fbpx

Sky Sports presenter Sarah Stirk: “We’re making progress, but more needs to be done”

England Golf’s newest director talks to NCG about accessibility, inclusivity, and how to drive the women’s game forwards

 

Sarah Stirk says “massive progress” has been made in making golf more inclusive and accessible for women – but believes more work still needs to be done.

The Sky Sports Golf presenter, who in April joined England Golf’s board as an independent director, stressed the importance role models – both at the elite level and in the game’s governance – had to play in inspiring the next generation. 

Citing Nelly Korda’s incredible performances, which saw her win a record-equalling five tournaments in a row and generate huge publicity outside of the usual golfing corridors, Sarah said: “Nelly takes her role as an ambassador very seriously and she wants to give back. She wants to inspire the next generation. That’s how we’re going to make this game more inclusive and accessible. 

“It’s got to come from the top down. It’s got to be authentic from the powers that be, but we also need our key players to really step up. I do think we’re making progress but, as we all know, more needs to be done.”

As she settles into her new role at England Golf, we sat down with Sarah to find out more about it and how the women’s game can continue to thrive…

Sarah Stirk

Congratulations on joining England Golf’s board. How did that opportunity arise?

I was approached by them to apply for the role. I’ve been in the golf world for a number of years now, mostly with Sky. I’ve also had some commercial experience with having my own business – and selling that to Golfbreaks – and the business of sport and the business of golf really interests me. 

At this stage of my career, and not travelling very much because of my little boy, I’m quite keen to look at some non-exec opportunities and commercial business opportunities, alongside my media work. 

England Golf approached me and said, ‘if you’re interested, we’d like you to apply’. I did and the interview process was quite rigorous. It obviously went really well, I was offered the position, and I was chuffed to bits. I think it’s a great opportunity to give back to the sport. 

I’ve been in the sport for the last 16 to 17 years, obviously primarily in the media landscape, but that opportunity to give back and also to have some real influence in some of the decision making and strategy of a governing body is massive to me. 

They are focusing on inclusivity and accessibility. I’ve done a lot with The R&A over the last few years with the Women’s Leadership Summit, which I’ve hosted. I present a lot of women’s golf coverage for Sky and it’s a big area of interest for me.

I think that linked up really nicely with England Golf’s goals and what they’re trying to achieve. Hopefully it’ll be great for both of us. 

They’re really leading the way on equality, diversity and inclusion and recently launched the Respect in Golf campaign. I imagine what they’re doing really speaks to you…

They do and I talked about this in my interviews with them. I remember going to a golf club when I was quite young, and I had a baseball cap on, and I was told to remove it.

As amazing a sport as golf is – and we all know it’s appeal. You can play from a young to an old age and it teaches you great life skills – there has been some elements that really put people off. 

The dress code, for example, the membership options. There have been quite a few negatives. No matter who you are, no matter your gender, race, sex, or background, golf needs to be welcoming and I still think there are massive barriers there. 

That equality and diversity piece is really important to me and I know from the work I’ve done with The R&A, and what I’ve seen with Sky, is that if I can make a bit of a difference with that, and can help them with their strategy, then it’s something I’m really passionate about. 

Whenever we talk about inclusivity, there always seem to be an element – particularly on social media – that is very negative about it. How can the sport change that narrative?

It’s really hard. I think the perception of golf needs to change and I think it’s slowly changing. It’s got to come from the top down.

Martin Slumbers (R&A chief executive) is stepping down but he has been a brilliant advocate for family friendly golf and getting more kids and women into the game. It’s got to be a really authentic decision from the top.

It’s the same with England Golf.  The current chairman Ian Pattinson (who will be R&A captain in 2024/25) is brilliant. He really believes in it and then it trickles down to the rest of the organisation.

There are still things with the game – like the image and reputation – that we can and do need to work on. 

It’s the same with sustainability. There are some clubs who will embrace that and there are other clubs that just won’t. 

It’s about, from the top down, these governing bodies – from the organisations and from the stakeholders – trying to change the image and making sure what they do filters down as much as possible to the counties, to the golf clubs, and then obviously to the golfers.

