Shona Malcolm on her time in charge of the LGUApril, 2015 News & Tour
Mark Townsend meets the recently-departed chief executive of the Ladies' Golf Union
The entry on the LGU website at the end of last year was short and to the point, Shona Malcolm would be stepping down after seven years. At the time Malcolm said little about her, to some, surprise departure. Here she reveals more about her time in charge.
How did you become the chief executive of the LGU?
I was actually an executive counsellor at the LGU when the previous executive left and they had also just lost their finance director.
I am a chartered accountant by profession so I stepped into the breach a little bit. I did that for a few months and the then chairman asked me if I would take on the role in an interim capacity to try and get the ship back on track – at the time I had my own consultancy business – and that period was six months and that then extended by a couple of years and eventually I went on the payroll.
My remit was to try and modernise the LGU business and to make it fit for purpose for the 21st century. It is fair to say the financial reserves are now stable and that was by controlling costs even though income was declining. A sound financial basis was a big part of it as was working closely with the media and to make it seem more approachable than in the past.
What does the role involve day to day?
One of my former colleagues who was chief executive of the Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association used to say that her job was all encompassing; it covered everything from making sandwiches when members came for the weekend, then one minute talking to government ministers and the media to stapling papers together for meetings and AGMs.
It covers absolutely everything. The one thing she used to say was she drew the line at cleaning the toilets and I have to say I haven’t done that!
You can’t really define the job because something new comes at you every day but it really is the case of just rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck into whatever you have to do.
How special was it for you to see women members becoming part of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews?
I think that was great, it was the correct move for the R&A because they needed to get the monkey off their back a little bit. I think there’s a really strong group of new members who’ve contributed very highly to the game of golf and who hopefully will then continue to contribute at a very high level. I like the fact it wasn’t just tokenism, it was people who aren’t afraid to contribute and can continue to do, so it was totally the right move.
I think single-gender clubs are having to ponder their position now but change has got to come from within, it’s got to be a decision for the members of each individual club, they’ve got a legal right to define who they associate with and, if they decide they’re going to change the constitution to have both genders as members, then they’ve got the right to do it at a time that suits them and in a manner that suits them.
Can you believe that we are talking about women being able to play at men-only courses in 2015?
If we started out today we wouldn’t have single-gender clubs or gender-based governing bodies, we probably wouldn’t have professional and amateur divides. We would probably have something like the Swedish model where it is more family friendly.
But if you look at it the other way we have 500 years of golfing history and if we are to benefit from that then we have to address the drawbacks as well.
I am a great believer in mergers throughout golf, as long as it is in the best interests of the sport, and in the modern day it is. It was announced in February by the LGU and R&A that ‘exploratory discussions’ are underway to bring about a merger between the two bodies. How long has this been a possibility?
It has been talked about for years. It was mentioned before Michael Bonallack left the R&A and that was 16 years ago. We had a discussion early on in my tenure but the timing wasn’t right but now that they have brought in the lady members the time might now be right.
Every so often we got round the table and it has been spoken about a few times.
I am a great believer in mergers throughout golf, as long as it is in the best interests of the sport, and in the modern day it is. It would be a good thing and I will be watching with interest how things progress.
What would the challenges be from an LGU standpoint?
It is hard to say, I think I’ve always been a big believer of a strong voice of women’s golf, maybe that’s what we need to do – protect that. The LGU in the old days and in my time at the SLGA we used to do handicapping and course ratings and all these sort of things but they’ve stopped doing any of that now.
Whenever you lose these sorts of initiatives you’ve got to reconsider your position and make yourself more relevant for what’s left or what else is out there. I suppose the LGU and the R&A have to thrash these things out and it’s probably not for me to say.
Your respective headquarters are so close by in St Andrews, how closely did you work with the R&A?
We worked very closely on various initiatives and the LGU had representation on a number of R&A committees. And from an operational point of view I knew a lot of the key players shall we say.
I was at St Andrews for the LGU AGM and I bumped into quite a lot of people from the R&A which is the first time I’d seen them since I’d left and I was surprised at how well they knew me and I knew them.
How does the running of the Women’s British Open work from an LGU standpoint?
We had a championship team that did all the organisation and running of the championship who then reported to me so they were very professional. The head of golf operations, Susan Simpson, has worked there for many years and in my opinion is one of the best organisers of golf championships in Britain and Ireland. She is based in South Africa now. I recruited her for one of her first jobs in golf in the late 90s and she’s fully grown into that role.
Would you like to see it always being played at a links?
I think it’s the purest form of golf however it’s also a bit of a challenge to get the best of the links courses, I think it’s more of a case of taking big events to the best available courses. They might not always be links, some of the links courses might not always be suitable. I think it’s a case of choosing the right course for the championship, one that’s of a really high standard.
Click here for part 2 of the interview…