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The Niggle: Are gender-free tees a good idea?

‘There are other sports doing it better than us’: Why women’s golf needs a ‘virtuous circle’

An epiphany led industry expert Nicole Wheatley to commit to promoting women and girls’ golf. She’s had quite the impact, but says there’s much more to do…

 

Nicole Wheatley co-produced the critically acclaimed documentary, Breaking with Tradition, which was aired on Sky Sports and documented the history of women in golf and told the stories of tour players, industry experts and amateur experts alike.

Through her company Medi8 Golf, she also provides PR support for the annual Women’s Golf Day in June and is also the co-founder of the Women in Golf Awards, which recently celebrated its second staging.

In the latest of our local heroes pieces, Nicole chatted to us about why she put herself forward to promote women’s golf and how it is progressing amid a surge of mainstream interest in women’s sport…

I’ve read that you had an epiphany about five years ago, where you became determined to promote women and girls golf…

I can remember the exact moment. I was sat at my desk at work and something had come out that just made me so cross – because it wasn’t a fair reflection of the world I knew.

I’d worked in so many different parts of the golf industry I’d touched a lot of different areas, and I’d got to the point where I just accepted being told that this was the way things were. It was easier not to try to challenge things all the time.

I just had that moment. I’d had a little girl a few years previously, which I think was a massive catalyst for it, and I sat there and thought, ‘if I don’t do this then that makes me part of the problem, and nothing is going to change. If I don’t care about it enough to do something differently nobody else is’. That’s why I set off on this new path – without really knowing where it would go.

women's golf

How did you get involved with Women’s Golf Day?

We got involved as a company, though Medi8 Golf, because of Emma Ballard (now editor of Women & Golf). She had a huge interest in what was going on in women’s golf and was highly engaged with social media.

She discovered this new project was going to be launched at the PGA Show and organised to meet Elisa Gaudet. She was really blown away by the whole prospect of what she wanted to do, which was to run single day events on the same day of the year all over the world.

Emma took it on as a project and we, as a company, supported Elisa as she grew it. Emma has obviously gone on to pastures new but she’s still an ambassador for Women’s Golf Day and we look after the global PR promotion for the activities taking place.

I think it’s in 85 different countries now and is a phenomenal success – particularly in countries where they’re not so hung up on the heritage of golf and are willing to try new things.

In Japan, they went from having two events last year to 130 this year, because the federation got behind it. They want to engage with women and they can see that Women’s Golf Day is a really good way of getting women into a venue.

Women’s Golf Day is really a catalyst for change and, in America, it’s absolutely massive. You can go into a PGA Tour Superstore and there’s a Women’s Golf Day section.

All of the sponsors created specific branded pocket products that are sold through PGA Tour super stores, and women wear and carry their branded goods like a badge of honour. They’re really proud of it.

women in golf awards

Have you been taken aback by the success of the Women in Golf Awards?

I’d finished making a documentary, Breaking with Tradition, and I felt a real duty to the women and men who shared their stories – a lot of which had never been told.

I was speaking at an event and stayed with a friend, Ben Blackburn, who persuaded me it would be a really good idea to have an awards where I could celebrate the women I met through the documentary and maybe we could premiere it.

I think over 80 women came to watch and I was also able to talk about some of the stories that didn’t make the cut and people whose stories died with them. I found that so sad.

That’s why the Women in Golf Awards are so important to me because we celebrate women from every single part of the industry and at every stage of their career.

Our winners this year were aged between 20 and 84. We had winners from turf care and winners who are volunteers. It’s a true reflection of all the roles that women fulfil within the golf industry.

I’m so excited to be able to share the news of the winners with everybody.

That’s what is important to me. I’ve created a platform for other people to shine. The future of golf is not in my hands at all. It’s in theirs and they have such a bright future and such a great opportunity to be able to take the sport forward without the shackles we’ve had for the last 25 years of doing this.

Your documentary showed how horrendous it had been in the past, and how much has changed, but also that there’s a long way to go. How do you feel about women’s golf now – especially in this era where women’s football is getting mainstream attention?

I still feel there’s a fight to get professional female golf on television. I don’t know why that is. There are probably a lot of complicated reasons in the background about rights and things like that and that’s not really my field at all.

I think the way women’s sport is being treated is different now. Cricket is cricket, and football is football. that’s what we kind of need to aim for.

I felt this for a long time about golf in general. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman we all play the same sport and we play in the same way.

That’s my ambition – for golf just to be golf. Yes, that means increasing the number of women who play and who work in the industry.

But I think there are other sports that are doing it better than us. That’s potentially because their governance is much more straightforward.

Team sports are much easier to follow and easier for fans to engage with and golf can be difficult like that.

We don’t know the personalities of the women’s golfers. Unless you are a really keen fan of women’s golf and watch it on TV as much as you can, I don’t think people could name anyone in the top 10 in the women’s game in this country or in America, whereas I’m pretty sure most people nowadays could definitely name you a female footballer.

It’s all about visibility. It’s like a virtuous or a vicious circle and I’m not sure which but football has enjoyed a virtuous circle where more exposure’s led to more money and more money has led to more exposure. That’s what we need to kick in with women’s golf.

What do you think? Is golf keeping up with the surge of interest in other women’s sports? Let me know with a comment on X, formerly known as twitter.

danielle kang solheim cup

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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