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Leading the way - Australian Golf Digest Leading the way - Australian Golf Digest

We chat with a pair of key women in Australian golf

Natalie McIlroy

What is your role and what does the job require? General manager – tournament and event operations. I oversee the operations and staging of the tournaments on the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia, which the PGA owns, including the Australian PGA Championship, The Players Series events and state PGA championships. I also oversee the PGA’s member and industry events, such as the Scramble, Women’s Golf Network, and Coca-Cola Invitational. My role works closely with all departments in the PGA, including commercial, marketing and the tour team, as well as numerous stakeholders, such as host venues, partners, government and local councils to promote, plan and deliver the events.

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What motivated or inspired you to work in the golf industry? I wanted to work doing something I love to ensure I would always be passionate about my work and enjoy every day. Golf was one of the sports I played growing up, so the opportunity to be involved in the administration of the industry was a dream come true.

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What is your experience prior to your current position? The PGA was my first job out of university, however I volunteered at sports organisations throughout uni to gain experience before entering the workforce. I volunteered at Jack Newton Junior Golf and at the Australian Masters Games in Newcastle. Both roles provided valuable insights into sports administration while completing my studies.

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As an industry leader, what do you believe are the keys to managing people/employees Communication is the key. It is crucial to provide information, direction, and support to the team so that they have the opportunity to contribute to the development and execution of our goals and objectives. I also feel it is extremely important to identify the strengths and motivations for each of your team members and harness those strengths to achieve our collective goals. Every person will bring something different to the team; as leaders it is our job to bring out the best in them to deliver results.

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Can you name a person who has made a tremendous impact on you? I have been so lucky to have many people in the golf industry who have provided support and guidance – too many to list! If I had to narrow it down, I would say Max Garske, who was the chief executive of the PGA when I first started; Peter Hines, who was the New South Wales manager; and Peter Murray, who was the national event manager. I worked closely with all three in the early 2000s and they all played an instrumental role in shaping my leadership style, passion for the industry and ultimately my career.

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What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess? The ability to listen and take on board everyone’s opinion. Whether it be one of your team members, a colleague, a sponsor or your employer, every idea and opinion has value and will help you make decisions, develop plans or provide advice to others.

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What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? Being a leader doesn’t mean you have to take everything on yourself. Engage with your team and colleagues, as that will not only ensure the best results, it also helps reduce stress levels to talk through any situation with other people!

Karen Lunn

You had an illustrious career in Europe, winning many tournaments, including the 1993 British Open. What do you deem to be the greatest achievement of your playing career? Obviously, on paper, the British Open was my biggest win, but every win is so special. My first win came in 1986 and my last in 2012 and there were many highs and lows among them. Winning the Portuguese Open in 2010 probably meant the most to me in terms of resurrecting my career after battling some career-threatening injuries and was extra special as I had my coach caddieing that week. My win in the 2012 Canberra Classic was also very special as my sister Mardi was caddieing for me.

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There is a litany of excellent young female golfers coming through the amateur ranks who will be turning professional (or already have). Why do you think there is such a large talent pool in female golf in Australia today? The quality of the coaching and expertise our young women have access to early in their careers gives them every chance to succeed. PGA professionals in Australia are some of the best in the world, as are our sports scientists. I also think that the players we are talking about have all at some point been a part of the Karrie Webb Scholarship – the effect that Karrie has had on the careers of Minjee Lee, Hannah Green, Su Oh, and more recently Steph Kyriacou, Karis Davidson, Grace Kim, Cassie Porter and Kelsey Bennett cannot be understated.

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You are the chief executive of the WPGA. What does the role entail? Pretty much everything tour-related at the moment. We are a small organisation in comparison with the other industry bodies. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes with the PGA on how they can assist us with resourcing moving forward.

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How did you come to be CEO and was it something you envisaged? I knew that I would land somewhere in the golf industry when I retired from playing, and that I wanted to come back to Australia. I had made the decision that 2013 would be my last year competing and was keeping an eye on what was out there. When this role came up in August 2013, I thought it was something I could really get my teeth into. I applied, and a week later I was informed that the role was mine if I wanted it. I was still competing on the Ladies European Tour at the time, so I packed everything up in a few weeks and returned home to start working.

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What are some of the key goals for the WPGA? We want to grow the tour to provide our members with more playing opportunities for more prizemoney. We also want to continue to improve the media coverage of women’s golf here in Australia, which will provide our members and the tour with a stronger platform. If we can succeed in doing this, our tour will become more attractive commercially and our members will have a greater chance of securing individual sponsorships. Events like The Athena give us an opportunity to share the stories of our up-and-coming stars.

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What is the key to managing staff and players? Treating people with respect and trusting them to do their job is the key one. For me, managing the players isn’t that difficult. I see everything from their perspective and understand when and why they get frustrated. That’s why I do what I do – it is for them. I understand the challenges they face in playing golf for a living. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but my door is always open if they want to have a chat or seek any advice.

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What is it about your role that you love the most? I love most things about my job. It’s fantastic watching young players progress through the amateur ranks and then eventually head off overseas to compete on the major tours. I have seen Hannah and Minjee progress from 14-year-olds playing in our events as amateurs to now becoming Major winners. I like to think at least a small part of their success can be contributed to the experience they gained playing in our WPGA Tour events before they turned professional. When they turned pro, all this wasn’t new to them. They knew what to expect when they turned up to a professional event and how to prepare.

The other thing that has given me enormous satisfaction is the wins we have had as an organisation. For the WPGA Tour to have a seat at the table in the formation of golf’s new national strategy gave us a platform to finally be heard, and I feel now that we have gained the respect of many in the industry who had not previously valued or appreciated the WPGA Tour and its members. The leadership shown by Gavin Kirkman, CEO of the PGA of Australia, and James Sutherland, CEO of Golf Australia, must be commended. Both Gav and James have shown the WPGA Tour and its members the respect we deserve, and I feel more confident and positive now than at any other time in my golfing journey that golf in Australia is heading in the right direction.