The golfing ladies of St George – in south-west Queensland – don’t mind being referred to as Dragons as long as the reference is in a respectful tone.
And respect – even esteem – is something one of the few remaining golf associate organisations in Queensland has most certainly earned at a time when numbers of female golfers in many country areas are on the decline.
But at St George Golf Club In the past few years average weekly playing numbers have more than doubled as common sense has triumphed over protocol and, in some cases, even the rules of the ancient game.
“It’s all about us being inclusive, not exclusive,” says vibrant associates president, Bindy Mace.
“While some clubs in our area often struggle to stage their Monthly Medal because of a lack of numbers, we have been regularly getting as many as 20 ladies play every Tuesday. Our numbers are on the increase and it is such a wonderful feeling to be bucking the trend.”
Bindy, who has been president since November 2016, credits the start of the player boom to her successor, Cheryl Brimblecombe.
“Like many of us, Cheryl was worried about the lack of numbers so she became proactive, and made the club inclusive,” Bindy revealed.
“She encouraged ladies in the district to come and play golf. She was determined and very persuasive, and she refused to put any barriers in their way.
“And when I succeeded her as president I immediately bought into her philosophy.”
That philosophy was to attract new players, but not make them feel pressured. There was no expectation to become a member, or even play with members. The concept was to come along, join in the fun and for the new players to judge whether they enjoyed the experience.
Non-members are charged $5 for each round and can play weekly for up to 12 months without becoming a member. Other ‘rules’ changed for the learners allows them to tee up on the course for all shots, not count air swings and while their names appear on the scoreboard after each round, scores are included only if the player agrees.
“We do not want anyone to feel embarrassed about anything. Enjoyment and being made welcome at our club is the major criteria,” said Bindy.
“We allow the new members to bend the rules so they can enjoy their game, but at the same time we make them aware of the rules of golf.”
And the arrangement has worked an absolute treat. Of the eight locals who most recently started as learners, six have become members.
But while free lessons – courtesy of a grant from Balonne Shire Council – has been part of the encouragement package for the new players, weekly social get-togethers after golf has been another attractive lure.
Local coffee shop DeliCate, whose owner Claire Mackey has subsequently started playing golf, agreed to keep the full café menu open for the players although they often did not finish playing until well after 2pm. And Bindy says almost without exception all players, every Tuesday, attend for a couple of hours of fellowship.
“Our clubhouse is not staffed and we do not have those kind of facilities, so DeliCate has become a perfect social hub for the girls,” she said.
Of the 145 current members of St George Golf Club, 53 are female. And the mix is eclectic, from 93-year-old treasurer Blanche McNally to former scratch marker, Kym Webster.
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Most, however, are retirees or wives of farmers, and one member is so committed she drives 120 km each way to play in the Tuesday competition.
“The average age of our group is probably around 55, so most of us are in the more mature age group,” Bindy explained.
“But my belief is that you don’t stop playing golf because you are too old, but you do grow old if you stop playing golf.”
Another associates-driven success is the annual Particularly Pink Day, an Ambrose event held to raise money to help fund the local breast care nurse. The special day is held each March and has been changed from a two-person Ambrose to a three-person event to cater for the increase in numbers.
Now in its 11th year, the charity day attracts up to 70 players and local businesses encourage their staff to take time off to play. Historically, the Pink Day raises around the $2000 mark.
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