The growth of women’s golf in Wales

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick December 30, 2020 13:41

From members of clubs to volunteers and employees at them, and at the elite level, women’s golf in Wales is growing exponentially.

One of the many positives to come out of the surge in golf club memberships in 2020 was that the demographics of the new members has been precisely what golf clubs have been trying to attract for years. In particular, the new golfers were younger than the average golf club member, while data from the US found that a disproportionate number of the intake was female.

In Wales, as with much of the UK, attracting women to golf clubs has been a priority, and one that has been seeing success at all levels. At the membership level, Wales Golf’s ‘New2Golf’ schemes have played a crucial part in seeing female membership of golf clubs in Wales rising.

Including women only groups for the coaching sessions, which lead onto time on the golf course and attractive membership offers, has proved an important element of the New2Golf schemes.

North Wales Golf Club assistant pro Robin Hughes runs schemes at his home club and across five clubs in North Wales through his SWISH golf and fitness programme.

“Across SWISH we have eight groups a week, averaging 10 to 30 people at every one,” he said.

“We will have three coaches at the sessions so there is plenty of variety with putting, irons and driving.

“We have three groups at North Wales with around 50 people – this year we have had 40 new people joining New2Golf.

“We try and take away as many as possible of the barriers to golf to make it easy for women to come, whether that is equipment, confidence or making sure we socialise afterwards with a soft drink or a prosecco.

“The dress code is relaxed coming to coaching and ladies do feel they can ask the pros anything.

“We have fun sessions and we will go out on the course, provide plenty of variety, and the feedback is very positive.”

The New2Golf schemes run all around Wales, with South Pembrokeshire another club reporting successes.

“We were keen to try New2Golf as part of the club strategy to attract new members and that is when we started working with Wales Golf,” said Donna Grimwood, chair of marketing at South Pembrokeshire Golf Club and Wales Golf’s ‘Volunteer of the Year’.

“We were looking at ways of moving the club forward and that is what started the ball rolling.

“It is aimed at men as well, but last year there were more ladies. There were more than 20 ladies , some the wives of members, some looking to play more in retirement and some who work together, who decided to give golf a go.

Donna Grimwood

“It has been a great success and something we are looking to grow as much as we can and possibly start another group.”

Donna also believes that women volunteers around Wales help golf clubs become more inclusive.

The increase in numbers of female volunteers has helped change the make-up and approach of golf clubs, with females and families playing a large role in golf club membership growing across Wales, she said.

“Golf is changing, certainly in the three years I have been involved, it is much more inclusive,” she said.

“The club has always been very welcoming. When I started the directors were all male, but that has changed, Mel John is house manager and there are five ladies on the club committees, including people on the greens committee and match and handicap committee.

“There are seven of us on the marketing committee and five are ladies.

“We have been working towards getting the R&A Women and Golf Charter and that has helped bring home how inclusive we have become.”

Wales Golf director of development, Hannah McAllister, added: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of every golf club and the women volunteers are an increasingly important part of that.

“It helps to encourage more women and girls into the game if there are female volunteers already involved.

“We know that women and girls golf membership is going up in Wales and actually the rate is exceeding our targets. Women volunteers are a big part of that.”

Welsh golf clubs are seeing a rise in female employees as well as volunteers, according to Wales Golf, where two of its three senior management roles [Gillian O’Leary is the first female director of performance in UK golf and one of the first in Europe, working alongside Hannah McAllister] are now held by women.

Natasha Gobey

Natasha Gobey is one of the many female club pros in Wales, based at Bryn Meadows Golf Hotel and Resort in Gwent.

“I have not found a downside to be a female club pro, it didn’t feel different to me, but I find there is a big impact for ladies coming into the game who feel more comfortable with a female coaching them,” she said.

“I started playing when I was 11 and just loved the game, I was always sporty and was able to improve as a player.

“Training as a PGA professional was really good, you learn a lot. My advice for anyone looking for a career in golf coaching would be to go through the PGA route.

“It is important to get that qualification and get as much experience as you can because you never stop learning.”

At that professional end of the game in Wales, it has been an interesting year as it has for everyone.

Six amateur internationals had the chance to play alongside the likes of Solheim Cup players Georgia Hall, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, in the series of events inspired by former US Open winner Justin Rose and his wife to plug the gaps in the schedule because of coronavirus.

“It was a fantastic series which allowed professionals and amateurs across the UK to sharpen their games and get back to competitive golf,” said Gillian O’Leary.

