While delighted to see another Scottish golf club – Crail Golfing Society – appoint its first female captain, Shona Malcolm is yearning for the day when such a development is regarded as the norm rather than being newsworthy. “We’ll know then that the perceived inequality issue in golf has finally been overcome,” said one of the leading administrators in Scottish golf over the past decade or so.
Pam Smith’s recent appointment as captain of Crail, the world’s seventh oldest club, reflects the landscape having changed considerably since Joan Lawrence is believed to have been the first woman to hold a club captaincy in Scotland when she served in that post at another Fife club, Aberdour, from 1997-99.
In Edinburgh alone, Sheila Stuart (Turnhouse) Margaret Keith (Duddingston) and Louise Fraser (Kingsknowe) are all the current captains at their respective clubs while Karen Ballantyne is the immediate past captain at Craigmillar Park. Over in the west, Jane Alexander was appointed as the first woman captain of Cathcart Castle in its 122nd year just over 12 months ago.
“It’s interesting how the landscape has changed in clubs in recent years,” said Malcolm, who served as both chair of the Scottish Ladies’ Golf Association and CEO of the Ladies’ Golf Union before taking up her current position in the game as secretary of the PGA in Scotland. “It looks to me that, since clubs have suffered from falling membership, the whole gender thing in mixed gender clubs has become less of an issue since every member is valuable, regardless of whether they are male or female.
“While that probably arises primarily from economic factors, it coincides with effects of the Equality Act bedding in. Addressing the Equality Act requirements was initially painful for many, but the changes made at that time are no longer seen as changes, rather the norm. We all know the challenges that golf clubs continue to face – low membership numbers, increasing costs, drink-driving legislation etc – but the forward-thinking clubs that have diversified what they offer to both members and visitors are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“Many clubs in Scotland have now had ladies as their club captains, but when a new one is appointed, it is still considered newsworthy. How many times do you see media coverage of a man being appointed a club captain (except, for example, the R&A)? Very few. But, whenever it is a female who is appointed captain, it can be front page news in local and national papers, and not just the sports pages.”
When appointed just over two years ago, Malcolm became the first female to be handed the reins in any of the PGA’s seven regions that blanket Great Britain and Ireland. The selection of Eleanor Cannon as the inaugural chair of Scottish Golf last year also signalled a welcome change in attitude about women being involved in decision-making about the men’s game.
“I don’t believe gender should be an issue in such appointments, rather it should be the best person for the job,” said Malcolm. “It’s fair to say I have not encountered any gender bias since I’ve been with the PGA. I suppose it helps that the PGA, since the very early days, has been a mixed gender organisation, with the female members and assistants able to participate in all tournaments, except those linked to the Tours.
“It’s obvious, though, when it comes to our pro-ams, very few lady amateurs play in the teams, and maybe by encouraging more to play in future, we can contribute to increased participation and new playing opportunities for the women, and increased field sizes for the PGA professionals.”
Smith, who had never played golf before joining Crail in 2002, served as ladies’ captain in 2008 and has been on the club’s management committee for eight years. In breaking with 230 years of tradition, Crail is the oldest golf club in the world to make such an appointment. “I’m delighted and honoured to have been chosen by the Crail members to be their captain,” said Smith, who hails from Yorkshire but moved to Scotland in 2003. “The Society has been very successful in attracting members and visitors for many years, so we have solid foundations for continued success.”