Vivien Saunders
News and views from the world of women's golf
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When the mention of Lottery funding reared its ugly head a few years ago, Sport England suggested a process of modernisation. They recommended a consultancy to progress that modernisation – Performance Matters – part of the Leisure Partners Ltd. Company. Remember that name. It’s Performance Matters. 
Sport England started suggesting they need for a joined up sport. They won’t fund men’s sports and women’s sports separately. They need joined up sports – whether the women (as the minority group) wants it or not. ELGA was given this directive. So off we went on a joined up handicap system – not the men taking the LGU system, or both adopting the USGA system, but being forced into the CONGU system. Forget any thoughts that this stands for Council of National Golf Unions. It is pronounced "CON- JUE" – meaning joined up, or something to do with conjugal rights. With this joined up system we can all proudly proclaim “I’m a Conju – Gal”.  
No, seriously what a farce that was. So intent were the ELGA women to get this through – to chase that pot of gold – that when amendments went to the ELGA office before the 2003 AGM to stop the rot, they were miraculously lost in the ELGA office! Quite how faxes could leave one phone – or possibly several phones – with clear reports and not be present in the ELGA office is one of the mysteries of golf. Start seeing how the temptation of that pot of gold works?
Then the English Senior Ladies’ were told that they had to be swept up into ELGA. We must be in control. That’s the word – control. It’s what inadequate people do. Not talk, discuss, and work in harmony. But control. The English Seniors were told it wouldn’t be possible to retain a separate senior association. Europe wouldn’t allow it; Sport England wouldn’t allow it. And yet other countries have retained their senior associations – just ours that’s gone. Caput!  
And then another controller from Sport England stepped in. She with the Sport England wand. “I will ensure that you modernise. I, the wicked witch, from Sport England will wipe away your committees. I am in control. This will go and that will go. You can’t have this and you can’t have that. Selectors are not a good thing. Off with their heads. Pay people to do it.” (A good, experienced volunteer is miles better than a paid monkey – but remember the Government is after job creation. Sit four monkeys in an office and they need another one to open their post, another to sort out their wages, another to make their coffee and another to sort out how to pay for the coffee and peanuts.) ELGA has been a grand example of job development – with 3 members of staff in 1999 and 14 now. And do they do any more for the golfers in clubs? No, of course not. But the organisation sounds large and important and generates more paperwork. And we have helped the Government stamp out unemployment. 

“You will modernise. Yes, you must do it if you want to find the pot of gold.” 

And so, chasing this silly pot of gold, they put together a plan - The Whole Sport Plan. What an expensive, time wasting nonsense that is. With targets. Do we have enough children? We must increase the numbers of youngsters, women, ethnic minorities, disabled. You can’t make these minority groups apply to be golfers. We must get certain numbers in British teams. We may need to coerce selectors. We must get certain performances. And all for 10 per head over four years for every golfer in England!

Joined Up or Mixed Up

A joined up association sounds great. Equal opportunities, one joined up body. But it isn’t as simple as that, is it? The ratio of women to men in golf is about one to six. It’s roughly that in most clubs and membership of ELGA is about 120,000 to the 720,000 men in the EGU. So how can women expect equal representation on committees? And why should we? If we ran a women’s sport – netball – with men as a tiny minority would we expect them to have equal representation? Of course not. So women will inevitably find themselves the odd woman on a committee, outnumbered, trying to establish their point of view. It needs skill and consultation to get it right – and frankly I don’t trust those running the game at present to get it right. 
We need to increase the number of girls playing golf – dramatically. I suspect we have more junior boys playing golf in Surrey than we have girls in the whole of England. It is no good decreeing that everything has to be mixed. Girls don’t want to learn sport along with boys. They get swamped out. OK once they have reached a good standard – but not for starters. But you can’t tell those in power. Because they don’t want to listen to experience. They don’t want to listen to those with knowledge. 
Clubs themselves are going to be dragged into equality in 2007. The European Union has ruled that clubs offering facilities and membership to men and women will have to give equal rights and won’t be able to discriminate in the way tee times are accessed. In some clubs this will be a disaster. I have already heard of clubs where the men are saying that all golfers will have to play off the same tees with the same handicaps. There are other clubs which will do their level best to ensure that this gives the excuse for reducing the number of women members. And it will happen. But do ELGA give guidance on this important issue? No, of course not.
Clubs need guidance and experience from clubs where it works. Perhaps 7 day off peak membership to allow for women (or men) who simply don’t want to play at peak times on weekend mornings. From experience of owning three golf clubs where women have equal rights I can state categorically that it simply does not work if high handicap/beginner women want to play at 8.30 on Sunday mornings. Equal rights needs handling gently and well if women are to be fully accepted. Rules and constitutions need careful thought. But I can’t see ELGA being at all helpful on this. The concept is too advanced for their involvement. It’s too deep and involved; if you can’t scratch the concept out on the back of a fag packet or one slide of a Power Point presentation they don’t want to know. And how about quotas? Will clubs still have quotas of women members? If not, the men will fill vacancies in clubs with men and the number of women reduce. Woman dies – man comes in. Woman leaves – man comes in. Most clubs have men on the waiting list but not women. But it is no good simply having a quota that the men can remove at an EGM or AGM and vote away. I doubt those on ELGA would think of that issue.

They shun advice or knowledge. They could learn massively from the professionalism of the Irish and Welsh Ladies’ Golf Unions. Ireland has a specific equality policy and has fought the cause of Ireland’s women golfers. They are the one of the four home countries to increase women’s membership numbers. Wales is hoping for a totally joined up organisation – doing it properly with consultation and approval of their membership. But then they have involved their women members who are solicitors and got it right. Their men’s and women’s unions joined forces with a special general meeting of men and women - well structured, well thought out, professionally led.


   Click the picture to see Annika, Viv's Cardigan corgi!