THE election of Fiona Reed as president of Flinders Golf Club is being seen as symbolic of significant changes occurring in golf in Australia.
When she was elected for a three-year term late last year, Reed was the first woman to hold the post for almost 90 years.
Celebrating its 120-year history, the club is credited with electing the first-ever woman president of a club in Australia, Helen Bowie, in 1934.
Reed says she would become see the day when having women in executive positions becomes normal and without any raising of eyebrows.
In the context of attracting women and girls to golf, there was no doubting how important it was for the game to have women in leadership roles.
“I think I’m absolutely the right person for this job,” Reed, a member of the Golf Leaders Network, said.
A recently retired human resources executive and 25-year Flinders member, Reed advised the club during the pandemic and helped conduct a governance review in 2021.
The club requires all sub-committees to have at least two women as members and the club committee must be at least one-third women. Its women’s committee was disbanded in 2019.
“The challenge [for golf clubs] 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 marginalised. 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,” Reed said.
Flinders is above the national average with women making up 30 per cent of members. It has no restrictions on time sheets, no women’s or men’s days. The club captain can be of any gender, although it has never elected a woman as captain.
Women comprise 80 per cent of participants in the club’s pathway program for new golfers, with many going on to become members.
The club will soon consider introducing gender-neutral tees.
“I’ve heard [Golf Australia chief executive] James Sutherland speak three times in the last year … and the world of golf is changing,” Reed 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.
“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, said Flinders Golf Club’s appointment of Reed showed its “commitment to advancing the opportunities for more women, girls and families to play, enjoy and work in golf”.
“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.”
* Martin Blake is media and communications for Golf Australia