“It was especially beneficial for our young Welsh female amateurs who were kindly invited to these events. It was not just playing in these events which helped, but being able to be around the professional golfers and seeing how they go about their business.

“One thing they can take out of this summer is a chance to take a break and re-assess where they are both on and off the course.

“We did a series of Q&A sessions with both female and male Welsh professionals who kindly gave their time and shared insights from their experiences, to allow our amateur players to learn what works for them and others in their position. That is a huge positive people can take from this.

“It has been a difficult summer for everyone missing tournaments. The coaches and everyone involved are desperate to be back helping the players.”

The Rose Ladies Series was also beneficial for several Welsh professionals. Chloe Williams registered a tied second place in one event, while both Amy Boulden and Becky Morgan were tied fourth along with other strong finishes.

BARNET, ENGLAND – JULY 30: Kath O’Connor of Wales plays her tee shot on the sixth hole during The Rose Ladies Series at The Shire London on July 30, 2020 in Barnet, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

The mental health of the leading players in Wales is a concern for the governing body, and this applies to the women just as much as the men, and perhaps even more so during a pandemic.

Dr Charlotte Williams

Dr Charlotte Williams is a sports psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, who is also the mindset coach for the Wales Golf ladies and girls programme, working under Cardiff Metropolitan’s Dr Rich Neil who is responsible for the overall sports psychology at Wales Golf.

“There are quite a few things we are currently putting in place as well as those already in existence,” she explained.

“The first thing is a parent project, supporting parents through the elite pathway and the junior development programme to help spot the symptoms of poor mental health.

“We are making sure the parents then know the relevant helplines and referral routes.

“We have also seen education of the coaches and support staff to see the signs of any issue, so the players have those groups in place to make sure they have the support they need.

“With the girls there is an emphasis on how we put their well-being alongside their performance. A lot of them are academic, so it is not just about golf but balancing school with golf, developing a social side, so there is a lot of help with planning.

“They feel they have more control over what they are doing if there is a balance.”

While these plans have been put into place over a few years, sport across the board has not always been focussed as much on elements other than performance.

“I think some of the focus in previous years has been on either performance or well-being and supporting the mental health of the athlete,” said Dr Williams.

BARNET, ENGLAND – JULY 30: Jordan Ryan of Wales plays her tee shot on the second hole during The Rose Ladies Series at The Shire London on July 30, 2020 in Barnet, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

“The media coverage we have had in sport in general shows the importance of looking at mental health in sport. Recently sports have started to have more of a focus on that.

“The detrimental effects on the athletes in the reports coming out is not something that can be ignored or should be ignored.

“We are lucky that the coaches and the organisation in Wales Golf give us the platform and have embraced the approach making the players as people the priority.

“There is also research that shows if the well-being is supported then that will enhance the performance as well.

“There is still an element of being afraid of talking about such things because of concerns over selection, but that is something I want to break down and we are really encouraging the girls and women to be aware of well-being.

“It is more important for coaches and others to understand the situation fully, so they can provide the support to help performance and well-being.”

BARNET, ENGLAND – JULY 30: Carys Worby of Wales plays her tee shot on the sixth hole during The Rose Ladies Series at The Shire London on July 30, 2020 in Barnet, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

There are differences in the pressures in ladies sport, which Dr Williams also acknowledges.

“Female sport in general has less media coverage, fewer sponsors, so there are financial pressures in golf which do not apply in the same way in some male sports,” she said.

“There is extra stress on young women looking to turn professional, so there is a link to anxiety over funding.

“Some of the girls competing on the elite stage might be as young as 14, trying to manage school and a social life.”

There are rewards for them though, from many of the different roles women in Welsh golf are now securing. Gillian O’Leary was an Ireland international at junior and ladies levels, before following the academic route into elite sports management via the Golf Union of Ireland as a part time job while in university and then onto a full time career with the Irish Ladies Golf Union and now Wales Golf.

“Early on I did not see golf as a long term career, but I love the role [as director of performance], working really hard to try to add value,” she said.

“I think anyone who is passionate about golf should consider it as a possible career. Young girls should not be put off by what the situation would have been in the past. If you work hard at it then you can make a career in golf.”

 

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick December 30, 2020 13:41
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1 Comment

  1. Neil F January 2, 16:37

    That’s smashing, always good when Femsle golf expands, well done Wales.

    Prosperous New Year

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