By Serrin Bertino
Our July Visionary of the Year winner has been chosen...
Congratulations to the team at Woodlands Golf Club for their whole-of-club and rounded approach to increasing women and girls’ membership. The club has won a $500 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...
In 2019, Woodlands Golf Club in the Melbourne Sandbelt had fallen behind the rest of the country in the number of women and girls who were members.
The club’s women’s membership (playing category) was fewer than 150 – equating to just 16 percent of total playing membership.
Four years later, this has increased to more than 200 – 26 percent of total playing membership.
How has the club achieved such an increase?
General Manager of Woodlands, Cameron Tortolano attributes this exponential increase to the dedication and focus of members and staff, plus the wider golf industry.
“So many of our club members and staff are passionate about women’s golf and are tackling the matter in many ways.” he said.
“I also believe what we are seeing is a tell-tale sign of the movement around increasing participation in women’s golf and women’s sport in general.
“There is momentum and I think women are starting to get the message that golf is a sport for them.”
The club’s 2024 strategic plan has guided work done over recent years, and the adoption of the R&A Women in Golf Charter now provides an even clearer path.
“Having women and girls as one of the main pillars of work in our strategic plan has helped inform our decision making and the charter is now assisting us to enhance our work and keep us accountable,” said Tortolano.
Two women who recently came through the club’s Get into Golf Women’s Introductory Program (WIP), help lead this work by contributing their knowledge and skillset on the club’s board.
“Both Deanna Wittey and Joanne Dutton were encouraged by a departing board member to join the board,” said Tortolano.
“Deanna was completely new to golf upon starting the WIP here, and Jo was returning to golf after having a family.
“They are both very successful businesswomen whose expertise and diverse background fits in well with the board skills matrix.
“I think people often think you need to have been a member for a long time to join a club board, however fresh eyes and various playing levels brings new ideas.”
As a signatory, and a commitment to benchmarking women’s board representation, Woodlands is aiming to formalise the position of women’s captain to sit on the board, long-term, through a constitutional change.
Also, as part of the charter work - a resource developed to create a more inclusive culture for women and girls in golf, the club’s women’s committee has adopted Golf Australia terms of reference.
As a result, committee members now focus on alignment with the national women and girls’ engagement strategy, including organising a mentoring program for new women at the club.
“With the aim to give our potential members a feel for the club, one member is assigned to a group of six beginners. These mentors attend clinics, take women into the clubhouse, make them feel welcome, and act as an information and support source for new women,” said Tortolano.
“Having the women’s committee adopt the Golf Australia terms of reference has enhanced our Women’s Introductory Program (WIP), and helped the transition of women into club membership.”
Understanding club membership is not a ‘one size fits all’, the club has designed two pathways, based on feedback received, around what women are looking for.
“Everyone joins a club for different reasons so women can either choose a competition focused route, or more of a casual and social golf experience,” said Tortolano.
The club is fortunate to have several key drivers who manage programs, including Steve Horstmann, Ben Bunny, Jen Ashman and life-member Kay Mahlook.
“Kay has an absolute wealth of experience in golf and runs a terrific ‘on-boarding program’ for new women,” said Tortolano.
“This includes helping transition women from clinics to on-course play and everything that comes with this.
“Kay also leads an initiative alongside fellow member Jen Ashman, ‘the Victorian Girls Six Hole Challenge’.
“This is focused on growing participation of junior girls not only at our club, but within Victoria.”
With the club running weekly MyGolf Girls clinics on a Monday, plus the Australian Golf Foundation (AGF) Junior Girls Scholarship program each Sunday, the Challenge gives girls something to aspire and look forward to throughout the year.
“We are proud that the event is growing each year and helping to grow girls’ golf as a whole in the region.”
In line with the success Woodlands has had with women’s membership, junior girls’ membership has also drastically increased - doubling from 13 girls in 2019 to 26 in 2023.
“This success has really come down to both members and our PGA professional, Steve Horstmann, who are all passionate about junior golf.”
Additionally, the club has a young members committee, giving voice to its younger members as part of its sustainability strategy and intent to make the club a diverse and vibrant reflection of the wider community.
Woodlands is proud of what the club has achieved and looks forward to continuing its inspiring work in the gender equality space.
“Don’t be afraid to get involved and implement a plan. Sometimes change can feel overwhelming but resources like the charter and the experts from Golf Australia who assist, help you put the wheels in motion and make small incremental change. In the long run, it pays dividends.” says Tortolano.