What It's Like To Play Golf When You Have A Period

Katie Dawkins discusses the challenges of the menstrual cycle and golf

Menstrual cycle
(Image credit: Andy Dow)

There’s no doubt about it, being a woman is tough. Being a woman in golf is super tough. Physically we are playing a golf course that proportionately doesn’t match up to our difference in power compared to men. Add into this a monthly hormonal rollercoaster and it becomes a real challenge. Women are hormonally wired in a far more complex manner to men and this is only exasperated as we age and enter a peri-menopausal and menopausal phase.

It’s not until you know about how phases in your menstrual cycle affect you – both mentally and physically - that you can understand and give utter respect to those women out there on the tours winning against the odds. I wonder what the guys would do if faced with cramps, lack of focus and heavy blood flow midway through a competitive week?

Ko walks on the green with her putter

World No 1 Lydia Ko has spoken out about how periods affect performance

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you read about, or watch golf on various platforms, periods are still a taboo subject and few people talk about these challenges. Only one woman in golf has made headlines in the last year and that is World No 1 Lydia Ko. She talked about how her physio helps her when she has her period, as she gets twisted and it affects her performance. Interviewer Jerry Foltz was lost for words. Journalists interviewing these super women should perhaps ask them how do their periods affect their performance and how do they manage this? Ladies European Tour winner Liz Young says, “We have to deal with so much more than men. Monthly cycles, motherhood etc. It’s tougher. Much tougher.”

Let’s talk cycles. Every woman is different and cycles vary, but as a general rule this diagram illustrates the pattern they follow, plus how this affects us mentally and physically…

Menstrual cycle

(Image credit: Katie Dawkins)

The Follicular stage begins with the period, then ovulation happens and kicks off the Luteal Stage where your body prepares to embed the egg and grow a baby. When the egg isn’t fertilised the lining of the womb breaks down and the cycle repeats. Many women experience highly irregular cycles which are unpredictable and stressful. Stress levels and health affects periods so they are often not a given every month.

The practical challenges hit home from days 1-5 - the period - and potentially includes heavy bleeding, lack of energy and physical cramps. This obviously brings practical issues when you’re playing golf for a lengthy period of time.

Women experiencing flooding or heavy bleeding around days 2-3 often can’t cope during a round without on-course facilities. It’s no wonder that retention of teenage girls in our sport is so difficult. In fact, 1 in 4 girls drop out of sport due to the fear of a leak. Golf really exacerbates this problem and it needs addressing.

The less visible elements of a woman’s cycle are the hormones and the effect these have both mentally and physically is complex. What if we could harness and adapt our games depending on where we are in our monthly calendar?

Women in sport have been tracking their cycles more and more thanks to the incredible apps that are now available on our smart phones. Many players will have apps such as Clue and Jennis, founded by Olympic heptathlete champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, which have brought a woman’s cycle to the forefront, telling us what to eat, how to train, and what to plan and expect to achieve during certain stages of your cycle. All highly relevant when it comes to enhancing your golfing performance and ability to actually show up and enjoy it.

In July 2019, the US football team put their World Cup win down to the fact that amongst other elements of hard work and training they tracked every player’s menstrual cycle. The management team then fed and trained each individual accordingly. The recipe worked. I wonder if golf is up to speed with this marginal gain approach?

Menstrual cycle

Jessica Ennis-Hill founded the Jennis cycle mapping app

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tennis was struggling with time limits on toilet breaks and tournaments such as Wimbledon insisting on white kit. Fortunately, times are changing and rules are now being altered to take these issues into account.

I’ve heard many people say, “Just take contraception to regulate or even prevent periods, that’ll fix the problem.” It isn’t that simple. I should know, side effects of having the coil fitted sent me into a wave of depression. Effects aren’t the same for everyone, but whether it’s the pill, patch, injection or coil, an artificial dose of hormones often comes at a price. Though many women on tour wouldn’t be able to do their jobs without it and find it a huge relief, not everyone can control their bodies this way.

The effects of the menstrual cycle in performance is highly under researched due to male heavy worlds in both medicine and sport. There’s a gaping hole in the amount of thought that goes into running professional and amateur women’s competitions. Club golf especially is just not geared up for menstruating women and girls. But the future looks brighter and it will continue to improve the more we discuss this subject.

Let’s hope that more research brings further awareness, adaptation and normalisation of what is ultimately Mother Nature doing her thing. Ladies, you’re all amazing, so let’s highlight the challenges menstruation brings, especially when play is slow, heavy is the flow and loos are non-existent. 

 

Katie Dawkins
Advanced PGA Professional and freelance contributor

Katie is an Advanced PGA professional with over 20 years of coaching experience. She helps golfers of every age and ability to be the best versions of themselves. In January 2022 she was named as one of Golf Monthly's Top 50 Coaches.

Katie coaches the individual and uses her vast experience in technique, psychology and golf fitness to fix problems in a logical manner that is effective - she makes golf simple. Katie is now based on the edge of the New Forest. An experienced club coach, she developed GardenGOLF during lockdown and as well as coaching at Hamptworth Golf Club she freelances, operating via pop-up clinics and travelling to clients homes to help them use their space to improve. 

She has coached tour pros on both LET tour and the Challenge Tour as well as introduced many a beginner to the game. 

Katie has been writing instructional content for magazines for 20 years. Her creative approach to writing is fuelled by her sideline as an artist.