Editor Emma Ballard speaks with two former Hillside Lady Captains Rosie Wright and Sally Williams about how they helped the club to launch a Ladies Initiative that has driven growth and reduced the average age of their ladies’ section at the club.

As many of you know The R&A Women In Golf Charter was launched in May 2018. One of its main aims was to get golf clubs to drive forward and make changes to encourage more women and girls to take up the sport.

At the time, the talk about increasing female participation was nothing new. In fact, it had been a talking point for well over 10 years.

So, it will come as no surprise that there were forward-thinking golf clubs that were already working on building their women's sections. Looking at innovative ways to get more women into golf and keeping them within the club environment.

One such club was Hillside in Southport. Hillside will be known to many a keen golfer. The club has hosted many amateur and professional tournaments over the years, most recently the DP World Tour Cazoo Classic following the hugely successful 2019 British Masters.

The R&A have also been a regular visitor to the Links with The Amateur and Women’s Amateur Championships, as using the course for Final Qualifying for The Open on numerous occasions. A real bucket list golf destination.

An ageing female membership

Back in 2016, Rosie Wright became Lady Captain. As an ex-PE teacher who was a School Sports Partnership Development Manager, she had first-hand experience:

“I had been developing young leaders and mentors in Secondary Schools to go and work with younger pupils in Primary Schools. So, when I became Lady Captain, I brought something similar to Hillside.”

Rosie started by doing some research into the average age of lady members, which came out as over 70 years old and when she looked at the ladies teams the average age was around 60 years old. There were also not many younger women coming through the club.

She went armed with her information to the board and found them to be very supportive. After ideas were discussed around how to increase the number of ladies coming into golf and in turn decrease the average age of the ladies section, the Ladies Initiative was launched.

Hillside Ladies Initiative launches

The initiative was targeted at the wives, girlfriends, partners and family members of those who were already a member of the club. The initiative would last for six months at a cost of £170, and include:

  • 10 lessons with the Club PGA Professional
  • Use of practice facilities
  • Use of the club house
  • Use of the course (with the member who had invited them)
  • Discount at the bar for food and drink

Rosie and the ladies committee also organised fun events, introducing a meet and greet evening, ‘Putting and Prosecco’ and a ‘9 and wine’ golf competition and some fun scrambles. They also actively encouraged the women to join the ladies’ dinners and outings to make them feel part of the section.

A mentoring system was also put in place to help new women. Rosie explains:

“We gave the mentors guidelines as to what they should be doing with each of the new ladies. We used mainly the committee members, and over time that actually became ladies from the earlier initiatives. We gave them specific guidelines about making contact, taking them out onto the golf course, helping with our tee booking system etc. It would also be about encouraging them to join some of their little friendship groups and also to help them get their handicap.

“The new ladies always had a person to contact if there was an issue. We're such a friendly club anyway. It doesn't just fall onto the shoulders of the mentors, all the ladies, if they see a new face coming into the club, just go and speak to them.”

Once the six months had passed there was the option to join the ladies section offered with a reduced joining fee.

Creating a knock-on effect

Hillside GC Ladies Initiative

Since 2016, 34 women have joined the club and are fully embracing what the club has to offer, including competitions.

“We are now seeing many of these ladies playing in the Ladies Competitions and winning! They are also playing in our very successful Mixed competitions on Bank Holidays, Winter Mixed and Christmas Mixed celebration as well as fully supporting the social events at the club.

“It's been really, really positive. We've got some lovely members now from the Ladies Initiative.”

It’s not only the ladies section that is now thriving at Hillside, but also there are more girls playing. Rosie used her background as a teacher to connect the club pros with the local school where she used to work.

Creating a five-year development plan

Rosie and Sally then went on to build a five-year development plan to run until the end of 2023. Chair of the Junior Committee, Sally explains:

“We’re both on the junior committee, and we're the only committee actually in the club, who have got a development plan. The other committees are just looking at that now, as to the way forward, maybe they should be putting development plans forward for their particular committees too.

“We didn't have any issues getting boys coming into the club. And so our issue there was to increase the number of girls playing golf or having the opportunities to play golf, give them more opportunities to join into team events and competitions. We’ve also linked up with the Lancashire girls as well, so that they will go onto their coaching courses.

“Grace Redmond was our first girl Junior Captain in 2019 and there were three or four girls who played for our Ladies Scratch Team this season.”

Signing the Women in Golf Charter and looking ahead to the future

Hillside signed The R&A Women in Golf Charter in March 2022 and although they have already done so much to create playing and membership opportunities for women and girls at the club, Sally says they’re not finished yet:

“We’re now looking to recruit more younger children, from ages 8-11 you can become an associate member before moving over to a junior membership. It's those youngsters we're really looking for now, because that's the future of our sport and our club.”

Find out more about The R&A Women in Golf Charter here and find out more about Hillside visitor rates here.