Olivia Jackson teaching on the range. Peter Cowen Academy

Women’s Golf Month is here once again and June has seen the annual drive toward equal opportunities in the sport both on and off the course.

As the occasion was celebrated across the UAE, a historic moment was marked earlier this month as the R&A confirmed that the UAE has become the first country in the world to have every club signed up to the Women in Golf Charter, which leads the R&A’s drive to increase the number of women and girls participating in golf and to encourage more opportunities for women to work within the golf industry.

The signing of the R&A’s Women In Golf Charter at Jumeirah Golf Estates. Supplied

At an event to mark the signing, General Abdulla Alhashmi, Vice Chairman of the Emirates Golf Federation said: “The Emirates Golf Federation is proud that the UAE is the first country in the world to have all its golf clubs signed up to the Women in Golf Charter. Today’s celebration of women in golf is a great example of the different initiatives that the R&A can bring to the UAE and the region. With this being Women’s Golf Month it is a perfect time to celebrate having all affiliated UAE golf clubs signing the charter and collaborating to encourage women’s golf participation at every level including professionally.”

To mark Women’s Golf Month, Golf Digest Middle East spoke to some of the most influential women in the sport in the UAE to tell us about their experiences and the changes they have seen during their time here:

Bindu Mohandas, Office Manager, Emirates Golf Federation
My primary role at the EGF is handling EGF memberships and player handicaps as well as supporting the team in event management.
Over the past three decades I have been here, I have seen a steady growth in the number of women taking up the game in the UAE. The level of competitive golf has also intensified in amateur levels, thanks to the Order of Merit Ladies Opens and Inter-Club Challenges to name just two. We have quite a few WAGR ranked golfers as well in the country, while the UAE national ladies team is getting better and better.
The increase in female teaching pros at a number of the clubs across the UAE has helped in attracting Emirati girls and women to the game.
During my time, I have been fortunate to meet some of the top professional golfers up close while I worked with Dubai Desert Classic and Dubai Ladies Masters operations teams. It has been an exciting learning experience and it is also delightful to watch homegrown prodigies making their mark in regional and international golf scenes.
The best change I have witnessed is the introduction of short-game formats, par-3 events and ladies’ open days across the clubs. An increase in initiatives such as weekday competitions, discounted membership fees could attract even more females to the game and more ladies’ golf societies would be helpful too.
Golf is the simply best outdoor family sport — there is fun, mental and physical activity and I don’t think there is another sport that is more sustainable. Golf takes you closer nature than any other sport.

Sandy Meyer. Arabian Ranches

Sandy Meyer, PGA Professional, Arabian Ranches Golf Club
I’ve lived and worked as a golf professional in Dubai for 33 Years and have watched the women’s game grow considerably since I have been in Dubai.
What was once viewed as a sport for the older generation, we have seen many more young girls starting to learn the game through our junior programmes, as well as seeing more interest from ladies taking up the game at a much younger age.
There has also been a huge growth in the game for women through modernisation, which has helped golf become more attractive to the fairer sex. The old stigma seems to have fallen away to a game which incorporates not just the physical enjoyment of sport, but also includes a strong social dynamic as well as attractive fashion trends.
One of my most memorable moments in life was when I caddied on the European Ladies Tour in the 1980s, this was an incredible experience and gave me the opportunity to rub shoulders with some amazing players like Dame Laura Davies.
What is important to know is that golf can be learnt at any age. It’s also important to understand that learning golf is challenging but at the same time rewarding in so many ways.

Nishanthi Balasuriya​, Golf Operations Administrator, Emirates Golf Club
I have been in the UAE for the last 27 years, joining EGC in June 1996. So much has changed since then with the rapid development of Dubai and increased number of golf courses around the city.
The game has gained immense popularity among women and UAE nationals. At the beginning it was few Western ladies playing the game, but now you could see it is becoming popular across all nationalities. Through the young girls taking up the game, you can see the huge prospect for golf in Dubai. It is so good  to see young Emirati girls taking up the game and I would not have dreamt that 25 years ago.
With the real estate boom in Dubai, main luxury apartments are being built around the golf courses, increasing popularity further, allowing women at home to take up the game more easily. Golf has become a passion for some of the ladies and they make the clubs the place where they meet friends and spent some quality time.
When I look back at all these years where it started and how far it has come, it feels so amazing and this will never stop.

Olivia Jackson. Matt Smith/Motivate Media Group

Olivia Jackson, LPGA Golf Professional, Emirates Golf Club
I’m currently the LPGA teaching professional at EGC, and have been based in Dubai since January 2020.
Covid definitely helped the game of golf in the UAE. Pushing more people outdoors with social distancing.  Since moving here I’ve really seen an increase in the number of women taking the sport up, this includes junior girls and young women too.
For me when I was growing up watching golf, Annika Sorentstam, and Lorena Ochoa dominate the women’s game and made it very exciting and made it more athletic. I love to watch the Solheim Cup — the tension and competitiveness between the USA and Europe always makes for the best viewing. When I saw Suzann Petersen make the winning putt in her final Solheim Cup was emotional and fantastic to watch.
I think the continued monetary increase for the main tours and the entry level tours will see more women get into golf and make the game more competitive. It’s nowhere near the men’s in terms of prize money and we need to see that gap closer together if we want to see growth in the women’s game. More money focused on the lower tours to help develop aspiring professionals would really help.
I’d also like to see more funding put behind the junior game to encourage young girls that golf isn’t just a short-term recreational game but a sport for life that can take you down many different avenues and meet people from all walks of life!

Pansy Gonsalvez. Dubai Golf

Pansy Gonsalvez​, Head of International Sales, Dubai Golf
Having started my career in travel and tourism, I moved to Dubai Golf 18 years ago, and was recently promoted to Head of International Sales.
My focus is to increase awareness and promote the UAE as a golf destination. This has resulted in a close relationship with all the golf clubs here in the UAE, tourism boards, local and international partners, hotels in the region. I represent Dubai Golf and Viya Golf at various international golf exhibitions and travel roadshows. Over the years this has built strong and long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders in the industry.
Unlike when I started in the industry, golf has evolved to become more inclusive to all. The number of women players and members in the UAE has grown substantially over the years, and golf clubs have taken the initiative by organising ladies tournaments, hiring women golf pros and offering group lessons with a social element to promote the sport to even more women.
Only last week, the UAE became the first country to sign up all its golf clubs to the R&A’s Women in Golf Charter. This is in support of R&A’s drive to increase the number of women and girls playing golf, and to encourage more opportunities for women to work within the industry.
The first time I ever played the game was at the Academy Course at Dubai Creek Golf Club, even before I started working with Dubai Golf, and I had a birdie on a rather challenging hole. That motivated me to stick with and enjoy the game, and also helped with the subsequent decision to move in to the industry shortly after.
Other memorable moments included playing DP World European Tour and Omega Dubai Ladies Masters Pro-Ams with some of the world’s best professional players — who play at a level that I, as an amateur, found intimidating.
While golf is only about 35 years old in the region, women have made great strides to catch up with their male counterparts, both on the course, and behind the scenes. The UAE has actively created opportunities and has fostered a supportive environment for women in sports.
Golf has become an escape from the grind of everyday life, it is a chance to re-invigorate oneself — just as much as a day at the spa. Golf is not just a sport, but also a social activity, with the opportunity to meet new people.  It offers a support system to get you to any level you want based on your time, inclination and ability.
Golf is social and an exercise that can be played you can play anywhere in the world and for us women, interestingly golf fashion (apparel) is become fun.