The women inspiring other women to play golf

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick November 9, 2023 13:13

As women’s participation in golf has soared in the last few years, here we look at five women with very different roles who are using their love of golf and what leverage they have to promote the game, particularly to women and girls across Great Britain and Ireland.

The pandemic saw a surge in golf participation across the world – and the rate of growth was faster among women than men.

In Great Britain and Ireland alone, about 15 percent of adults who played on a nine-hole or 18-hole golf course in 2019 were female. By 2022, this percentage was 20 – more than 1.1 million women.

Off-course, the figure is even higher. More than 16 million adults play forms of golf such as adventure golf, pitch and putt, on a driving range or via a simulator, the PGA has found, and of those, 47 percent are women.

The professional golfer

One woman who has been playing a lot more recently is Sahra Hassan, who had not picked up a club for six years after finishing as a touring professional on the Ladies European Tour (LET).
Hassan fell back in love with golf thanks to a social round with her dad and the Wales Golf Midnight Ramadan programme.

She is now working at 2010 Ryder Cup venue Celtic Manor.

In 2012 Hassan was the UK Muslim Sportswoman of the Year, awarded by the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation and presented at Wembley Stadium. She was also an ambassador for the Asian Sports Foundation.

Born and brought up in Newport, she twice represented Wales at the World Cup, came second at the European Nations Cup and won the Welsh Amateur Championship.

The highlight of her professional career was top three at the French Open in 2013, plus three top 10 finishes on the LET, being a consistent performer in the pro ranks for eight years.

Hassan says she is not just a role model for Muslim girls looking at taking up golf, but also for people from all backgrounds.

“I walked away from golf for six years after finishing on the Ladies European Tour in 2015,” she said.

“Golf has been a big part of my life and always will be, but after being on tour for eight years it did not excite me towards the end.

“One year I finished top 20 on the Order of Merit. On the men’s tour that would have meant earning £1.8 million, but it was just £90,000 on the LET because there is such a massive difference.

“After the break I played a round with my dad after six years of not touching a club. I triple bogeyed the first hole at St Pierre, but then was level par for the rest so I enjoyed the social side and could still play.

“Then came the Ramadan Golf, where Wales Golf organised the chance to play on the range around midnight after breaking our fast in the evening during the month of Ramadan.

“That was a really good idea and got me going as well, enjoying it. There were more girls this year whereas the first year it was just myself, my sister and my cousins.

“I was lucky growing up in that my family encouraged me to play golf and tennis. I had a choice between the two and chose golf. My sister Myriam also played for Wales and went to the US on a golf scholarship.

“There are a lot of girls in the Muslim community wearing head scarves, hijabs, who think they cannot play sport, but they can play any sport as well.

“I am seeing more Muslim girls playing. It can be tough from a background of some strict families, but you do not have to be white, black or brown to play, golf can be for everybody.”

Certainly, Hassan has a lot of experiences to pass on to other golfers. “My experience is as a touring pro rather than a teaching pro, but I think in the next few years I might look into the idea of going that way.

“It depends on where I can go with Celtic Manor. I am happy with what I am doing and maybe there will be the chance to go into teaching.”

The golf club president

Aisling Mhic Cumhaill is Gweedore Golf Club (Galf Chumann Ghaoth Dobhair) in Ireland’s first ever female president.

“It’s a big honour for me but there is no one person that runs the club,” she said.

“There is a huge support from both the female and the male committee. It just shows how progressive the club is.

“This is just the second year and it is a two-year term. We are celebrating our centenary at the club and it just shows how inclusive the club is and how respectful they are of all members.

“They are progressive and not afraid to do something different or try something else.”

Mhic Cumhaill never had that female golfing role model in a similar position when she was younger but she has broken a glass ceiling now.

“It’s really important,” she said.

“Then they see that women should be playing golf. It just shows that the club is progressing and inclusive. That golf is for females and males. When you see someone playing, if Aisling can do it, why can’t I go down and play.

“It’s a bit of a craic but I think it’s really important too.

“The ladies here are very good to me. They always looked after me and took me out. I was always encouraged.”

The social media influencer

From Alexandra O’Laughlin to Mia Baker, the women’s golf influencer game has exploded in recent years, with Instagram a clear pathway to grow your brand and build a career in the sport.
Ireland lagged behind for years in that regard but golfers like Kim O’Neill have bucked the trend and after breaking the 30,000 followers marker, she is excited about a future full of opportunity.

