Photography credit - John Russell, Golf Victoria magazine
Community Role Models: Megan Carr, Golf Victoria
For the best part of the last century, the way golf has been structured and played has largely remained unchanged. 18 holes, handicaps, dress codes and more often than not, only Men’s competition on Saturdays.
But in the quest to increase membership and grow female participation, how we play and understand a social game of golf is undergoing a fascinating transformation.
Megan Carr, Regional Development Officer at Golf Victoria, is leading the charge to change perceptions of the sport and entice women and girls to become involved in the game.
Working with club committees for the North East, Goulburn Murray and Dalhousie golf districts, Carr’s task involves growing the game for men, women and children and rethinking ‘the way things have always been done’.
“We know women have different needs and wants than men, and one of the main barriers I found when I began to play was that an 18-hole game of golf took a really long time.”
It clicked with Carr that the slow-paced and often time-consuming sport of golf didn’t align with the image of the busy mother or a modern-day Australian female professional.
“Females often put a lot before themselves - making sure the kids are alright, making sure the house and the husband are alright before they start to think about their own recreational time.”
“One of the ideas that we’ve begun to investigate is more relaxed programs where you can play by the hour and then fit in as many holes as you can within that timeframe, so you know your time commitment.”
“We want new people to feel like it’s okay if they just want to play socially for three holes and we can put a group around them that also want that, so they get the social aspect of the game and they can progress at their own rate.”
Originally from Sydney, Carr moved to Shepparton 15 years ago where she worked with the Shepparton City Council for the Active After Schools Committees Program and developing community coaching under the Australian Sports Commission’s ‘Play for Life’ initiative.
Up until taking the job at Golf Victoria, Carr had only played golf occasionally, having previously been heavily involved in soccer as a five-time A-Grade premiership winning player in Sydney, before collecting another nine premierships in Shepparton’s open women’s division, many of them as captain or coach.
As a relative newbie to the game and with a young family of her own, Carr was able to look at the system with fresh eyes and was able to experience what it was like to enter a club as a new member.
“We really looked at how we can make women feel welcome in a new club environment, and this includes their culture. What’s the first thing a new person would see when they come into the club? Do they push membership? Do they push competition golf? What social opportunities exist?”
“Through research what we found there’s lots of women out there that don’t want to play competition golf and some clubs don’t offer anything else. So we began to think more laterally, how else could we get women involved?”
One of the innovations Carr has encouraged clubs to investigate is opportunities for shorter social games as well as programs that focus more on fitness and fun rather than the state of your scorecard.
One example of this is Golf Australia’s SwingFit program, which is aimed at active-minded women that are interested in the health benefits golf can provide.
“It can be a lot of fun – and it’s very social.”
“You can wear lycra to the golf club, there is a bit of pilates and yoga involved, with a bit of golf that only goes for an hour and a half.”
“We position it as more of a recreational activity than a structured sport.”
But Carr isn’t willing to stop there when it comes to thinking outside the box.
“SwingFit can be done indoors, do we take the program to the community rather than expecting the community to come to the golf club? Do we link up with a local gym and introduce ladies to golf that way? These are the things we really want to test.”
Though Carr admits that trying to change the ideas and perceptions of how a club should be run isn’t always an easy task, especially when talking about smaller volunteer run clubs.
“To be honest there is a little resistance sometimes, and you hear things like ’we’ve tried that before and it hasn’t worked’.”
“But the way I approach it is to find a key driver within a club and knows that this change needs to happen and knows we need to offer something a little bit different.Getting them on board and getting them to buy in to what we’re trying to do is crucial.”
One of the most significant developments in the strive for a level playing field is the recent amalgamation of the male and female districts in the North-Eastern region.
“It’s been fantastic because they’re both able to share resources and support each other.”
“Even recently the male president of the district attended and supported the women’s championships – whereas in the past that was really unheard of.”
Elsewhere in the Goulburn-Murray district, the women’s winter pennant is being run on a Sunday where previously it was only run during the week, with the move to the weekend giving working and studying women and girls the chance to compete.
Other examples of success in the region include the Euroa Golf Club’s ‘Giggle n Golf’ program which featured modified rules and club member coaching, as well as Trentham Golf Club’s beginner ladies’ clinics which saw 26 new women introduced to the club.
With females currently representing only 20% of the participation figures of the sport nationally, it’s hoped that these initiatives will open up new opportunities for women and girls to get involved in the sport.
“We’ve already come a long way in a very short time… It’s exciting to think where we can take it.”
In golf terms, finding your way out of a deep bunker requires careful planning and precise execution. In sport business it’s much the same. Carr and the many champions across the state are working hard to bring about bring equal representation in Victorian golf in the hope that one day men’s and women’s golf will be on par.