To be an industry mover and shaker or a person in a powerful position in the workforce is often the envy of others with aspirations to one day reach the lofty heights of their predecessors. The questions that cross most minds when pondering the success of people in high positions is: how did they get there and what impact have they made?
Three women in golf making a profound impact in the industry today are Natalie McIlroy (nee Ritter), Gemma Felton and Amber Ellem. These women are exceptionally qualified and have the experience required to fulfil their demanding roles. We often hear of men in power positions in the golf industry, but it’s these three women who are incredibly deserving of accolades. The evolution of their career pathways demonstrates how to get to the top.
Natalie McIlroy is the general manager of tournament operations for the PGA of Australia. Natalie is responsible for running tournaments, big and small, and most recently has created a stir around the Fiji International in successfully bringing big sponsors to the party. Natalie has the huge responsibility of making sure tournaments run smoothly. This is no easy feat considering how many people are involved: securing sponsors and financial agreements, the timing and logistics, the ever-changing nature of tournaments, variables such as inclement weather and golf-course conditions, television coverage and of course all the months of organising that go into tournament week.
With a university degree in Business (Management, Marketing and Related Support Services), Natalie is in a position to successfully execute tournament operations. She has a plethora of relevant experience, making her the most suitable candidate for this position. Prior to securing her current role, she was the national events manager for the PGA of Australia and also worked as an events executive for a large London company called International Business Events. Natalie is one of a kind and is a huge asset to the PGA of Australia. There is no doubt Natalie will continue to deliver exceptional results and rise to even bigger roles in the golf industry.
They say behind every good man is an even better woman. Well Kim Felton might be a great golfer but his wife is not going unnoticed in the golf industry, proving there is truth in the saying. Gemma Felton is much more than a “tour wife”; she is an ambitious, driven and determined career woman who is making waves in the golf world with her savvy marketing schemes and astute business acumen. Gemma has been devoted to her work for many years and is seeing the fruits of her labour. For every seemingly overnight success there is at least 10 years of hard work that has transpired behind the scenes and that is in line with Gemma’s pathway when looking at her extensive training and experience.
Gemma is the account director of TLA Australia in the areas of talent, events and consultancy. Her experience has included director of Golf WA, marketing and operations manager of Vault Sports Management, and holding key business development roles at Vodafone and B Digital. Gemma’s university education has put her in good stead with a Bachelor degree in Commerce, Sports Administration and Commercial Law.
Amber Ellem is the general manager of marketing and communications at the PGA of Australia and has created a name for herself in the golf industry as one of the brightest young marketing specialists. Her success working on various projects has left her with an impeccable reputation, even being described as “the best marketer on the planet” by fellow work colleagues at Clublinks. Amber has a history of establishing highly successful marketing campaigns at ground level. By thinking outside the square and targeting the ground level, this has a ripple effect and as a result impacts every level of marketing. The projects Amber has run and created have been deemed to be some of the most effective schemes in the country today. Among her primary achievements is driving PGA TV, which has seen more than 830,000 total views for live-streamed local tour events and more than six million social media impressions. Amber has a strong interest in golf with particular focus on successfully implementing marketing for women’s golf, which is an area that is challenging and not for the inexperienced.
Amber’s prior experience as marketing manager at Clublinks was her maiden role in the golf industry, however she has vast experience in marketing, promotions and sponsorship in other industries and that experience has perhaps been the catalyst for the profound impact she has made in golf. Her degree is a Bachelor of B Commerce and Bachelor of Arts – Marketing, Public Relations and International Relations.
These three incredible women in golf are doing amazing things in the sport industry and are critical to the success of the sport now and in the future. Natalie, Gemma and Amber are largely responsible for the increased participation rates in golf across the country at every level from grassroots to trainee professionals. For anyone aspiring to make an impact in the golf industry in a board position or business role, these three women and their contributions to the industry are magnificent examples of how hard work, perseverance and dedication to excellence will result in achieving positions in high places.
Vision 2025 and Beyond
Participation in Australian golf has experienced a gradual decrease over the past two decades since Greg Norman last held the mantle of the game’s finest player. It’s an issue that golf’s stakeholders have monitored, conceiving several practical solutions to remedy the decline.
A concerted effort has been made to promote grass-roots golf, specifically through the participation-themed Golf Month that runs in October.
At junior level, Golf Australia and the PGA of Australia have worked together to promote MyGolf, the national introductory program designed for 5 to 12-year-olds.
Other initiatives to drive participation include Swing Fit, governance reform (OneGolf) and support for financially challenged clubs and golf facilities.
A large part of the agenda involves a fully focused approach to increase the number of women who play golf. Currently, women make up 21 percent of all golf club members nationally.
In April, the first women’s golf ‘summit’ was held in the Melbourne office of Golf Australia. Key decision-makers from national and states bodies attended the first meeting of the Vision 2025 steering group, including chair Jill Spargo, ALPG chief executive Karen Lunn and World Golf Hall of Famer Karrie Webb.
Vision 2025 is a blueprint about how golf in Australia can become a sport where women and girls are inspired to participate.
Year One priorities include an audit of all clubs and golf facilities as well as an educational campaign to spell out the importance of women to the overall health and stability of golf clubs.
“It is vital to have so many key elements of the industry involved in this project and to see everyone’s willingness to buy in was really encouraging,” Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt said.
Vision 2025 is just part of the quest to address the under-representation of women. In March, a practical guide to preventing unlawful discrimination and harassment in golf clubs was launched. Developed by Golf Australia and Golf Victoria with the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission,
it aims to help clubs understand the legal and financial cost of discrimination.
Furthermore, the appointment of Chyloe Kurdas to the position of national female participation manager is another component of Golf Australia’s Vision 2025. Having helped develop the AFLW competition, Kurdas is keen to maximise golf’s potential and address the challenges that are holding back the sport.
And, at high-performance level, teenagers Grace Kim and Rebecca Kay have been named as recipients of the 2018 Karrie Webb Scholarship. Now in its 11th year, Webb’s scholarship has provided funding for two elite amateurs to travel to America for mentoring and learn what’s required to succeed as a touring professional.
Together, all of these initiatives are designed to drive female participation – which can only help to strengthen the financial stability of golf clubs across the country.
• Annabel Rolley is an Australian golf professional and host of Australian Golf Digest TV