The 26-year-old began to build her profile during the pandemic and she overcame her perceived insecurities to make her dream become a reality.

“It’s incredible to actually hit 30,000,” said O’Neill.

“Never in a million years, to be honest, did I think my page would ever grow that far and that many people would be interested in my journey but it’s incredible and I hope it continues to grow.”

O’Neill is from Cork and only picked up the game after Covid-19 struck – golf gave her the chance to play sport again.

She was sports-mad growing up, she played soccer, camogie, Gaelic football, tennis and horse riding but injury cut short any chance of a career on those fields.

“I was about 15 or 16 when I injured my left knee and they just said if I got another bad tackle like that again it could do the cruciate, so I was a chicken when I gave it up,” she joked.

“Basically, what happened was I was on the goal-line and someone stood on my knee where it would bend on the inside and it strained something in there.”

Nevertheless, her father, Declan, and brother, John, were on hand to get her out playing golf for the first time.

They went to the local Frankfield Driving Range and straight away O’Neill was hooked.

“When I first tried it, it frustrated the heck out of me, it actually drove me crazy because it’s so hard,” said O’Neill.

“So, I think because it’s such a difficult sport and it’s so hard to be good at, that’s kind of what hooked me. As soon as I realised I could hit the ball and I had good enough distance I was just completely hooked.

“Especially with the difficulty level you really have to try hard to be good at it and, not to sound cocky or anything, but I was OK at other sports, nothing was ever too difficult for me.

“But golf caught me on the hop, so I think that’s why I was drawn to it.”

O’Neill had found her calling and together with a full-time marketing job she began to put some time aside for a new venture.

Being a visual learner, she was videoing her swings and with a bank of content to go to, the next logical step was to transform that into her own journey online.

However, she knew no one had attempted what she was about to do, and the thought of putting her videos out to the rest of the world to judge, scared her at first.

“I texted one of my friends and was like, would I be a complete weirdo if I did this and she was just like no, go for it,” said O’Neill.

“I was, like, sure, look what’s the worst that can happen, I can just chuck some stuff up and it might help other people, it will also help me to review my own swing and that was it really.

“But I definitely was scared at the start. I am a shy person and always have been, growing up, it’s only now I’m really starting to come out of my shell and become more confident and golf is the reason for that.”

That mindset is something she believes is inherently ingrained in young Irish people, and girls in particular, hence the lack of women operating as golf influencers on Instagram.

“There are some negative comments that will come along with that as well but I filtered it out pretty quickly, I set up a monitoring tool on the page that would block inappropriate comments because I know that a lot of my audience are younger and some are beginner golfers and I don’t want that to impact them as well,” she explained.

O’Neill was determined to find a community to integrate with at home in Ireland, and she has, with the likes of Eimear McManus, who works with the KPMG Women’s Irish Open and Jenny Hennessy from ‘Chicks with Sticks’.

She is continuing her pursuit, looking to grow the influencer game here, and while she maintains her consistent output of content on Instagram, she is getting more competitive on the fairways too.

“There’s a lot of Irish people that are surprised to see an Irish girl golf Instagram page because there are so many from the US, there are so many in the UK, there is no one in Ireland doing it at the level that I’m trying to do it.

“I would love to see more and more young people playing golf, for me it would just be to continue with the page hopefully still having an impact, getting to play more courses, getting better at golf.

“I mean, ideally in the future I could make golf my full-time job.”

The celebrity

Hollywood actress Kathryn Newton is using her star power to support The R&A’s drive to make more people aware of the benefits of playing golf and inspire new audiences to take up the sport.
Newton, 26, has previously starred in Big Little Lies, The Society, Golden Globe and BAFTA award winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and returned to big screens around the world in Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Having amassed 2.4 million followers on social media, the global development ambassador for The R&A uses these platforms to post about her love for golf and what she enjoys most about the sport in order to encourage fans to pick up a golf club for the first time through the development initiative

She started playing golf aged four, competing at the age of eight and now plays off a handicap of four.

Newton said, “I love playing golf and really want to show everyone why it’s such a good sport so that we can get them playing too. Golf is a chance to be outside, spend time with friends and be active. There are so many great things about the sport and I can’t wait to share them with my audiences.

“Last year, I was lucky enough to play some holes with Georgia Hall, who has won the AIG Women’s Open, which was so inspiring. These women are such incredible athletes.”

