Frustration, elation and a very patient husband highlight Kate Allman’s golf journey so far.

The first time I played 18 holes of golf, I came very close to lobbing my 7-iron into a creek. Probably the proudest accomplishment in my golf career to date is completing that round with a full set of clubs – and my marriage – intact.

We teed off at midday on the June long weekend at Moss Vale Golf Club in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. It was a stunning winter day, one of those crisp, bluebird mornings when the greens look cartoonishly lime, and every man and his dog wants a piece of them.

In hindsight, it was possibly not the best choice of tee-time for a newish golfer to test her skills on her first round of 18. I say newish because I’d been hitting balls at driving ranges and in group lessons on and off for a good two years before that. I was confident in those settings with plenty of other women and learners around me. But here, on a full course, I felt new pressure to keep ahead of what I imagined were far more capable male golfers. I was certain they’d be hitting up my backside and scoffing at the “non-golfer” as I desperately sought to keep pace.

To complicate matters, my driver became determined to send all tee shots into tree trunks. My wedges had a gravitational pull into water features. By the time my husband and I rolled down to our ninth hole, a downhill par 4 with an ominous creek flowing in front of a green that’s right in front of the clubhouse windows, I was about to explode.

“Is she OK?” an older man collecting lost balls crept over to my husband to ask. I was rambling incoherently at this point and, after sending three balls to water-logged heaven, had flipped my 7-iron into the long grass nearby.

“She’s fine, we just need to take five,” my husband Nick replied.

Nick sat me down on a log. Clever man, he fed me a sandwich and some water. After a few angry tears, I recollected my 7-iron and my dignity. 

“I need to finish 18 holes,” I stubbornly insisted.

The shadows were growing long, kangaroos inhabited some of the holes, and there were far fewer people playing around us by this time. While it was not exactly pretty, I plucked my ball out of the 18th hole on dark.

How did I get here?

If you had told me 10 or even five years ago that I’d be planning long weekends around the prettiest golf courses in a region, or rearranging work schedules to fit in a game, I’d have thought you were mad.

Like many women, I grew up assuming golf was for men. Banker types making deals with corporate suits, or dads escaping family duties early on weekends while mums took the kids to Sunday school. Sure, I’d heard names like Karrie Webb – on the rare occasions her wins were televised on the male-sports-focused news of the 1990s. As a sports journalist now working in a more equitable era, I knew there were women in the pro ranks. But everyday, average women playing golf on a weekend? That type just didn’t exist. Not in the media, not in advertising, not in my world.

And while my husband had attended corporate golf days and semi-regular golf outings with his male friends, I didn’t know a single woman my age who could play.

How on earth did I fall into it?

How it started

Like a wayward tee shot into a bunker, I became a golfer without planning.

I suppose I had a steer in the right direction, given my mother-in-law, Andrea McGann, is a golf instructor based in Sydney. She had previously dragged me to “SwingFit” classes that combine fitness exercises with beginner golf lessons. The best part of those was you could wear activewear on the course and not get in trouble for not wearing a collared polo. It certainly encouraged other participants who were deterred by stuffy or expensive golf clothing.

But the spark that lit the match for me was a random invitation in 2021 to play at one of the nation’s most prestigious courses, The Australian Golf Club. 

“You have to play!” Nick insisted when I told him Lululemon was hosting a media day on the prestigious course and had invited me. I think the PR people assumed I could play because I had modelled once for those SwingFit classes in a newspaper article, the evidence of which was posted way down the grid of my Instagram account.

“There are golfers that have played their entire lives who can’t get a tee-time at The Australian!” a friend from my hockey club said enviously.

Apparently, this was an opportunity too good to miss.

The mother-in-law was most insistent. She immediately booked me into her ladies group classes at Eastlakes and Botany golf clubs. I was put on a rigorous six-week plan to get ‘Australian-ready’. Pitching and putting on Tuesdays; driving, wedges and bunkers on Thursdays.

