In the last 20 years, an increasing number of women have undertaken significant roles in golf administration. It’s time for a contextual look at how they’ve been viewed along the way.

Within weeks of each other in 2017, Andrea Moore became Captain of Kew Golf Club and Lyn Swinburne became President of Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

Each was the first female elected to their role in the history of their respective clubs. For two of the oldest clubs in Victoria – Royal Melbourne founded in 1891 and Kew in 1894 – these were historic appointments. They were also appointments made with considerable merit.

Moore was appointed in late May this year – a captain at a captain’s club – after three years as vice-captain, another in a non-specified position on the then General Committee, and after having been involved with several club committees in her earlier role as women’s captain. She brought to the table that extensive club knowledge plus a strong corporate background in agricultural science and finance.

andrea moore

Andrea Moore

Swinburne took over as President at Royal in late June, a president at a captain’s club. She, too, spent some time in club groundwork, specifically four years on Governing Council before becoming council’s nominee for president. Swinburne has considerable experience in corporate governance. She founded the Breast Cancer Network, which officially launched in 1996, and has sat on a number of boards including the Royal Women’s Hospital. Amongst other accolades, she received the Centenary Medal in 2003, was a finalist in 2006 in the Australia of the Year awards, appointed a Member of the Order of Australia the same year, and in 2007 was named Melburnian of the Year.

Moore and Swinburne join a growing band of women who have taken on significant roles on boards and general committees at Victorian golf clubs and, like their peers and predecessors, they come highly credentialled for the task.

It is believed that the first female to assume a leading role in a Victorian golf club was Helen Bowie, President at Flinders in 1934. The redoubtable Bowie, club champion there in 1936, was also a surgical nurse and bacteriologist and had been deployed to France in 1915, following the outbreak of WWI, after a 12-month trip to Europe during which she “hoped to have the opportunity of increasing her bacteriological knowledge and of trying her golfing ability against that of golfers of other lands.” (The Age, 1915)

Bowie set something of a precedent, not only with her club presidency but by having a profession in a time when most women did not. Fast forward over half a century to today’s female club presidents and captains, where the landscape for women in the workforce is vastly different and society is becoming more used to the genderless concept.

Of course, there have been humps and bumps along the way but it would seem that the ground is a lot smoother now, particularly with all clubs needing to keep their numbers up. Both Moore and Swinburne, and their peers at other clubs, acknowledge that their appointments have been well received, that the emphasis has been on their being nothing other than the best person for the job.

golfer Sandy Jamison

Lyn Swinburne

Swinburne said: “I think as a community we are growing up and understanding what’s really important,” she said. “While it takes time to bring about change, I think if you get the right person in that spot, it becomes a very secondary thought.”

This has also been the experience for Gai Skinner, President at Midlands since April, Kathy Bell, Captain at Thirteenth Beach, and Geraldine Livingstone, Chair at Riverside, where significant cred underpins their appointments.

Skinner is an accomplished golfer who has also served on the Ballarat District Committee in numerous roles for 22 years. Bell, a three-handicapper, is a senior detective in the police force, while Livingstone, whose background is in IT and logistics, worked for major companies in senior roles.

Both Skinner and Livingstone are the first women to undertake their roles at their clubs and Bell is the second at hers. All three head up committees which are confined to golf activity only, the governance side being in separate hands.

Sandy Grassroots 1club

Alison Holden

General acceptance was the case for the first captain of a metropolitan club, Joan McCafferty, who took over at Keysborough, a captain’s club, back in 1996. The attitude at Keysborough was more egalitarian than most of that time. The club had just come through a particularly difficult time financially and it needed to get back on track. It was a case of modernise or go under.

Passionate about her club and a low-handicap golfer who has been a course record-holder, multiple club champion and long-time pennant player, McCafferty stood for committee from the floor in 1993 and was elected. Her tireless commitment saw her returned annually for eight successive years.

Alison Holden’s entrée into golf club governance around the same time, however, was less smooth. Initially anyway. Huntingdale, unlike Keysborough, was financially stable and comfortable in its traditional committee set-up. When Holden announced her inclination to stand for general committee, the reaction from some members ranged from shock to verbal abuse. From both men and women.

Holden’s resume included being the first woman elected to the Professoriate at Deakin University in the Faculty of Business and Law, giving her significant experience in management and strategic planning, two years as treasurer and councillor at Women’s Golf Victoria, club champion in 1981, pennant player since 1962, and considerable understanding of the ramifications of the Equal Opportunity Act of 1985 which changed the ways clubs operated.

“I didn’t want to get involved just in women’s golf, I wanted to get more involved in the management and the strategic planning of the golf club,” she said.

Fortunately, the membership ultimately recognised her outstanding credentials and she became the first woman voted onto General Committee, in 1995, and in 2002 the first woman president not only of Huntingdale – a president’s club – but of any sandbelt club.  

From there she proceeded to be on the interim board of the newly amalgamated Golf Victoria before serving on the board of Golf Australia.