Phil Anderton, chief development officer at The R&A, said, “Golf has experienced a surge of interest with participation rising worldwide and so we need to capitalise on this opportunity for the sport by continuing the momentum. It is why we are working closely with Kathryn and our other ambassadors to position golf to millions of people as a fun activity that can be enjoyed by everyone, while debunking some of the unhelpful perceptions that exist.

“Kathryn is an avid golfer who is enthusiastic about getting more people into golf and we are grateful for her commitment towards supporting our aim of ensuring golf is thriving 50 years from now.”

The volunteer

While the Seniors British Open at Royal Porthcawl was taking place this summer, in the background was one of the volunteers helping it all happen.

R&A referee Pam Chugg is a member of Royal Porthcawl, as well as Whitchurch in Cardiff, so being able to officiate one of her own courses in such a high-profile event featuring Padraig Harrington and eventual winner Alex Cejka was something special.

Former professional player Chugg, aged 68, has given back to the game in many areas, in several volunteer roles, for over 25 years.

In that time, she has been a key player in many different ways in Wales and the Ladies Golf Union (LGU), before continuing to make her mark with The R&A and being recently appointed to the R&A Amateur Championships Committee.

She is a former Welsh Amateur champion and Wales international, who played professionally for five years before retiring to help her husband in setting up and running a business in fruit and vegetable shops.

After regaining her amateur status, Chugg was again selected for the Wales team. After finishing her playing career, she moved to more administrative roles.

Chugg served as a committee member on the Welsh council for ladies’ golf during which time she was chair of training for the international teams.

Subsequently she served on the LGU council as one of the Welsh representatives and again took on the role of chair of training for the GB&I international teams. In 2006, her final year at the LGU, she was appointed as chair.

“I have been involved in many ways, but all voluntary,” said Chugg.

“I enjoy refereeing the home internationals, I loved playing in them and then captaining Wales and I still know a few of the players.

“I have refereed all sorts of events for the LGU and R&A involving professional and amateur boys, girls, men and women and recently I did the Seniors Open at Porthcawl, refereeing the final match.

“It was nice to do that, as I don’t get to referee at Porthcawl very often. The weather was hideous but the course was fantastic.

“At the Vagliano Trophy in Royal Dornoch this year the weather was terrible there as well, so I am used to it.

“When it comes to refereeing at these events it is useful to have been a player in amateur and pro events myself because I may have a little bit more of a handle on what’s going on and how the players want to be treated.”

Chugg won the Ladies Welsh Amateur Championship in 1978, before turning professional the following year, is a founder member of the WPGA and played on the circuit for five years. The WPGA paved the way for the LET of today.

After regaining her amateur status, she returned as an international player before moving into leadership roles of junior and then ladies’ teams.

“I did the referee’s course at St Andrews in 2000 for the first time,” she said. “I was captain of Wales Ladies and had the opportunity to do the Rules School at The R&A which I thought would be useful as captain.

“I was captain of Wales for three years and when I went onto the council of the LGU we would referee at all the ladies’ and girls’ events. I carried on refereeing for the LGU after finishing on the council.

“Then when The R&A and the LGU merged in 2017 a few of us transferred onto The R&A rules panel and continued refereeing at tournaments and International matches.

“So I have done a lot of different things – but they have all been voluntary. All these events just would not work without the volunteers and it keeps me out of mischief.”


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick November 9, 2023 13:13
Write a comment


  1. JHall November 15, 11:37

    And me…..
    I’ve been using my Weekly Wellness morning to try New-to-Golf at Tenby Golf Club Limited

    I need to keep up with the rest of my family

    Reply to this comment
  2. Medi8 November 14, 12:01

    Fantastic to see some names we don’t often see highlighted here

    Reply to this comment
  3. THE GOLF FOUNDATION November 14, 09:35

    A great read. The rising participation of women in golf is a testament to the sport’s inclusivity and the growing recognition that there is an appetite for it. It’s just about having the right opportunities in place.

    Then there’s the careers, roles and wider opportunities element…

    Reply to this comment
  4. Gorvett November 10, 11:33

    Insight into the roles women can have in the game we love!

    Fantastic to see some exposure on two great Welsh women and their work within golf.

    Sahra Hassan & Pam Chugg, former Welsh internationals and still dedicating their time to the game through Wales Golf Midnight Golf in Ramadan and refereeing at our events.

    Da iawn and Diolch

    Reply to this comment
  5. Lizzymiller November 9, 15:41

    I’m a member of the Women’s Golf Community run by The Jazzy Golfer. It seems strange not to mention this fabulous initiative or her in this article.

    Reply to this comment
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