2023 11 news tee upOn a balmy spring Friday evening they’re lined up on the range knocking balls high and long despite their small statures.

Their natural swings and temperaments are being tuned like fine instruments by their “conductor”, golf professional Shane McHenry.

But amazingly, there isn’t a boy among this group who have not long started their golfing journey.
It’s an uncommon scene for a sport that has bemoaned - seemingly forever - the small numbers of girls taking up the sport.

Not right now though at Cairns Golf Club where lessons like the one described above are being played out throughout the week with participants as young as under 10. For the first time ever, in 2023 the club’s centenary year, there are more junior girls participating than boys.

It’s a welcome development as female sport in general surges in popularity nationally with Australian women’s cricket, rugby league, AFL and the Matilda’s football team including Far North powerhouse and Cairns Post’s Most Influential person Mary Fowler, inspiring girls to have a go.
For Elise and Peter Ward, who have not one but two daughters whacking it around a golf course now, it’s all about family.

While Pete has only just returned to golf after taking it up as a junior, Elise has recently started lessons after watching Renee, 10, and Imogen, 8, get hooked. “We can go out as a family and spend the time together all doing something we enjoy,” Elise said. “It’s something you’re never going to get perfect - you have good days and bad days. It’s a personal challenge every time you do it.”

The girls started with Saturday minis in 2022 but are now playing modified hole competitions and attending group lessons weekly. Renee is part of the Australian Golf Foundation Junior Girls Scholarship program, along with five other girls from the club, working towards a handicap.

In October she met former world number one Karrie Webb during the star’s junior masters tournament at her home course in Ayr.“She met Karrie Webb and was able to ask her anything; advice on certain shots and used that information the next day. It was fantastic.”
Elise said they’d tried other sports but it wasn’t the right environment. “This is a little community and very supportive.”

Shooting good scores isn’t the main thing the Wards want for their daughters though.
“Confidence in themselves to set their mind to something and be able to achieve it, which they can if they put in the time and the effort … how far they’ve come in the last 12 months - it is huge.
“It’s a skill they can take for life,” Elise said.

Creating that family environment is central to Shane McHenry Golf.
And it’s working. There are several families with multiple female siblings playing including Angel, Emma and Madeleine Webster, Felicity and Kyla Pryor, Dain and Jiwoo Choi and Kylie and Emma Fixter.

“(It’s about) creating a family environment, having uniforms for the kids, creating relationships on an individual level as the coach, having a team spirit within the individual nature of the sport and providing a pathway from entry level through to elite level.
“And most importantly creating an environment of fun,” McHenry said.

His career as a coach and player has taken him from Darwin and Melbourne to the Mediterranean and Caribbean and throughout Europe, Asia and Australia.
He cuts a familiar figure on Cairns’ driving range and on the links with his trademark white broad-brimmed hat, long sleeves and colourful long duds. To the kids he’s a cool, calm dude but underneath there is a strong determination to make golf for the beginner both rewarding and fun.
Where girls junior golf had struggled in the past it was flourishing now based on friendship, McHenry said.
“It’s important to create a group of girls that can progress together on their golfing journey.
“Scholarship programs like the AGF girls program have had a huge impact nationwide since starting three years ago.”
McHenry said coaches needed to be sensitive to the subtle learning differences between boys and girls.
For McHenry, who took up golf himself at 13, juniors are the most important demographic in a club’s membership. “When clubs get their junior program right they can look forward to a bright future.
"Family golf is the future of golf. The old model of the working male member has no sustainable future.”

Advice for parents
For parents of budding young golfers, professional Shane McHenry has this advice:
“Be patient, give them quality clubs that are correctly fitted or use the coach’s clubs.
“Don’t rush a cheap set to simply look the part.”


2023 11 news tee up2
2023 11 news tee up3