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equality diversity and inclusion

‘This is a ticking time-bomb’: Why golf must get to grips with equality

Wales Golf’s ED&I Board Lead Brandie Deignan says the sport has to do a better job of making players feel they belong

 

“Unless we reimagine, rethink, and reframe golf I’m afraid the sport will not flourish,” says Brandie Deignan. “This is a ticking time bomb. This is a real moment for golf. It’s up to us if we want to shift the dial.”

Wales Golf’s non-executive director, who joined the governing body in January, with a specific remit for equality, diversity, and inclusion, believes the sport has to focus on becoming more accessible – particularly for young women – or face the consequences in the next generation.

Brandie is a former managing director at Marco Pierre White Restaurants and has also held senior leadership positions at British Airways, Tesco, and Travelodge among others.

Currently holding a similar independent non-executive directorship at Basketball England, she is a chief executive in NHS Primary Care.

On International Women’s Day, she sat down with NCG to discuss what’s going on at the governing body and how golf needs to move forward…

Equality, diversity, and inclusion: ‘This is a marathon for us’

equality diversity inclusion

You’re a passionate advocate for equality, diversity, and inclusion. Where did that begin?

I’ve always had a passion for ED&I. I got myself in good trouble when I was at upper sixth form. I was head girl and remember gathering a group of girls to challenge the fact our senior management team were all male. To the horror of my parents, they got called in so I could be given a bit of a talking to! By the time I got to university, I was holding placards. So yes, equality, diversity, and inclusion has always been important to me.

For me, that premise comes from equity and fairness. Underscoring all of this for me is belonging. Belonging eats ED&I for breakfast.

You are part of a very diverse team at Wales Golf – led by CEO Hannah McAllister. There’s some great work already under way there…

The management team is very diverse at Wales Golf. Hannah is the first of firsts – the first woman to lead a merged governing body! The board is also very diverse. It’s a good split and has balance. My draw to the role was that Wales Golf are doing something about a social challenge.

I don’t have a lot of time for sports that don’t engage in ED&I but I have a lot of affinity for those that do and I think that’s why I had that attraction for Wales Golf. They are leading the way in so many ways.

What are some of the issues that need focus with equality, diversity, and inciusion?

I’m in a non-golfer. I see better when I’m sat on the peripherals. That’s how I intend it to be.

There is a lot going on at Wales Golf. We’re focusing a lot on inclusivity. We’re focusing a lot on belonging. We’re focusing a lot on young girls. We are focusing on many facets of equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Disability, age and generational diversity, ethnicity, gender diversity, socio-economic diversity, religion and belief, mental health and wellness.

We have a ticking time bomb. I feel if we don’t ensure young girls begin to feel like this is a sport they can identify and affiliate with, then we’ve got a problem in the next 10-15 years. We would be dialling out a whole generation.

We all know the challenges golf has with women players. This is progressing, which is great, but the biggest challenge is that gender inequity has been going on for a long time.

It’s probably the oldest inequity that I know but it’s not got any better. That really worries me.

From the outside, golf just feels like it can’t be reached. You can’t grab your hands on golf because it feels so far away from a socio-economic perspective.

This is a marathon for us.

When you don’t play golf, and you’re looking in at the game, what do you see that those of us who play every week might not?

Let’s put it this way. If you do know your way to the local shop, you just do the walk with your eyes closed. I bet anyone to walk to their local shop, take the usual routes they do, and they won’t notice anything new.

If I was in a local vicinity, and I was to walk to the local shop, I could come back and say, ‘hey, I saw that green house. Why is it painted green?’

When we’re close to something, we tend to look without seeing. For me, I see better when I’m not close. So I look through the sport with a clear telescope.

From the outside, I don’t feel golf is a game that has ease of access. Some clubs have the ‘boys club’ effect.

Now if you look at football, the access football has is amazing. Anyone can go pick up a ball, go to a park and kick a ball around.

Now, you tell me if you can walk into a golf club with no clubs and start doing your thing. The access issue golf has got to be resolved somehow.

From the outside, if you feel you can’t access something you don’t even try. The biggest challenge golf has is that barrier. When you have barriers, you work within small parameters and that’s what is happening here.

There is also an issue of belonging. As a person, I am hardly intimidated. But I have walked into some golf clubs where I have felt very intimidated. I have felt I didn’t belong. There are subtle things that clubs could do right to make people feel like they belong.

equality diversity inclusion

There are subtle things and there are big things as well – such as misogyny and racism. How does golf deal with these?

We need to be clear that all these isms – such as racism, sexism – these aren’t just problems for golf. These are societal problems. Golf happens to be a fabric of our society.

There are wider conversations happening, I’m sure everywhere, around all tables and organisations and in all corners about the isms and what we do about them.

But we first need to have a vision that’s clear, that’s relevant, and that’s authentic. That’s what the golf family has to be focused on.

If you look at what happened to cricket, after that moment I would have thought most sports would have had a reflect and reset – a real vision of relevance and authenticity.

By now, I’d be expecting the golf community has a clear vision, relevant to us, and authentic to us. That’s where we all need to start.

Then we need to make sure our approach is holistic, and we drive accountability. If we decide what our vision is, we’ve got to look at approaching it from a broader perspective.

So, those subtle things come in, and then the big things come in. Societal change is about everybody doing their bit. Once everybody does so, we become a semi-movement and then a big movement and then society shifts.

Is the Equality Act fit for the modern age?

Personally, here is what I say. Any organisation, any sport, any person that’s waiting on policy to do the right thing has got a real problem.

But the good news here is that societal change is possible if we have the right visionary leaders.

Think about it, not that long ago, I think about two thirds of young men used to drink drive every week. Not anymore. Until 2007 smoking was allowed on planes, in hospitals, and in schools.

You won’t see anybody smoking in a plane now will you. We’ve unlearned that behaviour.

If we can just scrape it all back, look at ED&I as doing the right thing, and being a kind soul, then that’s all it is.

You’ve talked about some of the challenges – and what it could mean to the next generation. How does the sport move forward?

We’ve got to push stuffiness out of golf. It starts from the people at the top tables. Imagine a world where all boards around golf are diverse. Imagine the wealth of difference this would bring? Imagine the change this would mean on the ground.

If you have a set of diverse people around the table, they will have diverse views and everybody’s voice is heard.

We’ve still got people at the top table who hold, occasionally, old-fashioned ideologies and ideas and that makes it very difficult. We have echo chamber nods- that’s a worry.

As I said earlier, visionary voices drive real change. Where you can’t see change is because there is no vision . It’s as simple as that. When you have vision change happens.

If we want to reach out and be a diverse sport, we just need to get real with where we are, have a plan, and tackle it.

We’ve got to build more diverse teams – whether it’s diversity around the top table in all golf club clubs or diverse teams, such as players and pros. Then, we will start telling diverse stories.

When people see themselves in a diverse story, they can feel they belong. It takes us right back to that concept of belonging in ED&I.

Unless we reimagine, rethink, and reframe golf I’m afraid the sport will not flourish, which will be a real shame.

This is a ticking time bomb. This is a real moment for golf. It’s up to us if we want to shift the dial.

Now have your say

What do you think? How far does golf still need to go before it effectively tackles issues around equality, diversity, and inclusion? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

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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