GOLF West Gippsland (GWG) is taking a new direction over the next three years – through a culmination of work between the body, their golf clubs and Golf Australia’s Victorian team to develop their Strategic Plan 2024-2027.

Due to the rapid expansion of golf, not only regionally but nationally and internationally, GWG identified that they had to stay competitive and ensure the longevity of the sport in regional areas for the future.

GWG promotes and delivers golf participation and pathways that supports their affiliated clubs to grow the game.

Working with Golf Australia, GWG aims to inspire more people to play golf across Australia. “Golf is golf and all of us can be golfers. Golf is a sport for life and fun for all,” their philosophy reads.

GWG values everyone and their involvement, strive for equality, and look for connected success between all of their affiliated clubs. They believe their cultures leads them to strive in these values and focus on their bold visions.

GWG covers seven clubs within the Latrobe Valley, including Churchill-Monash, Mirboo North, Moe, Morwell, Trafalgar, Traralgon and Yallourn, as well as Warragul and Drouin in the Baw Baw Shire, and Garfield in the Shire of Cardinia.

Districts such as the South West and Peninsula are simply stronger. They are geographically bigger, and have stronger numbers, something that GWG struggles to keep up with at times. However GWG Men’s Country Week team did win the Division 1 title in 2023.

“We know that participation rates for women and juniors here, was well below many other districts,” GWG Chairperson, Will Hanrahan said.

These facts led to the idea of collaborating with Golf Australia, aligning with their direction and creating a new strategic plan.

“What we did differently to any other district is we decided with Golf Australia to conduct that process in partnership with the clubs,” Hanrahan said.

Surveys were separately sent out to club boards and club members, from which the results determined a summary, which moulded the strategic planning process.

Hanrahan identified that participation rates of women and juniors were much less than the state-wide average, striking thoughts on how they could counteract that fact.

“There is very low female participation in West Gippsland, so that would be social members as well as full membership,” he said.

“Our participation rate of women compared to the country state-wide average – like clubs or areas – we’re at about 50 per cent less than the country state-wide average, so we knew we wanted to do something about that.”

GWG became the first district to sign the Women in Golf Charter, and are on the path to cater golf for everyone, including growing their participation rates in women.

Golf Australia Victorian Clubs and Facilities Manager, Chris Crabbe, explained the Women in Golf Charter and what it means for women in golf.

“The first dealings with Will (Hanrahan) was to talk about the (Women in Golf) Charter, and led us into discussions about what the future direction of the district looked like,” Crabbe said.

“It’s increasing the representation of women across all levels of the sport, so whether it’s women on committees, women on club boards, (or) women playing obviously. A lot of that is around changing the way we originally delivered women’s golf.

“It’s traditionally been delivered during the day, during the week … it’s about providing opportunities outside of those traditional working hours, so weekends, evenings, those sorts of things for programs and competitions.

“The bit that holds a lot of districts back is around their women’s championships, so most districts will play them during the week, whereas Golf West Gippsland play their men’s and women’s championships all on the weekend. So it opens it up for everyone to be able to play.”

Trafalgar Golf Club women’s captain and board member, Anne Outhred believes this is a step in the right direction for women’s golf.

“I think it’s a great step that Golf West Gippsland have taken, because it will really strengthen the support for local clubs as they endeavour to increase their participation rates,” she said.

“Our experience with running get-into-golf clinics in the last four-five years have showed women are keen to participate. And we have no difficulty in filling those get-into-golf clinics for beginner women.”

Ideas to increase flexibility of the game include engaging initiatives like ‘nine and wine’ and ‘$5 for five holes’.

Moe Golf Club Secretary, Marj Lang believes the signing of the Women in Golf Charter is a step in the right direction to get more women involved in golf.

“We will now start to look at other ways we can make everyone feel inclusive in the all the competitions that we run, and awards that we have,” Lang said.

“We need to … find ways that everyone can accept that it’s the way forward otherwise I don’t think our sport is gonna get there.

“If we find ways to get (women into the sport), like nine-hole competitions or a clinic membership. We need to be doing those innovating things to get women in.”

Outhred and Lang believe women should give golf a go and see it as a new recreational activity with plenty of social benefits.

“Don’t delay what you can do today. I’d say just jump in and give it a go, I think people would be quite surprised to find that many, many clubs in our area are really working to make the game more accessible,” Outhred said.

“It’s an easy sport for women to play, so it’s a good one for them to get into and it’s a good one for them to find friends,” Lang said.

“You can come and have fun you don’t have to be brilliant at it at the start.”

Hanrahan continued on hopes to increase junior participation rates in West Gippsland.

“In terms of juniors, our junior participation rate is very low as well. And we’re not on our own in regard to that, there’s not as much junior data to be able to really say the same statement in regard to women.”

