17 Nov 2022 | Women and girls |

A Chance to Excel - Scholarship Reaches Arnhem Land

by Golf Australia

Left to right: Holly Hughes, Ivana Karkadoo, Emelia Kowcan, Chelsea Smith, Maia Epiha.
Left to right: Holly Hughes, Ivana Karkadoo, Emelia Kowcan, Chelsea Smith, Maia Epiha.

For six girls living in one of the most remote locations in Australia, to simply walk into a shop and purchase golf equipment means travelling 1,000km to their nearest shopping centre.

The Australian Golf Foundation (AGF) Junior Girls Scholarship Program is helping girls and their families overcome the challenges of living remotely and is giving them the opportunity to excel.

Gove Country Golf Club in the north-eastern corner of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory is the furthest northern golf club in Australia and to play at a neighbouring club, golfers need to endure a ten-hour journey, in a 4-wheel drive, which is only accessible in the dry season.

Gove has a rich history of successfully engaging girls in golf and this is primarily due to the work of volunteer club committee member and community golf instructor Esther Rika.

Having three daughters who she has nurtured from humble beginnings in MyGolf through to college golf, Rika understands the challenges golf has in retaining girls.

“Golf is one of the more affordable sports in Gove,” she said. “However, it's the first sport youth will drop for other sports on offer, especially team sports.”

This has been evident with two of the current scholarship recipients being re-engaged with golf through the scholarship program. They had learnt golf through the club’s MyGolf junior program at around age eight but then dropped out of the sport.

“The AGF Scholarship Program has positively enabled our past MyGolf participants to re-engage with golf in a more purposeful way,” said Rika.

Designed to retain tween and teenage girls in golf, the scholarship program is transforming the individualised sport of golf into a team bonding experience.

One Indigenous scholarship recipient who cherishes such a group experience is Ivana Karkadoo.

Ivana, who dreams of one day being a professional golfer herself, says “the best thing about the program is that I get to meet up with the other girls and Miss Esther. We have a fun time, we learn about golf, we work hard.”

Ivana’s mother, Julie Heslin, shares her daughter’s feelings about the benefits of the scholarship program.

“The scholarship program has given girls in remote NT the opportunity to excel by having the same opportunities as other girls,” she said.

“It has been great seeing the girls build relationships with each other and have an outstanding mentoring and trusting relationship with their coach Esther.”

With Ivana and fellow scholarship holder Emilia Kowcan both excelling, Esther hopes to inspire other Indigenous girls to start playing golf at the club and across the region.

Along with inspiring others, Esther values what the scholarship program is bringing this year’s cadets.

“We can often feel separated here. However, having a scholarship gives the girls a sense of pride, they wear their uniforms with joy and value being a part of something bigger than just our local club,” she said.

“Golf is uniting the girls. They are excited by the opportunity to connect with other scholarship girls around Australia along with feeling part of a golfing family here in Gove.

“A dream for the girls is to connect with and visit an urban AGF Scholarship Centre to create that face-to-face connection with other girls just like them.”

Benefits associated with AGF funding do not stop with the girls. Through her greater commitment to golf in the scholarship program, Holly Huges now finds her mother also playing, and 2021 graduate Erin Miles who regularly plays golf has inspired both her parents to obtain handicaps.

The Scholarship program is acting as a great launchpad to not only have a profound impact on girls, but their families, club, and local region.

It is proving volunteers like Esther who play an integral part to growing grassroots golf support to both attract and re-engage girls in golf.

“It highlights that anything is possible no matter where you live in Australia, and with the right support, amazing things can be achieved!”

Esther Rika with 2022 scholarship recipients and Erin Miles (2021 recipient).
Esther Rika with 2022 scholarship recipients and Erin Miles (2021 recipient).

"The best thing about the scholarship program is just doing golf and having a go.” - Emilia Kowcan.

“The best thing about the scholarship program is being able to play golf with other kids.” - Maia Epiha.

"The best thing has been learning. I feel like I am better now because I have extra lessons on Thursday. My goal is to get better and play more golf with dad.” - Chelsea Smith.

Australian Golf Foundation is the national foundation for golf in Australia. The AGF supports Golf Australia’s vision to grow golf by investing in targeted initiatives to inspire all Australians to enjoy and play the game. Visit australiangolffoundation.org.au for further information.

Australian Golf Foundation is thrilled to partner with NEXTGEN Group as the principal partner of the AGF Scholarship Programme in 2022, with significant further support provided by Golf Australia, Golf Victoria, Victorian Golf Foundation, Golf Queensland, Golf South Australia, Golf Tasmania, Golf Western Australia, Western Australian Golf Foundation, Golf Northern Territory, Jack Newton Junior Golf, Golf Management Australia, WPGA Tour of Australasia and PGA of Australia, as well as a number of additional generous private benefactors.

The scholarship program has come to fruition thanks to the foresight and generosity of Bonnie Boezeman AO, Director of the Australian Golf Foundation, who originally established the program at Killara Golf Club, NSW.

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