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Headingley Golf Club was one of the founder members of the Leeds & District Union of Golf Clubs and is the oldest club in the city of Leeds in the north of England, dating back to 1892, but it is also renowned as being both progressive and inclusive. In 2020, Headingley appointed its first female golf club captain in Kimberley Hill. We spoke to Kimberley to hear how her year played out and how other clubs might take a leaf out of the club’s book.
When did you join Headingley and what did the club look like?
I joined in 1999 and the ladies’ section was very big then with around 120 members. You could serve up to five years on the ladies’ committee and, during that time, you would be expected to be the ladies’ captain. I did all that and, as the ladies’ captain in 2015, I was a representative on the main committee. You make the assumption that you know everything that’s going on at a club, but you don’t until you go on the main committee and you definitely don’t appreciate the amount of meetings there are. Generally on the ladies’ committee you would attend two or three, like the handicap and comps and the social ones, as well as attending things like any Yorkshire events. As the vice-captain and captain on the main committee, you would attend them all.
What is your background?
I worked for HSBC as a business bank manager and I have a commercial management background. I looked after businesses and the bulk of them were men. Before that I worked for British Steel in the IT group. I would negotiate contracts with them and that was all men. I never found it very difficult or intimidating.
How important is it for people to understand all the elements of the club?
When my captaincy of the ladies ended, I put my name up for election onto the main committee and was voted on in 2016. I got involved in the greens and handicap committees, greens was brand new to me and quite a learning curve, but it was so interesting. There is always a lot of gossip in a golf club – the bulk of which is based on not knowing about things – so it was fantastic to get to know our head greenkeeper, Andy Stanger. I could ask him anything and he can talk about grass all day long and he has the knowledge from having worked at Augusta National, so he was always great to listen to.
It wasn’t just meetings in the evening; we would meet at 8am and off we’d go and talk about the course and discuss the work they were doing. Getting to know the greenkeepers and to understand how they work and what they do was so important – and it’s key that golf clubs understand their staff.
This is a business and we are signed on as directors and we need to know how to run the business. You’re not just looking after members, you have to consider things like health and safety, finances, catering. Golf clubs are generally medium-sized businesses and they all have staff and, with the pandemic, it was a massive learning curve with the furlough schemes. There is a lot more to it than just playing golf.
How did the captaincy come about?
I was asked in 2018 if I would be interested. I thought that it was fantastic to be asked, one of the main points of going on the main committee was to become club captain, and so there were some long discussions with my husband. I actually retired when I became captain, which was all part and parcel of accepting the position.
As the vice-captain you are pretty much just following the captain around. You will ring up lots of clubs and arrange matches like the captain’s friendly and, as you can imagine, they would ask if I was the PA. They couldn’t understand why I was ringing and then I would turn up to play and they’d ask if I was playing off the reds or the yellows! Their competitions have never involved women before and we won a few! One or two were a bit funny, although most were great.
Were there any awkward moments?
There is a society of Leeds Golf Club Captains and it is male only. Two of us were women and we couldn’t join their society. We weren’t going to create a female society, so I was invited as a guest to their dinner. There was me and 100 men and we had a lovely evening. They are pushing it through so I won’t have to be a guest next year, but it would be much easier if it was gender neutral. I’m a member of the England Golf Captains, so I should be entitled to be part of this. At Headingley I attended most of the men’s events as the club captain, I didn’t play in their open days, but I played in the captain’s friendlies as well as all the internal club stuff and I had my away day, which is normally men only, and we all went to Barnard Castle and had a great time.
How much did Covid affect things?
I did most of the presentations as we went along outside and we pretty much got all the competitions done. One of the positives was that we were able to modernise the booking system, we used to sign up on paper and all that went, and we were able to get on with certain projects when we weren’t playing golf. We’re going to build a world-class short-game area so we sorted a lot of the plans for that as well as plans for a new practice ground.
What skills did you bring to the role?
Probably with my organisation and communication. I’m very black and white, in banking you had to be, then people knew where they stood. Whether they followed it or not at least they knew what it was. With Covid there were a lot of notices, but the regulations kept changing. You will have heard it on the news, but you then had to tell members how that would affect them.
What’s Headingley like as a club and what does it mean to you?
It’s always been inclusive. We were the first club locally to pick up the Equality Act and ladies have always played when they wanted to. I always worked, so the weekends were the only times that I could play other than the summer. More recently it was huge for a lot of us during the lockdowns. In time we would see friends on walks on the course and chat across the fairways and it was so nice to see people’s faces again – the only ones mingling were the dogs! The club has been a part of my life for more than 20 years and a very important one. I’ve got some very good friends here.
How big was it for the club to stage the men’s and women’s English Amateur in 2021?
We’d love to use that as a springboard for more big events. I was one of the starters and the players loved the course, we got some great feedback and the members got so involved. People really want to come and play here now because of how good the course has become.
How positive do things look in terms of the ladies’ section?
We’re now back to over 70 members and are growing again. For the last eight years we’ve done a Give Golf A Day for ladies where we will close the 1st tee and we’ll take them out for a few holes when it is less intimidating. We have a number of mixed events and the junior section is the next big thing as we want our members to join at an early age and stay for years.
Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.
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