Junior numbers have dropped significantly over a 15 to 20-year period. Back then, each club in the district had one or two junior pennant teams of six or seven juniors.

“In the last 12 months, two juniors played pennant in West Gippsland,” Hanrahan said.

Crabbe spoke on the ways that GWG and Golf Australia will try to deliver more opportunities for juniors.

“They’re trying to get a junior coordinator at every club. I believe (Hanrahan) has got junior coordinators at half of the clubs already, which is great. I think he’s just locked in a junior coordinator for the district, so they will get together and make a plan,” he said.

“Most kids come into the game and spend most of their time playing with adults, so creating that environment where juniors have the opportunity to play golf in environments with their peers and look at how that might build into connecting with the Gippsland Sports Academy.

GWG is doing as much as they can to provide the best programs and facilities for juniors, starting with grants which will be available to clubs.

“I don’t know how many other districts provide grants, but we do,” Hanrahan said.

Previously GWG provided grants of up to $500 for juniors or women programs, but now the grants are in the process of being increased to $2000 each, with more focus on juniors, which was identified as one of the focal points to grow the game.

Additionally, the Victoria Golf Foundation could potentially provide additional grants, which could see clubs apply for up to $5000, including the ones provided by GWG.

Lang believes the grants will have a huge effect on participation rates allowing clubs to run open days and clinics.

According to the strategic plan, GWG hopes to grow the game from a number of avenues, including volunteers and juniors, as Hanrahan admitted that golf hasn’t made any major shifts in around 20 years.

“We need to grow the game by starting off at the volunteer level, supported by a professional, grow the skills and knowledge of those volunteers. And once we grow the game enough, we’ll actually be able to employ more professionals, but it’s gonna take a while,” he said.

Getting juniors and parents involved is taking on an approach similar to Auskick or Milo Cricket, which gets the parents involved as volunteers.

“The role that Golf Australia use is they call in a community instructor. There are professionals, and then there is volunteer community instructors. What we’re aiming to do is recruit a number of community instructors for each club to then run their programs,” Hanrahan said.

When clubs recruit junior coordinators, golf professionals then become involved with the clubs. GWG and Golf Australia then support the development of individual programs and further recruitment of the volunteers to continue to process.

An additional point which seems to have stunted the growth of golf, is the seriousness of competitions, some finding it quite intimidating, especially for new golfers.

“When we had our consultation, the main thing that came out of that is ‘we play golf because we want to have fun’,” Hanrahan said.

“What happens is, people play these serious competitions, and in a way that stops more people from wanting to come because it’s too serious. We want it to be much more friendly.”

To help tell the GWG story, improvements and more attention will be added to their website and socials.

Considering the conglomerate of youth that use social media, it could be used as a device to attract them to the sport.

There, GWG can display how fun and appealing the game is to their followers.

Social media workshops are in the works for GWG, in order to get what they desire out of their social media channels.

GWG and Golf Australia highlighted the team aspect of the game, shifting the direction the culture is headed in, which is very individualised.

“(Teamwork) is the central piece of it. Rather than having the clubs operate in their own little silo, trying to get everyone to come together to make initiatives that will benefit golf for the whole region,” Crabbe said.

“Golf is an individual sport, and when you compare that to other team sports like football, soccer, netball and all the rest of it, I believe that culture permeates through the club, and how the club is run,” Hanrahan said.

Beginning with Golf Australia at the top, the goal is to shift the culture from there, all of the way down to the bottom.

“We want to make it more of a team approach, and I mean that in everything we do at all levels. We want clubs to work as a team at committee level, but we want them to really engage their members, and to bring them into the team and make them feel welcomed and a part of the club,” Hanrahan said.

“Whoever established the cultures, they could be dead and buried, but the culture lives on. The culture element stays, so that’s why it’s such a big challenge to change that culture.”

GWG held Board Appreciation Day on Sunday, February 11 at Yallourn Golf Club, gathering multiple board members from each club to network and start to work as a team.

The day was planned to be full of fun activities and skill challenges, incorporated with a minor competition aspect, which gave those in attendance a different view on the sport, something they had never participated in before.

“What we want to do is develop relationships, we want it to be fun,” Hanrahan said prior to GWG’s Board Appreciation Day.

“It brought the fun back into golf, it really showed that you can run events that are focussed on fun, but it was also mixing up the clubs and playing with people you didn’t know and still having a fun time,” Crabbe said.

“I think it’s great that we all get together and have a chat to see what’s going on and what’s happening at their club, they might have an idea that we could use,” Lang said.

Following the events on the golf course, all board members came inside for a bite to eat, where the strategic plan was unveiled to them.

According to multiple people who attended the event, the plan was received well by all, who have now bought into the plan through to 2027.

It was also announced that “the clubs and GWG are planning to have three, what we call, strategic meetings of the boards, to monitor the progress of the strategic plan”.