Australian Golf

Two Aussie Women Share What It’s Like To Wade Into The Ultra-Masculine World Of Golf

When I think of golf, I associate it with men — specifically, the old, rich and white variety. Some bright polo shirts, pressed trousers and ritzy country clubs are also in the picture. None of it exactly feels welcoming to women, does it? 
The stats reflect it too. In the past few years, Australia has seen a rise in golfers across the nation, and yet, the number of women participating is dropping — and has been steadily for decades. In 1970, women made up 34% of golfers in the country. By 2021, that figure had fallen to 19%.
And it’s not just golf. Women are under-represented in Australian sport at all levels — as participants, coaches, officials and board members. On a professional level, coverage of women’s sports still pales in comparison to men’s. Many women have to work a job outside of their professional sport for financial stability.  It’s an issue that Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s former Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, referred to as the ‘grass ceiling’. 

Why are women so under-represented?

Studies have found that there are many barriers to participation in sports for women and girls. Everything from lack of time and looking after children, to personal safety, access to woman-friendly facilities, body image (made worse by uniforms), lack of self-confidence and sexual harassment can prevent women from taking up a sport.
If we hone in on golf specifically, these barriers are especially apparent. And that initial gut reaction we have about not belonging on the green makes sense — it's been a space that traditionally hasn't welcomed women and girls. Across the country, golf clubs have literally restricted women's access by limiting their entry to women's comps or reserving weekend tee-offs for men only.
Low visibility of women in male-dominated sports can also further hinder women from feeling welcome and in turn, not participating. And so the cycle continues on…

What is it like walking into a male-dominated space?

April Finney is a keen golfer from Sydney who picked up the sport nine years ago, but distinctly remembers how nervous she was when first giving it a go. She felt like she wasn’t going to be taken seriously and struggled to participate in group conversations — they were all about golf, and she didn’t know the sport well enough at the time to join in.
“I found it quite intimidating, as a lot of the men would watch me taking my shot (and still do)," Finney tells Refinery29 Australia. "I think because there weren’t many young girls in the club, they wanted to see if I was any good (spoiler alert: I wasn’t).”
Finney has also come up against a few rules that have a lot of catching up to do. As a new mum, she tried to take time out from her club for maternity leave but found it isn’t a category of leave that exists, given the low number of people who require it.
“It’s something I tried to push the club to add as an option, to help foster inclusion and attract younger women to the club (unfortunately, I was unsuccessful)," says Finney. "While it may not seem like a big thing, paying a high ‘non-playing’ fee just to keep your membership while you go and have a child could definitely be a blocker for younger females wanting to join. I know I felt excluded and disheartened when trying.”

So, how are things changing? 

In recent years, there has been a push to encourage more women to play. Golf Australia launched its Vision 2025 strategy at the start of 2018 before updating it with its Women and Girls Strategy last year to tackle gender imbalance. It includes guidelines from the Australian Human Rights Commission for golf clubs that ensure equal opportunity for women and girls. 
A big component of the strategy is showing young girls what they could be capable of within the golf world — like becoming executives and Olympians. Last year, the Australian Open, which is the biggest golf event in the country, took on a new format that broadcast men, women and all golfers of all abilities competing on the same courses, at the same time and for the same amount of money.
Clubs have also been urged to hire more women executives and board members, and provide equal access for men and women to play on all days of the week.
Tammy Soglanich (who you may have spied on Luxe Listings Sydney) echoes these changes, noting there are now more incentives for women to join and connect with other women on the course.
Finney is already starting to see a shift at her club with free clinics for beginners and shorter wait periods for memberships. In fact, she met Soglanich there.
“Most clubs are encouraging more females to get involved at reduced membership fees to even out the field," explains Soglanich adding that "there are also ladies' comps and ladies' open days, where members can bring female guests for a round".

According to Soglanich, these changes are slowly becoming more noticeable around the club she plays at. "There seem to be more younger women hanging out around my club," she says. "While it’s nowhere near 50/50 between males and females, there is most definitely an increasing interest from women getting involved in the sport."

What’s in it for us? 

Whether it’s through years of associating the sport with men doing business, or gawking at the time the game takes, for women like me who are looking in from the outside, it can be hard to grasp the appeal of golf.
For women and non-binary folks considering having a swing, both Finney and Soglanich agreed that it’s a great way to meet and connect with people. 
“I encourage everyone to get involved. Even if it’s just getting to a driving range with friends. It has so many health benefits on top of being a great way to meet others. The best part is, it’s a sport you can play well into your 70s and 80s,” says Soglanich.
“The key thing that initially put me off golf was the length of the sport,” says Finney. “I must admit, it took me a little while to have the stamina for more than nine holes. But now, I love being out on the course. It’s so calming. I find golf so good for my mental health, as someone who has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for a long time, it’s a great way to get out in nature and ground yourself.”
An equal playing field may still be a way off, but Finney and Soglanich's stories give us hope that we might be moving in the right direction.

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