The media day came, and I was as prepared as I could be. On immaculate grass that looked like it had been snipped with the world’s finest cutthroat razor, I was creating divots that could grass a football field. I took three shots for every one of my playing group’s. Among them were far more capable players, like the publisher of this very magazine. He was kind and encouraging but also mentioned that he had played at Augusta National – clearly, way out of my league.

I made my way around nine holes trying not to draw too much attention, laughing a lot at myself and enjoyed a fancy lunch in The Australian’s clubhouse afterwards. Fortunately, we agreed to an eight-shot limit so there were a few holes where I could just pick up my ball rather than embarrass myself further.

However, one moment sticks in my memory. An approach where I selected a 5-iron on the advice of this magazine’s publisher.

I lined up, breathed out, swung and struck the ball cleanly. That inimitable “clock” sound rung out as my ball flew through the air and dropped neatly onto the green, a couple of metres from the hole. I felt ‘it’, that thrilling satisfaction of everything aligning perfectly to send a tiny white ball on its way to a tiny green hole. I was ready to dedicate as many hours as I needed to reproduce that feeling.

And so my addictive, joyous and maddening journey in golf began.

How it’s going

And so here I am, 31 years old, left hand in glove, hoiking a set of clubs around a course on a long weekend. I’m unable to open my Instagram feed without going down rabbit holes riddled with grip tips and swing videos.

After that day at The Australian, my mother-in-law gave me a set of her old clubs. Buying the equipment can be a major cost barrier to starting out, so admittedly this was a huge head start.

I acquired golf clothing that could double as activewear. Skorts that I could wear to play hockey or tennis and shorts that would be useful for travelling and hiking. I found Lululemon’s range looked and felt great and fitted nicely (and I promise this is not a sponsored story!).

I learned other tips to get around cost hurdles. Second-hand golf clubs go for rock-bottom prices on Facebook Marketplace if you watch out for them. I nabbed a folding buggy on Marketplace for $20, after months lugging my clubs over my shoulder (an experience every rookie should go through first).

Botany Golf Club in Sydney may not be as immaculate as The Australian, but it’s open to the public, costs $20.50 for nine holes and offers a much easier run (shallow bunkers, only one water feature) for newish golfers like me. Craigieburn in Bowral, which is across the road from the house I grew up in, is almost always deserted and has a $15 special. The grass usually needs trimming and there are kangaroos bounding across the fairways, but I usually have the whole place to myself. I love it because I don’t feel any pressure to perform.

I’m getting better at the different shot types, and I roughly know which clubs to select and when. Something clicked when I realised this is a process of trial and error that even the pros are still navigating (why do you think they have caddies?). Bringing a variety of clubs other than my driver to Friday nights at the driving range has helped me discover how far I tend to hit what. I also succumbed to lessons from the mother-in-law on pitching and bunker shots.

Contrary to what some women might assume – that golf is secret men’s business – hubby Nick is thrilled I can now tee off with him. Plenty of men I know would similarly love their partners to be on the course sharing in the enjoyment, rather than nagging them to come home for chores. Nick and I play almost every other sport together, from surfing to skiing to kicking a footy at the park; why not add golf? He’s also the most non-judgmental and calm playing partner I could ask for, purely because he’s already seen me at my worst. We survived that day at Moss Vale, after all.

Now, can I call myself a golfer?

Forget grip tips, swing techniques and club selection – the hardest part of golf for me might be setting aside enough time to play. This is especially the case for busy women who love the gym and play other sports. It’s probably why it took me two years to notch up 18 holes at Moss Vale. It’s also why I think the golf community needs to loosen its strict definitions of what it is to ‘play’.

If you enjoy a hit at the driving range wearing activewear, that counts. If you chip around on nine holes irregularly, you play golf. If you can’t afford a membership but love to tee off on public courses or when on holidays, no matter, you’re a part of our community.

Women who are new to the game and outnumbered by men in every direction should be confident to call themselves golfers. You don’t need to chuck a tantrum ticking off 18 holes to qualify.