03 May 2021 | Women and girls |

Neangar Park’s golf philosophers

by Golf Australia

VOTY April winner Neangar Park
Jenny Brown holds the club’s 'Even Par' plaque as Neangar Park partners with Golf Central Victoria to host a women’s clinic.

Our April Visionary of the Year winner has been chosen...

Congratulations to the team at Neangar Park Golf Club for their holistic approach towards long-term systemic change.

The club has won a $500 Drummond Golf voucher and is now in the running to win up to $10,000 worth of products from the latest Callaway REVA product range, designed specifically for women. Our overall Visionary of the Year will be voted upon and announced towards the end of the year.

Here’s their story...

They might not count Aristotle or Confucius among their membership, but there seems to be some very learned philosophers at Neangar Park Golf Club.

Well, in Golf Australia’s eyes, anyhow!

So let us introduce to you some of these enlightened thinkers from the progressive Bendigo-based club that is doing wonders in central Victoria.

This club of 700 members has some brilliant minds, viewpoints and ideas.

You cannot be what you cannot see

Following the Golf Australia Vision 2025 roadshow, several Neangar Park members discussed the number one issue facing many golf clubs – an ageing and declining women’s membership.

“We were ready and willing to go,” said Neangar Park Club Manager Joe Sinnott.

“We started planning with our pro and Mark Bamford from Golf Australia the very next day.”

The team started work on the club’s five-year strategic plan that had a focus on Vision 2025 and linked in with their existing EVEN PAR action plan.

“The process had us look at the make-up of our board and then around at each other. It was obvious we were operating in a male-dominated environment,” Sinnott said.

“You cannot be what you cannot see – and while our club has long had women on the board, they have often been a lone voice in a male-dominated environment.”

Evidence suggests that to be strong and sustainable, clubs must incorporate both male and female members in leadership roles.

Sinnott concurred: “To be effective, we needed a minimum of three females on a board of our size, which is nine people. So we implemented evidence-based action and adopted a new constitution and board structure.

“Our constitution had only been updated once in our 90-year history, so at first it seemed a daunting task. But in fact, the process was a lot easier than expected.”

The new constitution, based on the Golf Australia Victorian golf club template, was overwhelmingly endorsed with 97% of members supporting the notion at a special general meeting.

“We were nervous because a few of our long-term members had voiced their concern that the women’s allocations would never be filled,” Sinnott said.

But when it came time for nominations, the four positions were filled very quickly.

“This was an important learning for us that the voices you hear are not necessarily the majority and that this should not hold you back from being innovative.

“I think positions were filled easily because our club demonstrated its commitment through tangible action. We have created opportunities and women are acknowledging it is the time to give it a go.”

One member willing to accept that challenge was Jenny Brown.

“Upon retiring a few years ago, I was asked to sit on the women’s committee. The following week I learnt I was to become the next women’s captain – a rapid promotion!” Brown said with a laugh.

“It was not long until I started asking why we have a women’s committee working in isolation from the rest of the club.

“I would often hear phrases like, ‘the men’ and ‘the board’, but did not know what was happening with these segregated groups of people.

“How do you act as one club if you have different committees that didn’t share minutes of meetings with each other?”

Revising the constitution and board structure has been the biggest achievement in Brown’s eyes.

Rather than disbanding the women’s committee and losing their knowledge, passion and skillset, the women’s captain and presidency roles were elevated to board positions. The club terminated the captaincy role, instead choosing to have two captains – a women’s captain and a men’s captain.

Both captains also sit on the revised match and major events sub-committee, which had previously been separate for men and women.

The new board structure now includes three positions for men, three for women and three non-gender-specific roles.

“This sends the message that all golfers are equally important. If women want to have more power and influence in the club, we need to have an equal voice,” Brown said.

“Now that I’m a member of the board, I have a better understanding of all areas of the club and women are being heard. For example, in the past, the club captain’s report tended to focus on men’s golf as the position was always held by a man. As the women’s captain sitting on the board, we are now influencing club culture.

“It may seem our board quota is primarily looking after women, but we are now looking after everyone, equally.”

There is no need for gender in golf

Another champion of change in the club is Phil DeAraugo, who’s in his ninth year as club president and been instrumental in positive change at the club.

DeAraugo explained: “Our newer members do not see ‘gender in golf’ the same way that some more established golfers do.

“Many just assume that social play and club competition is non-gendered as gender neutral golf has become the norm here.

“We are golfers first and foremost, not male golfers and female golfers.”

This is in line with the club’s “one club – one membership” philosophy. There are no male and female versions, simply memberships.

The club also runs “any tee, any gender” competitions.

“We have taken away the men’s and women’s tees and instead have had four coloured courses rated. Players simply nominate what colour tees they wish to play from each time they play,” DeAraugo said.

“It does not matter what gender or ability people are, the world handicapping system sorts all of that out and makes for a fair playing field.

“Some women believe they can’t compete with the men, who they assume hit the ball miles, get out of bunkers first time and hole every putt. However, the great thing about golf’s handicap system is that it works. Our evidence shows that women win their fair share of prizes, week in, week out. In saying that, it is still a work in progress.”

The club has put in place a special measure to retain the popular women’s Wednesday competition and have dedicated timeslots throughout the week. Men also can play in their own competition each Wednesday, which runs alongside the women’s comp.

A welcoming experience in affordable, accessible and inclusive golf for all

There is no silver bullet when talking about gender equality in golf, but Neangar Park Golf Club demonstrate the importance and effectiveness of tackling this challenge from all angles.

The club is reviewing course lengths to better suit a range of golfing abilities, different coaching options and an increased focus on ensuring women and girls are included in club promotions.

This is to complement the investment the club is making in the construction of a new driving range and nine-hole pitch-and-putt course, both of which are aimed at introducing more people to the game of golf in a cheap, quick, fun and less intimidating format.

Said Sinnott: “While we have achieved a lot, we are still at the beginning of a long and incremental transition.

“Club culture and good governance is critically important. It requires excellent communication skills to enable members to participate at all levels of the club and for potential leaders to be identified, mentored and given a voice. Succession planning is critical to this.

“In short, we want our club to provide a welcoming experience in an affordable, accessible and inclusive environment for all.”

Golf Australia provides a free service to support and guide clubs through change management and strategic planning. Find out more about how you can embed Vision 2025, gender equality goals into your planning at the Vision 2025 section of the Golf Australia Website. Alternatively, get in touch with your Clubs & Facilities Support Manager or Regional Development Officer here, who will be only too happy to assist you.

Learn more about Visionary of the Year and read other monthly winning stories here.

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