28 Apr 2023 | Industry news |

Driving change in golf

by Martin Blake

Fiona Reed image
Fiona Reed at picturesque Flinders Golf Club, where she is the President.

Fiona Reed is symbolic of the significant change that has come over golf in Australia.

When she was elected President of the magnificent Flinders Golf Club on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria late last year, she was the first woman to hold the post for almost 90 years.

Flinders has a history in this space; the club is credited with electing the first-ever woman President of a club in Australia, Helen Bowie, in 1934.

Women taking up leadership positions including as club presidents are becoming more common. Nikki McClure is President of venerable Kingston Heath, Sue Hosking recently completed a stint as President of Victoria, and Royal Sydney recently elected its first woman President, Lucy Regan, in a history spanning more than a century.

Fiona Reed would like to see the day when it assumes a notion of normalcy, that not a single eyebrow would be raised at any level.

Certainly in the context of the modern drive to attract women and girls to golf, there is no doubting how important it is for the game to take women into these roles.

“I think I’m absolutely the right person for this job,” said Reed, a recently-retired human resources executive and 25-year Flinders member who advised the club during the depth of the pandemic and helped conduct a governance review in 2021 around the time she joined the club’s committee.

Flinders, a storied club with stunning views over Bass Strait, is celebrating its 120th year in 2023.

It not only has a woman as President, it requires all sub-committees to have at least two women as members. The club committee must be at least one-third women, and there is no women’s committee (it was disbanded in 2019).

Many clubs are pondering the need for a women’s committee when they have embraced women on the board, a topic on which Reed has some views. “The challenge is, how do we engage women in a meaningful way? If we engage them in an unmeaningful way, my view is that’s counter-productive. We just have women’s committees who are marginalized. If we have women’s committees who are doing stuff that is not regarded as mainstream at the club, I don’t think that helps.”

The overall percentage of women members at Flinders is 30 percent, well above the national average, and there are no restrictions on time sheets, no women’s day or men’s day. The club captain can be of any gender (although Flinders has not yet elected a woman as captain).

A few years ago, Flinders introduced a pathway program for new golfers which is 80 percent populated by women. The club has a high rate of conversion to membership.

Soon, Flinders will consider introducing gender-neutral tees as is the modern way.

Reed sees only more change coming in all of golf, which she believed has been too old-fashioned in approach. “I’ve heard (Golf Australia Chief Executive) James Sutherland speak three times in the last year on this, and the world of golf is changing,” she said.

“Not everyone wants to play the standard competition rounds of golf, scrambling to get on the time sheet. Lots of people want to play different forms of golf, they want to play with their friends. James talks about having fun and I think people new to golf do want to have fun.

“When I reflect on my own experience, I’ve only really played golf for 10 years, I’m a sportaholic and I’m good at things that I play, but getting good at golf takes not only a lot of effort but it takes some mental fortitude.

"To go out and play 18 holes when you’ve never hit a ball before, that’s an extremely daunting experience. This is as true for women as it is to anyone who’s new to golf. Being supportive in setting up the scaffolding around new golfers is really, really important, and I think that’s just as true of men as it is of women.”

Flinders has been successful in using different membership models, and this is the way forward for clubs, according to Reed.

“I think there needs to be an offering a range of different experiences. It’s not ‘one size fits all’. It’s not that you’re only a member of the club if you play Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the ‘comp’. If you sign up with your friends on Wednesday for a hit, or whenever you play, you’re all valuable.

"Now, that’s a mindset shift. But the very conservative, old-fashioned approach to golf is one we need to get away from to get more women involved.’’

Tiffany Cherry, Head of Women and Girls Engagement at Golf Australia, applauded Flinders Golf Club for its leadership. “Flinders Golf Club's commitment to advancing the opportunities for more women, girls and families to play, enjoy and work in golf is evident in the work it is doing through a variety of programs and action undertaken, including providing diversity of thought through the appointment of Fiona Reed as its President. “There is a growing movement of clubs taking positive action in this important space, which is evident in the uptake of nearly 50 clubs, to date, becoming signatories to the R&A Women in Golf Charter -- a statement of intent from the golf industry to unite and to focus on gender balance.”

Fiona Reed has a three-year term as President of Flinders GC. She is a member of the Golf Leaders Network, which brings together many of the women in leadership positions in Australian golf.

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