By Helen Larkin

THIRTY years ago, I worked for a large insurance company which had two corporate days a year – women were invited to Oaks Day and the men to play golf at a prestigious Melbourne sandbelt course. 

As a new employee, I told my manager I wasn’t interested in horseracing but was a keen golfer. It was met with an incredulous look but, to his credit, he arranged for me to play. I was the only woman. 

Fast forward to the 2020s and I see little evidence of change. 

Golf is still primarily the business of men and in most clubs more than 80 per cent of members are male. Corporate days include very few women, if any, and even the 2023 Victoria Open pro-am included only a handful of female amateur golfers. 

It is hard to read front page headlines such as “Should women be allowed to play off the men’s tees?” (Inside Golf, January 2023). Commentary that is often passed off as “just a joke” is not funny to either women or well-informed men.

So, what has changed in recent years? 

Golf Australia’s Vision 2025 recognised the malaise in women’s golf and the need to lift participation levels for women and girls, and there are some wonderful initiatives doing just that. 

The Australian Women’s Golf Network offers opportunities for women to use golf as the vehicle for business networking, as men have been doing for generations. 

The Golf Leaders Network actively promotes and supports women into leadership positions in the golf industry. Bonnie Boezeman, founder of the Junior Girls National Golf Scholarship Program, is doing a fantastic job providing pathways for girls into golf. 

One look at the Golf Australia Visionary of the Year awards shows the effort and determination of many clubs to attract women to the game. These programs have been at the instigation of strong and resolute women who were sick of the status quo and acted to bring about change.

One of the most prominent initiatives at a club level is the establishment of women’s pathway programs. A simple online search reveals that many clubs are trying to increase their percentage of women members. 

The work of Nikki McClure at Kingston Heath is testament to how you can increase women’s membership up to 30 percent by designing tailored programs specifically for women.
These programs need the buy-in of all members who see the value of more women at their club.

This work is being celebrated and shared by women such as Karen Harding, an award-winning golf journalist. Even the last bastion of the golf industry – golf course design and maintenance – is changing. 

More women are working as grounds staff and course superintendents and are coming to prominence as course designers and architects.

Canadian golf course architect Christine Fraser provides fascinating insights into how courses are designed for men, with women as an afterthought, and how golf course design can contribute to diversity and inclusion within communities.

It continues, however, to be hard work to get equal representation on golf club committees – not because clubs don’t welcome it, but because there is such a small representation of women, the same women are being asked to put up their hand. 

The answer can only lie in increasing the participation of women at club level. And, by the way, language is important. If we want to talk about gentlemen playing golf, then we can talk about ladies’ golf. But we only ever talk about men’s golf, so why do so many men struggle to use the term “women’s golf”?

Golf is a fabulous but challenging game, with so much to offer. 

It shouldn’t be harder due to gender-based membership imbalances. I feel lucky to be a member of 13th Beach Golf Links which, over its 22-year history, has always provided an equal experience for members, regardless of gender. 

It has pioneered the unique format of the Vic Open, where men and women play at the same time on the same courses for the same prizemoney, and where the Victorian Inclusive Championship and the Australian Wheelchair Golf Championship are played. Our club is working hard to increase the percentage of women members.

I wonder that, if I find these issues hard, as a white middle-aged woman with what many would consider a privileged background, how we can make the advances we need to ensure we attract not only more women, but more people of diverse backgrounds.

Let’s not devalue, by gimmicky and sensationalist commentary, the great work that is being done by women and men across Australia to attract more women into golf. You cannot be what you cannot see.

Helen Larkin a member of 13th Beach Golf Links on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria and a strong advocate for women’s golf. 

About Inside Golf

Australia's Golf News Leader, Inside Golf gives you in-depth coverage of Australian golf news, golf events, golf travel and holiday destinations, Australian and international golf course reviews, the hottest new golf gear and tips and drills to improve your golf game. Written by award-winning journalists, Inside Golf also features interviews with Australia's top professional golfers, the game's rising stars, industry leaders and golf equipment manufacturers. You can even win great golf prizes and equipment. It’s all in Inside Golf. FREE at Australian golf courses, driving ranges and golf retailers across Australia.


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