Date: March 06, 2018
Author: Mark Hayes

OPINION: We can only win together

I was pretty proud when Golf Australia recently announced its Vision 2025 project to promote women and girls in golf.

It’s a plan to help redress issues that are among the most fundamental flaws plaguing the game’s growth, perception and direction in our great sporting nation.

It has a lot of things going for it, primarily support from industry powerbrokers and, critically, some of the sport’s public faces in the ALPG stars who are the shop window of the Aussie women’s game around the world. No less than Karrie Webb, arguably our greatest ever player, has indicated her willingness and intent to help drive the vision.

It was brilliant to see Hannah Green so readily drop the tools at the recent ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open to come and be a part of the launch in the middle of one of the most important weeks of her season. Other stars have indicated their willingness to help publicly down the track, too.

So, you ask, where’s the challenge? It sounds like things are running smoothly and will just fall into place.

Well, we could say something trite such as “one could hope that’s the case”. But that would defeat the entire point of what is at stake right here. It’s not about hope, it’s about necessity and fairness.

By taking such a public profile with the launch, my GA colleagues and I have nailed our colours to the mast. To borrow from that old nautical phrase, it means this is a plan where we’ve drawn the line and intend to fight on principle for something that shouldn’t require much more logic than the basic need for all to have equality. If you can’t grasp that, the rest of this diatribe probably will leave you cold, so I suggest clicking away.

There has already been a very positive response and much work continues at pace behind the scenes. The appointment of GA’s first female-specific game development manager is imminent, for example.

In response to a public request, John my boss, readily dedicated a button on to the GA home page to easily link to the main Vision 2025 story (and further ones as we build). We’ve already dedicated – and will continue to – large chunks of time on our Inside The Ropes podcast to all female golf issues. And through our new female pathway manager Stacey Peters, we’ve already given previously impossible access to our elite players at an international tournament. Which, by the way, was the inaugural Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific with prizes never previously dreamt of for aspiring athletes in our region. In short, there are things happening – and that’s only in media and high performance. And please don’t take that to mean that any of that is a dedicated and new chore, it’s just part of what we do. Gladly and without specific instruction from on high.

Other staff are busily doing their thing, too. Swing Fit is building, as is the concept of girls-only MyGolf – and you’ll see a whole array of marketing initiatives upcoming, too.

Thankfully, a lot of feedback has been constructive, too. And arguably, this is where the biggest change can, should and will come if we are to achieve our objective of increased female participation and club membership from its current record low just south of 20 per cent.

But, and it’s the biggest “but” I can possibly muster … the real momentum towards our targets will be generated by you, your mates and your club or facility’s board.

Again, we were encouraged to read some excellent feedback when our Vision 2025 was made public.

Barbara Reynolds, by way of example, wrote: “How exciting to see that Golf Australia has set a vision for the full participation of women in golf. The videos are a great start. I'm sure your initiatives will be welcomed by the many women golfers across the country who are struggling to achieve equality in participation and governance in their clubs. Hope we hear more soon of initiatives and strategies to make the vision a reality.”

Patricia Duffield was another, and wrote: “Great to listen to the podcast on the Vision 2025. We certainly need to progress women's golf at the grassroots level. There is both structural and cultural inequality in some clubs and it is so embedded that neither the women nor the men can identify it. When you raise the issue as a member you are seen as creating mischief and upsetting the status quo. Good to see the move coming from the top of golf as that is where it needs to start. A simple change would be for clubs to stop talking about `Ladies golf’!.”

For what it’s worth, I couldn’t agree more, Patricia. The use of “associates” and “ladies” seems so 19th century to me. Then again, when you consider the “L” in LPGA and ALPG, maybe we might have to take smaller steps in clubland, first.

Anyway, one fascinating and shared point of those letters is that there’s “stuff” going on inside clubs that is anything but equal. Despite the perception that I would say is fairly widely held that Golf Australia can have a direct say in the running of clubs, the truth is it will rely on changes from within to make progress. Through GA’s club and facilities support manager Paul Vardy and his outstanding contacts and resources, we can reach to any club and offer guidance and advice, but we can’t push through change anywhere.

What needs to happen is that women – and men for that matter – must speak up on internal issues, even if that requires external help. There is no place for inequality that is ingrained so deeply that it becomes problematic for members, female or male, to express an opinion.

And don’t for a second think the problem lies purely with stuffy old male board members. No less than Webb herself was at pains during her recent press conference at the Women’s Australian Open to point out that rusted-into-place female board members were just as big an issue at some clubs.

I had this made perfectly clear to me recently when I had the good fortune to play a social round at a Melbourne club with a mate alongside a visiting husband and wife from another capital city, which will remain nameless so nobody gets in trouble. They were happy to hear of the push for female inclusivity as we chatted and were the perfect example of what golf could be as they tripped around Australia together with golf clubs in the boot.

But Jane actually shocked me when she told us that one of the clubs at which she was a member at home had a women’s board that she roughly equated to 1950s standards of social norms. She told us, among many issues, that they refused to move their club championship from the traditional Wednesday slot because “that’s when we play it”, so “you women who have to work” can play among yourselves at weekends and “run your own weekend championship” if you want to. She told us the men didn’t mind when women played, but said there were fewer than five women who even wanted to be a part of the club, outside the older clique, because they were made to feel as welcome as a hole in a lifeboat.

Imagine trying, with all our best intentions, to set up a meaningful junior girls’ clinic at that club! And therein lies a key part of the problem.

Jane, I got the sense, enjoys that course as much if not more than the other where she holds membership, but point blank refuses to bring any potential golfing mates out to play for fear of the social issues and awkwardness it would clearly generate. That is a disgraceful situation, particularly given that it’s being suffered by a woman bold enough to travel around Australia and play at different clubs – that is, one who should be among the “poster girls” for the changes we are trying to drive.

I’m not sure how they can’t see it, but those women – and other men and women like them – have become so entrenched in their own little empires, that they’ve taken their collective eye off one of the very reasons that they probably joined the club – any club – in the first place. That is, to have a sense of mateship and belonging.

That club, or at least the female component of it, will cease to exist in the medium term if newer and younger members aren’t found and nurtured.

I’d like to think that’s common sense, but apparently it’s anything but.

The real change will come when people are encouraged to bring in new ideas for each club’s progress and, at very least, have them heard. Nobody wants anything railroaded through an old tradition, but please, ladies and gentlemen, this is really important.

Help us to encourage women to feel at ease in clubs AND in boardrooms around Australian golf.

We can only win together.