A global movement in sport is underway and everyone needs to take action.
It began when The R&A launched the Women in Golf Charter in 2018, intending to inspire an industry-wide commitment to developing a more inclusive culture within golf. Then, in early 2019, Sport Ireland introduced the Women in Sport Policy. Inspired by this, a working group from Ireland’s governing bodies for golf decided something was needed to ensure the sport was prepared to join the journey.
Currently, just over half of female golfers are full members of their clubs, compared to 81% of men. Additionally, 110 of nearly 400 golf clubs in Ireland currently meet the gender balance on management committee, that is documented in the Golf Ireland proposal (30% men, 30% female, 40% either male or female).
Anne McCormack of The Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI), along with Chief Executives of the GUI and ILGU Pat Finn and Sinead Heraty, considered this research and in mid-2019, Level Par was established.
“Level Par is a four-pillar programme for golf, inspired by the Sport Ireland Women in Sport Policy and The Women in Golf Charter,’ explains McCormack.
“It centres on establishing fairness for all, in the areas of Leadership and Governance, Coaching and Officiating, Active Participation and Visibility.”
The statistics speak for themselves:
- Girls represent 2% (3,600) of total club membership, while boys represent 9% (16,000). On average, there are 9 girls and 41 boys per club and 127 clubs have no junior girls.
- Of 368 golf clubs, 55 (15%) have greater than 30% female membership.
COACHING AND OFFICIATING
- Less than 3% of PGA coaches in Ireland are female.
- One female PGA is Level 3 qualified.
- Ireland has 42 female Level 3 Rules Officials. Seven have international experience.
LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE
- In 54% of clubs, the Chair of Management defaults to the male Captain.
- No golf club has yet implemented The Women in Golf Charter.
- The ILGU has 27,000 fewer followers on social media platforms when compared to the GUI.
- Significantly less golf media coverage relates to female golf when compared to coverage of male events.
In a survey of female Club Vice-Captains in 2019, 61% believed that there are opportunities for them to join their club management committee. It remains however, that just 4% of clubs have ever had a female Chairperson, Honorary Secretary, Treasurer or President. This begs the question, is the major hurdle a lack of confidence, opportunity or both?
A recent example of a club implementing a change to their governance structure occurred at Banbridge in Co. Down. Members approved a constitution change which focuses on ‘equality, continuity and sustainability’. One notable development was the abolishment of gender-specific fees. Male and female members will now pay the same full member fee. Members will be treated equally in all aspects of club life and be free to take up positions on the club management committee. The Captains heralded the decision as ‘the right way to go forward.’
Of Sport Ireland’s €3 million funding allocation to women in sport, CGI received €200,000 (the second highest of any sport) to part fund Level Par in 2019 and 2020. However, why is an initiative like this needed in the first place?
“Women are underrepresented across the four pillars,” McCormack points out.
“Acknowledge the number of female coaches for example, less than 20 of a workforce of 600 PGA Professionals in Ireland are women. The evidence states the average number of girls at a club doubles where a female PGA professional is present – you begin to realise that everything is connected.”
Over six months into the programme, various aspects of Level Par have begun, including The Level Par Coaching Programme, GolfSixes and The PGA Activators Programme.
Additionally, a record sixteen of seventy-five Rules Officials at The Open in Royal Portrush last year were women. ILGU Officials Ann Brown, Roma English, Claire Hourihane, Orla Kirby, Barbara O’Keeffe and Anne O’Sullivan included. The next step will see Level Par Leadership and Governance programmes begin in 2020.
Overall, the hope for Level Par includes a five year commitment where fundamental activities become ingrained into club culture.
“Historically, golf in Ireland has been governed by two bodies, one for male players and one for female players,” continues McCormack.
“The fact that we are now moving towards a single governing body in itself will play a huge part in shifting the culture of the sport. It is in everyone’s best interest.”
How seriously Sport Ireland and The R&A are taking their commitment to equality outlines how meaningful it is for the future of sport. Additionally, the importance of insuring Level Par does not become a case of ‘male versus female’ has been noted by all involved.
“We are very aware of the challenges that face us as a sport. Culturally we are a very male dominated sport with a current gender ratio of 5:1. However, those challenges create a great deal of opportunity and over the coming years, we aim to bridge the gap.”
The phrase ‘Level Par’ itself is interesting and focuses on equality for all.
“We need to highlight that we’re not looking for women to get any more than men. We want equality, but these initiatives are essential as females have been underrepresented in all aspects for the past 125 years,” said McCormack.
How powerful an initiative like this can be has been demonstrated by the 20×20 Campaign. Launched just 14 months ago (Oct 2018) from a point where 4% of sports online coverage was dedicated to women’s sport, it was highlighted early in 2020 that over two thirds of people aware of 20×20 watched more female sports in 2019 than they did before.
Golf’s governing bodies believe Level Par can have a similar impact in a golf environment and the opportunities are very exciting.
“If you’re just hearing about the plans for Level Par, consider what impact you can make. Each conversation we have sparks action,” concludes McCormack.