Golf Australia’s August Visionary of the Year winner is Tony Craswell, here he explains how he has grown women's golf participation at Latrobe Golf Club

Tony Craswell, PGA Professional at Latrobe Golf Club in Victoria is Golf Australia's August Visionary of the Year for his shared approach towards nurturing pathways for women.

Here's Tony's story...

A PGA Professional based at Latrobe Golf Club in Melbourne’s inner north, Tony Craswell’s ability to connect with people and work towards a common goal has seen the club grow their new five-hole course into a bustling collaborative hub for golf development.

"How can we help each other?" speaks true of Craswell, who illustrates the endless possibilities that arise from having an open mindset and venturing beyond the traditional confines of a pro-shop and a club.

Craswell has connected with industry, clubs, business, and other PGA members to enhance their experiences and develop a stronger uptake in programs not only at Latrobe, but other local golf facilities.

He has long been passionate about growing the game for women and juniors, and he was an enthusiastic part of Latrobe’s Vision 2025 committee. Led by then board member Rosalie Flynn, it prompted the club’s involvement in Golf Australia’s Even Par project – a program aimed to help clubs and facilities foster gender equality in golf.

"To get more women playing, we need to find ways to breakdown intimidation and create a genuine community environment to play golf on,” Craswell said. “It’s about applying logic, listening, and acting on what the research is telling us.” 

Get Into Golf

Since 2019, Craswell has been running Swing Fit (now branded ‘Get Into Golf’) as a part of the club’s strategy to attract more women to the sport.

With ten weekly sessions and over 200 women participating since the start of the year, it is hard to believe that just three years ago, Craswell was only coaching four women.

An inspirational outcome and great example of how something small always has the potential to grow, if you get the ingredients right.

“Whilst I launched Get Into Golf with just four participants, all four women loved the experience and wanted to continue – this was the measure of success for me,” Craswell said.

“Get Into Golf is not just a golf clinic. We started at 11 am on Tuesday (women's day), so that when we finished, the clubhouse was filled with other women golfers. We would sit down in the middle of them and celebrate our magnificent shots to the ‘Wine Pit’. The other women members would stop and chat and it created a great atmosphere. Latrobe's women members were so welcoming.

“If you generally do something to ensure participants enjoy themselves, they will talk and very soon your numbers will build. Our numbers have grown simply from word-of-mouth. Pretty amazing to think this all stemmed from giving just four women a good time in golf.

“To improve my programs, I survey my Get into Golf participants every year and my findings align with Golf Australia’s research - women play golf for fun, enjoyment and for social factors.”

Revising membership categories

Craswell, with women board members, advocated for a revision of membership categories to align with what his beginner women wanted and needed.

“Surveying my participants has helped me go to the membership committee with facts,” he said. “I just say, ‘let’s provide what these women are saying they want’.

"They are not all looking for traditional membership. We can offer them an alternative form of membership that caters for their life-stage, what golf means to them and still treat them as a member.”

The club has now introduced membership categories and packages targeting specific groups such as the new Island Membership (five-hole course) and pathway packages like the Island Golf Development package and aligning with sporting clubs like Fitzroy Football Club. 

“We currently have 84 women that have engaged with Get Into Golf which has produced 39 memberships at the club, plus six at other clubs,” Craswell said. “Eighteen have been traditional style memberships, while 21 are on our Island-course five-hole memberships.”

Craswell also works closely with the incredibly supportive women’s committee that arrange women members to be mentors for Get into Golf participants. It assists the move to playing the main course, and they encourage and accompany beginners to the club’s numerous social events.

Incorporating Get Into Golf with corporate events

Capitalising on a large market often missed, Craswell also works with Latrobe’s hospitality leader Jess Yong, to incorporate Swing Fit into the club’s corporate package offer. This is a Get into Golf session followed by a fun Ambrose on the club’s 5-hole Island-course. All timed so beginners and 18-hole competition players finish and enjoy lunch together.

“It did not make sense to run corporate events and leave half the staff (often women) sitting back in their offices just because they don’t play.

“What an untapped market this is, and a shame for women to miss out on networking opportunities just because they aren’t yet golfers.”

The strategy is proving effective with a recent corporate event growing from 21 to 38 players, 16 of them being women.  In addition to planning, establishing, and driving this interlocking set of initiatives and pathways that enable women to readily access golf in a nurturing environment, Craswell has also led the development of the five-hole beginner course at the club.

