Melbourne, Australia: Chyloe Kurdas spent 15 years as an elite Australian Rules footballer. The daughter of a Turkish immigrant father, she grew up in a multi-cultural community in Australia where girls were typically not especially encouraged to play sport.
Except for Kurdas, whose parents were committed to education and sport, and whose encouragement resulted in their daughter discovering a natural talent for Aussie Rules football.
Following a successful playing career, she became AFL Victoria’s first Female Football Development Manager, as well as developing studies in health promotion, psychology and education.
Now Kurdas is the Female Engagement Senior Manager for Golf Australia – and has a clear view of where golf has come from and the direction it needs to take next.
Speaking to a spokesperson for Syngenta Growing Golf, Kurdas said: “Historically, golf has been built by men, for men and to the needs of men. That’s all sport. If you look at the first Olympic Games, women weren’t even allowed to participate.
“When we have let women into sport, we’ve generally tacked them on the end. So women have had to adjust their needs to suit the culture of whichever sport they are choosing. What we need to do in golf, if we are going to move forward and have a future proof sport, is deconstruct our culture.
“The origins of golf’s culture are steeped in masculinity and the needs of men. It’s our past, a product of our time in history – but it doesn’t have to be our future. The best bit about that is that we get to choose what our future will be.
“Our culture needs to be led by the needs of people. All successful sports are being participant-driven.”
This sentiment was encapsulated in the launch of The R&A’s Women in Golf Charter in London last May where Kurdas was invited to speak.
The R&A – formerly an all-male body known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews – is now taking a forward-looking lead among governing bodies to change golf’s culture and increase inclusivity.
Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because if golf is to be economically sustainable it has to answer the needs of people. All people.
As a 2016 report by Syngenta revealed, the global market potential of increased female participation could be worth up to US$35 billion a year.
However, according to Kurdas, women play a far more significant role. They are more than individual customers; they are introducers and bring others with them.
In fact, they are the key to unlocking the long-term benefits of family golf.
“Women are socialised to be the connectors within our families,” said Kurdas. “We are great connectors within our social spaces, we are often the ones who connect people together. That is part of how we have been socialised.
“So, when we choose to engage more women in the sport, we also get the strategic advantage of the skillset and experience that women bring – and that is, they bring others with them.
“When we think about the family context and the role of a woman within a family, if we don’t get her, we don’t get her family. And that’s critical.”
The research by Syngenta – an Executive Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation – proved the point. It revealed that women are 38% more likely to introduce their children to golf than men.
What Syngenta’s research also showed was that family responsibilities (30%), as well as cost (30%), were the primary reasons female golfers left the sport.
Kurdas explains that while women are more likely to bring others along to golf, including family, the converse risk is that if the experience is negative it will result in more being deterred.
The paradox golf faces is that spending time with family is one of the factors that appeals most to prospective female players. Yet if a golf course can’t provide that experience, it becomes the reason many female players leave the game.
So, can golf be relevant to modern family life?
“Absolutely,” says Kurdas. “But it’s about cultural expansion and doing things we’ve never done before. We have to modernise the sport to provide an offering for anyone in the community; not so that you have to fit into a little niche of delivering the sport – 18-hole golf, five hours, you must have a handicap.
“For me, I have absolutely no interest in playing competitive golf. I play golf because it enhances my mental health – it’s mindfulness and movement. I like to walk around my local nine-hole public course. It’s open, it’s inclusive, it costs me A$18.
“Eighty per cent of Australian golf club members are 55 years and over, but if we want to attract a younger and family-based market, we have to give them a product that they want to buy.
“I really love the game. I’d like to play more and get a little better, but I haven’t joined a golf club because I’ve yet to find a product in a golf club that suits my needs. Who else are we missing out on?”