh rulings.” She goes on to say how her own friends have been deterred from even trying to learn due to the cold stances on what you are allowed to wear. “I have a completely different outlook on it, like I have no dress code at all. Literally, I have some ladies coming in trainers, flip-flops, dresses – just whatever they want to get them into it. Then naturally, they do progress into ankle shoes and stuff like that. But keep it laid back to allow them to develop.”
Referencing how she recently updated the programme newsletter to women of all different sizes, wearing stereotypically unconventional clothes to play golf in, attracted even more people to participate in her classes. This cemented her viewpoint as one at the forefront of change. Working with Nike, Nicola is seen at tournaments in her signature black and white, confessing her love for the brand’s skirts as they aren’t too long unlike the ones promoted elsewhere.
Striving to expose the multifaceted nature of golf is something both are eager to do, uniting and developing different ways to show how misconceived the sport really is. But beyond the clothes and teaching, Nicola is an ambassador for the Golf Foundation, a non-profit organisation aimed at championing the sport in the younger generation. Here, she spends part of her week teaching disabled children in Edmonton, north London, who usually wouldn’t have had the opportunity or access to the sport, how to play. “They just love golf,” she says admiringly, mentioning the CEO, Brendon Pyle as a key figure in helping bring the game outside of its usual demographic. “I just love that everything that the foundation does is really aligned to just who I am as a person and my objectives.”
Not only has Nicola become a role model, her input in promoting the sport sinks deeper than her work, as being a black female golfer in the spotlight has unfortunately seen her come across obstacles. “The Black Lives Matter movement was brilliant,” she explains. “Being a black woman in golf, you do come across barriers and hardships. But it makes me even more passionate and driven to stay in the golf industry because I know that it inspires people and it brings people from different backgrounds, especially women, into the game.”
Both Nicola and Lauren are two individuals motivated by the enthusiasm that comes with rewriting the rules of a sport predominately misperceived by outsiders. By looking beyond their own game and delving into the wider golf environment, they are attracting women and girls from all backgrounds to pick up some clubs and experience the sport for themselves. Their unavoidable magnetism flourishes and inspires, and with outfits worthy to be worn both on and off the course, they are making golf something you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
Art Direction, Editorial Design & Production Root, Photography Dan Burn-Forti, Photographers Assistant Andrew Edwards, Stylist Natasha Dugarin, Hair & Makeup Carla Wall