Creating a shorter course and playing opportunities for other local golf clubs

“Research has shown people want to play golf; they just didn't know how to start, found golf difficult and intimidating and time-consuming, hard to fit into lifestyles,” he said. “They needed a shorter length skill-appropriate place to learn. That is where the ‘Island course’ comes into play.”

Thanks to Craswell’s open mindset to growing golf beyond his club, the course initiative came to fruition from a conversation between Craswell and Dayle Marshall who, at the time, worked on business development for local Yarra Bend Golf Course with a thriving junior program.

The pair were by chance seated next to each other at a Women in Business breakfast forum at the MCG and upon talking about the challenges of getting their junior and beginner students on-course at one of the busiest public courses in Melbourne, Craswell put to Dayle, “if we build a little course, push up greens with big cups for fun, and have other short options on our main course, do you think this will enhance your program?”

And that’s exactly what they did, and since 2014, more than 100 Yarra Bend juniors have been enjoying golf at Latrobe each term. 

“We initially had some hesitancy from the club board, who naturally were focused on looking after club-members and the main course,” Craswell said. “But I had a mantra that ‘golf development equals membership development’ and explained the thinking, ‘the more people we can get playing in our catchment area, the more members the club will enjoy long term.”

The board took the step to take the initiative and with the support of Golf Australia and other clubs in our area, the club successfully acquired a $375K state government grant to build the Island course.

“Mike Cocking from OCM did an amazing job on design. It is a beautiful environment that ensures new players enjoy the game on a course that allows them to learn and play at their own pace”.

Learning golf in a stress-free environment

Timesheets are set up so coaches can block off the course for playing classes, corporate or school events that facilitates stress-free learning, making the game easier and more enjoyable.

“You learn golf on a range, but you learn to love golf on a course,” Craswell said. "I love golfing on the Island.

“Having this facility has enabled us to exponentially expand our offerings including the women’s corporate day packages, family memberships, packages for local football clubs but most importantly, to provide a supportive pathway for our Get Into Golf students.”

Coaching demand has increased so much that the club has engaged one additional full-time professional and one associate professional, with an emphasis on coaching women and juniors. Coaching income has increased twelvefold and will continue with more opportunities to develop golf to come.

Working with local golf businesses

Craswell’s collaborative mindset sparked another great conversation with the local Preston Drummond Golf franchise owner Doug Barwick, which led to Drummond Golf's significant title sponsorship of the Drummond Golf WPGA Tour Melbourne International tournament for women.

“This partnership was under the desire to, ‘inspire, nurture and grow’ the game for women,” he said. “We want to generate a love of the game and make more women become regular golfers. So, each woman’s package set that is sold in-store comes with a 3-month opportunity of an Island-course membership.

“It is natural that new women golfers are not members of clubs and therefore will go to off-course retailers to find their start. We want this partnership to nurture their next step, ensuring these women have a beautiful and peaceful place to play, to become golfers and to be inspired with the greatness of the women professionals at our WPGA Tour event.

“So far this year, 35 women have been added to our database and invited to be part of our club. Plus 97 women and juniors registered to be part of the free Get Into Golf Clinics and Island Golf as part of the tournament. 

“It’s amazing how things can happen when you connect with people. It was about us listening to each other, understanding what we both need and breaking down whatever barriers that exist so we can achieve the desired outcome for everyone.”

Key Learnings and Advice

  • “It’s easy to instigate an idea, but you need to give that idea time to see where it can get to – persevere, don’t give up.”
  • “Do what your customer wants to do, not what you want them to do.”
  • “Create an environment where women can form a community, they will then do what they want to do with their golf”.
  • “Think long term, don’t sell off land for housing if you can, build little golf holes. Golf will benefit in the long run by introducing beginner courses.”
  • “There are many opportunities to work with neighbouring golf and non-golf facilities to get more women playing golf. Connect with these people”.
  • “Tap into the many support programs and resources Golf Australia has to offer including Get into Golf, Even Par, Vision 2025.
  • Learn more about Visionary of the Year and read other monthly winning stories here.
  • Nominations for the remainder of the year are still open. Click here for the nomination form.

Tony Craswell’s prize

Tony Craswell wins a $500 Drummond Golf voucher and is now in the running to win up to $10,000 worth of products from the latest Callaway REVA product range, designed specifically for women. Golf Australia’s Visionary of the Year will be voted upon and announced towards the end of the year.

Nominations for the remainder of the year are still open. Click here for the nomination form.

Read the original article via Golf Australia’s website here.