A few years ago it would have been unthinkable for the Scottish Ladies' Golfing Association to appoint a man to one of its most prominent positions. The traditionalists would have thrown up their hands and guffawed with horror.
But after spending some time with Peter Smith, who took up the appointment of SLGA Secretary just three weeks ago, I'm optimistic that it is another positive step in breaking down the old and outdated sexist barriers.
For a start, Smith has already formed a 'great working rapport' with those at the helm of the Scottish Golf Union. It could be a male bonding thing, but if it brings the two governing bodies even closer together, then the SLGA should thankfully accept the benefits.
Smith, who spent the first 31 of his 36 years in South Africa, is a newcomer to the school of Scottish (in fact, British) women golfers being subjected to second class citizenship, and that could also be a move in the right direction.
The appointee from Dundee is certainly not short of enthusiasm for his new post, although he realises it will be tough to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Susan Simpson, who did so much to modernise the SLGA set-up before moving on to a new challenge working for the Ladies' Golf Union at St Andrews.
With a diploma in accountancy and a background in the oil industry in his native South Africa, Smith's time in Scotland was spent as a househusband and a trainee teacher before he pursued his dream of a career in golf.
'I'm absolutely passionate about the game and just had to apply when I saw the advertisement,' he noted. 'The fact that I was a man applying for a job in the women's side of the game never even struck me as anything strange.'
And he already has a host of targets. 'I want greater participation and more youngsters taking part. At the moment, the average age of Scottish women golfers is around the mid-50s. I don't want to exclude the more mature players,. But I do want to see more girls taking part.
'I know a lot of clubs have ladies' competitions mid-week. That's Okay for housewives and the retired, but it's no good for young, working women.'
He also wants to lay out the welcome mat at all the domestic tournaments. At the moment, most have fields of around 72. Smith wants them increased to over 100, and he also envisages a day when their is someone solely in charge of a tournament division. At present, all the major events come under his jurisdiction.
In the longer term, he is already looking to forming a total partnership with the SGU. 'I think we will join together at some stage,' he predicted. 'We have already talked about increasing the use of shared facilities, and shared expertise.'
As for his own golf, Smith is an enthusiastic mid-teen handicapper, and a member of both Scotscraig and Drumoig. And he hopes that his game won't suffer under the pressures of trying to make life easier for Scotland's ever growing female membership.
His German wife, Gisela (her sporting passion is show jumping rather than golf), is a GP at a Dundee-based medical centre, and their children, Luke, 4, and Hannah, 2, also demand a deal of his time.
He reports Luke is already keen on golf and, hopefully, Hannah will also catch the bug. That could make it easier to demand time on the golf course!
'I know my many of weekends will be taken up by tournament commitments, but I still hope to keep up my routine of playing once or twice a week,' he said. 'A round of golf is a great way to befriend people, and it could be the way to meet and introduce more sponsors to the women's game.'
As for the top end of the sport, he is brimming with optimism. Those for whom he has high hopes no doubt includes a quartet - Linzi Morton, Lynn Kenny, Anne Laing and Lesley Mackay - that will be heading to South Africa for a training camp in March.
All in all, Smith oozes enthusiasm. With the Scottish Championship looking forward to celebrating its centenary next year, and the SLGA ready to mark its 100 years of existence in 2004, the time is certainly ripe to look ahead, and plan for an even brighter and more prosperous future. A man at the helm? Is it, perhaps, a timely wind of change?
|| 6 - FEBRUARY 2002