In 2007, two female presidents were introduced at their clubs for the first time – Anna Mason at Kew and Lee Wills at Woodlands, a president’s club.

Mason, a low single figure marker, was well known in golf through her many golfing accomplishments. A strong proponent of equality in women’s golf, she was part of the lobby for women’s pennant to be moved from Friday to Sunday and campaigned successfully for changes to clubhouse dress regulations.  Like her peers, Mason served on General Committee prior to becoming the first female president at Kew in its long history, some ten years before Moore was appointed Captain.

Wills, a highly respected figure in education, was amongst other things former deputy principal at Ruyton Girls School and Head of Junior School at Lauriston and also sat on a number of councils and boards. Like Holden, Wills went on to become a Golf Victoria board member, and was approached to consider the board of Golf Australia.

Two years after Wills and Mason, in 2009, Heather Scales was elected President at Commonwealth, regarded generally as a highly traditional club. Scales had been the first female elected to General Committee in 1998, having been on Ladies Committee from 1994 and Ladies Captain from 1995.

It was a sign of the changing times but, again, based on merit. A school teacher, Scales possessed qualifications in Business Administration, seven years on Tournament and Match committees with women’s Golf Victoria and was highly equipped for a leadership role.

Through the years there have many others– happily, too many to name here – at the helm of smaller metropolitan, country and Victorian Golf League clubs.

There is a common thread here, started by Bowie. That capability is what counts. It’s an attitude that is seen more and more abroad as well.

The USGA is currently headed up by Diana Murphy, the second president in USGA history after Judy Bell in 1996-97. And just this year, Cathcart Castle GC in Scotland appointed Jane Alexander as its first female Captain in its 123 years while Hindhead GC in Surrey announced Ruth Hartley its first woman president of its 112- year-old club.

Perhaps the most telling comment on women being involved with their clubs at senior level comes from Phil Grice, General Manager of Royal Norwich Golf Club in Norfolk which, in 2016, appointed women to all its key positions – Angela Loveday as Captain and Cherry Bishop as President, in addition to their Junior Captain Jasmine Campbell and Ladies Captain Janet Clare.

“We have appointed the best people for these roles,” he said. “It is a shame that this is considered groundbreaking.”

Grice’s sentiments were echoed by outgoing Captain at Kew, John Doggett, and current Captain at Royal Melbourne, David Thomas, in welcoming Moore and Swinburne to their new appointments.

lee wills

Lee Wills

Still, groundbreaking it is. There is always an extra dimension in being the first to achieve something. Perhaps the best way to see “groundbreaking” appointments is not so much an end to the past but the pathway of the present as it leads to the future. That where one treads, others are encouraged to follow.

But there’s a good-news-and-bad-news aspect to this. Well, homework anyway.

A surprising amount of the apprehension encountered by women in leading roles at golf clubs has come from fellow women members. A lot of this has to do with a conditioned perspective. Previously, the only channel for women to board decisions was via the women’s committees, largely via the secondment of either the women’s president or captain speaking on their behalf.

Even now there is lingering confusion amongst many women, still not completely comfortable that women’s committees are sub-committees and that these days their voice can be heard directly in the boardroom.

“In most of our board discussions, gender is irrelevant,” Moore said. “The days of women being treated as people without a voice or any power are long gone, at Kew at least. Everyone is a member and we all have a vote and are entitled to an equal say.”

Wills, who spent her tenure at Woodlands as the only female board member, maintains that most male board members are keen for more women to stand for office. “I think there is growing acceptance but while they would like more women on the board, they are not always confident in encouraging them. If we’re going to ultimately have more women in senior positions on golf boards, we’re going to have to have more than just the lone woman here and there.”

In some clubs, this is happening.

Scales on Commonwealth since her presidency: “The women were and are aware that this was quite ground-breaking. We have managed to increase the number of women elected onto Committee from my time and it is now being accepted as the norm.”

True, but the looming landscape may provide another obstacle. One of the major challenges for current club leaders is the participation level of women.

Ironically, as the dynamic of women in golf clubs has shifted and there is greater acceptance of them in golf administration, clubs are finding that there are fewer women under 50 playing regularly or joining clubs and therefore fewer candidates for board roles.

Holden noted that, “I think there’s more young people playing as juniors now but somehow or other we’re not capturing them at later stages because they go to university and then they go and work. The percentage of working women is so high that I think there’s a big issue in women’s golf brewing and that’s the fact that we are completely missing out on the 20 to 50-year-olds.”

Sandy Grassroots 1club

Nikki McClure

How this plays out remains to be seen, but certainly the opportunity is there now for the taking. And much of that can be attributed to the coterie of accomplished women who have paved the way for others to follow.



POSTSCRIPT: Since this story was written in 2017, more women have entered significant leadership roles in golf clubs around the country. One of them, Nikki McClure, the first female president at Kingston Heath Golf Club in its 113-year history, speaks on episode 7 of Tee for Two podcast.

First published in Golf Victoria magazine August/September issue 2017

Photo credits: Golf Victoria magazine

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