For those who play – or who will play – our great game with intellectual or physical disability, with language barriers or fiscal concern, those that are junior, senior, male, female, elite, social, metropolitan or regional, let there just be one word: golfers. KAREN HARDING looks at how inclusion is part of the changing face of golf.


So, let’s talk inclusive golf. 

Why is it so important? Because sport in any form is an important part of human society.

Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. Nelson Mandela

lets all just play together

This is especially true of our sports-mad country. Kristen Hilton, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, speaking at the Equal Opportunity in Golf short seminar at Huntingdale Golf Club in March, noted that: ”Sport lies at the heart of Australian cultural identity.” 

Research from the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) indicates that 92% of Australians are interested in at least one sport, and six sports on average. Sport is also omnipresent in the media, receiving more coverage than any other subject.   

It stands to reason, then, that in a world – and in a country – where sport is so important and, increasingly, diversity is being embraced, golf needs to be accessible to all. 

For Christian Hamilton, National Inclusion Manager at Golf Australia and Golf Victoria, inclusion has a simple definition. “Inclusion means everyone. It’s about coming up with ways of including marginalised and minority groups in the community and it’s about including them in how they participate and how they want to participate.” 

Hamilton, who has been in his role for 18 months, was initially primarily engaged in the area of disability inclusion but his focus has since expanded. 

“We are embarking on a national inclusion research project at the moment in which we are looking at current participation of multicultural, indigenous and disability populations in golf around Australia.”  

The result of the study, being conducted by Sport Business Partners, is due out in May. It will provide quantified evidence of the huge opportunity for golf clubs in this space. 

Hamilton believes that inclusive golf has a twofold benefit to golf. “It is not only important that we give everyone in the community equal access to our sport, there is a huge value proposition for clubs to be more inclusive. It is well known that membership is starting to stable out now. Clubs have been looking for new players and the sport has been looking for growth. 

“With 51% of the national population now identified as CALD (Cultural and Linguistically Diverse communities in which people either speak English as a second language, have parents who have migrated to Australia or have migrated themselves), this is a huge audience we haven’t previously focussed on.” 

Add in potential increased participation from indigenous peoples, people with disability, and females and the scope for growth in golf becomes staggering. 

One of the advantages for golf in the inclusion area is the design of the sport itself. Golf is a game in which players of different abilities, different genders, different age groups, and of different cultures, languages and nationality can play with each other comfortably. The game for all – the game for life – is protected by the handicap system, by course ratings, by different tees. It is also protected by the Equal Opportunity Act of 2010, which makes discrimination in sport against the law. 

To that end, Golf Victoria has produced two documents to address equal opportunity and inclusion in golf. The Equal Opportunity in Golf guide to preventing sex discrimination in sport and club membership, produced in conjunction with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and supported by Golf Australia and the ASC, and Inclusion and Modern Governance in Sporting Clubs, produced in association with the ASC, were unveiled at a presentation to golf clubs and interested parties at Huntingdale Golf Club in March. 

lets play together

With the major emphasis on gender equality, speakers included Hilton, Stephen Pitt, CEO of Golf Australia,  Dr Bridie O’Donnell, Head of the Office for Women’s Sport and Recreation in the State Government, and Richard Redman, Senior Consultant at the ASC.

Golf Victoria CEO Simon Brookhouse said the role of the documents is to help golf clubs be aware of their obligations under the Act and of the possible consequences for breaches or lack of compliance. 

Topics including examples of where discrimination may occur, reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities, a variety of scenarios that may occur in golf clubs and how they should be handled, the future roles of women’s sub-committees, the introduction of Member Protection Information Officers to golf clubs, and “special measures” – measures which at first glance may appear to be favouring one subset of people over another but are, in fact, designed to redress the existing imbalance and bring the groups to parity –  and exceptions and exemptions to the Act are all discussed. 

But in Hamilton’s view, we can do even more at a practical level. He would like see options for golfers extended further.

“We can present the sport in a way that caters for all. We would not be suggesting, for example, that all people with disability must play off the forward markers. There might be people in this category who want to hit off the back markers, or women who want to hit off markers that are further back, or there might be older golfers or new beginners who want to play from forward markers because their game isn’t where they want to be. We have that facility and we should take advantage of it.

“Basically, it is about the individual’s experience with the game.”

With that in mind, clubs are being encouraged to bring down some of the barriers to help marginalised groups to play. Items such as cost, language issues, a non-welcoming environment, difficult dress regulations, or not having a choice in how to participate at a golf club are all things that need to be addressed. 

For Victorian clubs, there is a model to follow in Moore Park Golf Course and Driving Range in NSW, which has taken steps to understand and relate to its community. With a high Chinese population in its surrounds, Moore Park has an icon on its website which can convert the information to mandarin. According to Hamilton, the little things that say “welcome” can have a huge impact. 

“The really good thing for golf is that, especially in the multicultural space, if they do engage in sport, they generally bring their whole community with them. “

There is a lot of momentum in the world of golf at the moment and much of it is in the inclusion area, with attention centred around catering for the needs of the under-represented populations -females, CALD, indigenous and Torres Strait Island golfers, and persons with disability.

To Hamilton, it’s just the start. “This is a bit of a stake-in-the-ground moment for the sport. We are saying, it’s enough good enough yet but this is how we’re going to behave and this is how we’re going to change and this is the way we are moving forward. I think there are a lot of really good things happening around the country. We just have to keep the momentum up. That’s the key thing.”

Coming together is a beginning. Keeping it together is progress. Working together is success.  Henry Ford.

First published in Golf Victoria magazine, April-May 2018 issue

Photo credits: Golf Victoria magazine

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Tee for Two is produced on the Traditional Country of the Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation in Victoria and extends its respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.