Sarah Stirk

Are we making progress? Women’s sport has never seemed to be higher profile. In golf, it’s easier to watch on television than ever before? 

We’re making massive progress. I think society, in general, is different. The population has changed a lot. There has been a lot more focus on women and women’s rights and equality. That has just translated into sport.

It’s taken a long time. I don’t know why it’s taken so long, but it has. For me, it’s always been a bit chicken and egg as well. It was always said, ‘there’s not a demand for it’. Well, there’s not a demand because we’re not showing it. If we show it, people get engaged with it, and people follow it and like it and then there’s a demand for it. 

You’ve got to have it for people to know they want to see it. At Sky, we’ve shown more women’s golf than ever before and there is a real demand for it.

You asked me about what more we can do, and I do bang on about this, but a big thing for women’s sport and the women’s game are role models.

A lot of research has been done about this. Women like to get behind the personalities, and the stories. They like to know who they’re watching. When you’ve got Charley Hull, and she is putting her life out there on Instagram, I think that’s good. She’s into fashion. She talks about her passions and what she’s doing. Young kids can get on board and embrace that. 

It’s the same with Nelly Korda. What she is doing at the minute is phenomenal for the game of golf and that’s what we need. We need these stars to not only deliver on the course. 

Nelly takes her role as an ambassador very seriously. She wants to give back. She wants to inspire the next generation. That’s how we’re going to make this game more inclusive and accessible.

It’s got to come from the top down. It’s got to be authentic from the powers that be, but we also need our key players to really step up and want to do their bit. I do think we’re making progress but, as we all know, more needs to be done. 

And you’ve got an opportunity to influence now both at the top and grassroots level. That must be tremendously exciting?

It really is. It’s a great opportunity. When I am doing my role at Sky, I’m covering sport and doing so because I’m a passionate sports and golf fan. 

When I’m talking about those stories, and describing Nelly Korda’s amazing run on the LPGA Tour, that is hopefully inspiring the kids and the new female golfers to get more into the game. 

But to now have real influence at a governing body is massively exciting. I’m looking forward to working with some really talented people on the board. 

I’m active in terms of what I’m doing. I’m very much still at the forefront of my career – with podcasting, journalism and hosting – I’m right there doing it. 

I’m very visible in what I’m doing as a golf presenter and journalist and I think to be doing that, and the work on the board, can be really positive for England Golf. 

Now have your say

What do you think of Sarah Stirk’s views? Are we making progress on equality? Let me know your thoughts with 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.

Latest Posts

igolf

Features

iGolf scheme hailed as huge numbers of players join golf clubs

By

Read full article about iGolf scheme hailed as huge numbers of players join golf clubs

Features

Respect in Golf: ‘It’s just the right thing to do’

By

Read full article about Respect in Golf: ‘It’s just the right thing to do’
Denham

Features

How much does it cost to run a golf course?

By

Read full article about How much does it cost to run a golf course?

Features

Henni Koyack: ‘Golf club membership has to evolve’

By

Read full article about Henni Koyack: ‘Golf club membership has to evolve’
mental health awareness week

Features

Golf can do wonders for your mental health – I should know

By

Read full article about Golf can do wonders for your mental health – I should know
golf club depreciation

Features

This is why your golf club lives from hand to mouth

By

Read full article about This is why your golf club lives from hand to mouth

Features

It may be acceptable to turn up to a competition without your golf shoes or your putter on one occasion; then it’s just a mistake, a one-off, but not for me.

By  Hat Richardson 
Read full article about It may be acceptable to turn up to a competition without your golf shoes or your putter on one occasion; then it’s just a mistake, a one-off, but not for me.
captain's drive-in

Features

‘I know how that captain may feel – I botched my drive-in’

By

Read full article about ‘I know how that captain may feel – I botched my drive-in’
golf club finance

Features

Where does your club get their cash – and how do they spend it?

By

Read full article about Where does your club get their cash – and how do they spend it?