THE Goulburn Murray Golf Association (GMGA) has come up with an already award-winning “Women’s Virtual Pennant” concept designed to circumvent the pandemic and allow more women and girls the opportunity of playing in the inter-club district pennant.
The concept so impressed Golf Australia it chose the GMGA as its inaugural January Visionary of the Year winner, and it comes along with the chance to be voted overall Visionary of the Year later in the year.
Golf Australia’s Vision 2025 project aims to introduce and retain more women and girls in all aspects of golf.
The Virtual Pennant came about after the GMGA had to cancel nearly all district events in 2020 because of COVID-19. The group of dedicated volunteers wanted to do something to keep people connected, engaged, and enjoying pennant golf.
COVID-19 restrictions at the time meant people were not able to travel further than 50km, cross the border, nor gather in large groups.
For this rural district, in which people travel up to 100km and cross the Victorian/New South Wales border to play pennant, the early summer Women’s Fourball Pennant competition was first deemed impossible.
However, after much brainstorming, a virtual pennant format was suggested and after further design work the committee sought opinion from Golf Australia regional development officer Dylan Grandell to help write competition conditions to ensure the concept would succeed.
“The format was really easy to implement,” said GMGA women’s captain Mandy Faram, who managed the program.
“We were fortunate that when taking the concept to Golf Australia, a somewhat similar idea had been run previously, so we were able to benefit from their learning.
“We invited clubs to enter as many teams as they could field. Team members were to play at their own home course and submit scores to compete against other clubs also playing at their own home.”
“The format was a 4BBB stableford competition with five pairs in a team. This created a fantastic team atmosphere.
“We also allowed flexibility for play, mainly Sunday and Monday, so this enabled working women to play.”
“Captains would submit their team’s scores, sometimes via phone, and I would allocate them a win or loss based on what their opposing pair scored.
“It made it fun and unpredictable – some pairs would win with 32 points and some would lose with 40!”
The format proved extremely popular with twice the number of women playing in comparison to the traditional early summer pennant competition.
“Some smaller clubs that usually struggle to submit one team in traditional pennant were entering two teams,” Roberts said.
The committee saw this as a great opportunity to make pennant more inclusive. The ability for the competition to be played on Sunday or Monday, plus no travel requirements resulted in:
- More working women and schoolgirls participating
- Older women, beyond travelling to play, returning to pennant
- An increase in participation by higher handicappers
- More than 250 women playing over an eight-week period, compared to 110 in the traditional match play competition of the previous year.
“Up until now, pennant for some women with higher handicaps has been intimidating,” Faram said.
“These women also felt more comfortable playing in familiar surroundings and have not been overwhelmed having to master match play.”
GMGA president David Roberts said the association had been delighted with the results and would continue to evolve the concept.
“The women embraced the play-at-home virtual pennant so much that they voted for our later (January-February) summer Sunday fourball pennant to remain virtual so that they can tee off early and get rounds in before the heat of the day,” he said.
“This has taken away another barrier to participation as travel would not enable such early tee times.
“Flexibility to our administration has been the key, because at the same time the men are participating in traditional head-to-head match play fourball pennant.
“Looking ahead, I believe we will continue to run our traditional match play. There is, however, obviously an appetite for virtual, so we might end up offering both.”
Farram was eager to foster the concept’s development.
“It is important that our district committee now demonstrates good leadership and works closely and collaboratively with our clubs and their captains to determine what women and girls want,” she said.
And Roberts concurred.
“Our job as leaders is to be agents of change and always question and challenge what has been done,” he said.
“Just because something has always been done a particular way and is tradition, does not mean it is the right fit, especially in our current climate.
“I always remind people resistant to change that 50 years ago we were using wooden clubs!”
As January Visionary of the Year winner the GMGA has won 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.
Visit the Vision 2025 website to read further case studies on how to successfully engage and support women and girls in golf.