Home » WPGA Tour celebrates 50th year in style

WPGA Tour celebrates 50th year in style

IT all started way back in 1972 when South Australian businessman Alan Gillott awoke with a bright idea.

“Why can’t we have women professional golfers here in Australia?” Alan thought to himself after reading a golf magazine.

Well, Alan sprung into action and soon after that the women’s professional golf in Australia was born.

That was 50 years ago and last December, in the magnificent surrounds of Kingston Heath Golf Club, Alan and seven of the original 11 founding members celebrated the 50th anniversary of women’s professional golf in Australia.

They were joined by an assortment of the who’s who of the Australian golf scene including major champions and World Golf Hall of Fame members Karrie Webb and Jan Stephenson.

It really was such a special occasion bringing together Alan and these amazing women who 50 years ago made the courageous decision to turn professional and join what Alan had set up on August 15, 1972 as the LPGA of Australia.

The 50th anniversary celebration began with the Master of Ceremonies – well-known media personality and Head of Female Engagement at Golf Australia, Tiffany Cherry, to welcome the 130 guests including WPGA president Julia Boland and WPGA Tour board members, PGA of Australia chair Rodger Davis, CEO Gavin Kirkman and several of its board members including the great Ian Baker-Finch, Golf Australia CEO James Sutherland and representatives from the GA board, Dame Laura Davies, ISPS Handa representative Midori Miyazaki, Kingston Heath Golf Club president Nikki McClure, Golf NSW CEO Stuart Fraser, Director of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation Victoria Sarah Styles, Australian Golf Foundation president Steven Spargo and his wife Jill, along with the Foundation’s Junior Girls Scholarship founder Bonnie Boezeman and Kingston Heath Golf Club’s junior girls scholarship members.

There were also many other past and current WPGA Tour players in attendance along with our WPGA Tour sponsors and partners and other friends of the tour.

It really was such a great thrill for us to have so many wonderful and passionate people in one room to celebrate this momentous occasion. The collaboration between Australian Golf’s peak governing bodies over the past few years really was on show for everyone to witness and I think it is safe to say had this anniversary happened a few years ago the guest list may have looked very different.

Following the welcome, it then fell on me to speak on behalf of the WPGA Tour before Tiff welcomed founder Alan Gillott to the stage to speak about those early days.

Alan spoke about some of the roadblocks and difficulties he was faced with in 1972. For Alan to be standing there in the room with seven of the women who jumped on board the bus with him when the association was set up all those years ago and with our female major winners, Karrie, Jan, Minjee, Hannah and many prominent others in the room it was clearly an incredibly emotional moment for Alan and his wife Barbara, who also made the journey to Melbourne with him to share in this moment.

We will always be indebted to Alan for having the courage to start the journey of women’s professional golf in Australia all those years ago.

We then asked sports journalist and WPGA board member Sam Squiers to facilitate a panel discussion with Karrie, president Julia Boland and founding members Laureen Ford and Barb Jones.

It was so interesting hearing these remarkable women trade stories of their experiences and again reiterate some of the challenges that Alan had spoken of earlier.

The panel discussion was followed by another of the many highlights of the evening as Karrie Webb presented her former Karrie Webb Scholarship winners Minjee Lee and Hannah Green with life membership of the WPGA Tour of Australasia for their achievements in recent years.

It was quite an emotional presentation for all three women.

Karrie has played such a pivotal role in both Minjee and Hannah’s careers and it was a poignant and fitting moment for her to reward their achievements being a WPGA life member herself.

I then had the pleasure of presenting the seven founding members with a gift commemorating the 50th anniversary celebration, which was definitely one of the highlights of my more than nine years in this role.

To see the beaming smiles from the faces of Laureen, Roberta, Glennis, Barb, Anne, Judy and MJ (who had flown in from the US for the celebration) had made all of the work pulling the celebration together so very worthwhile.

It was though so very sad that the WPGA’s first ever president, Betty Dalgleish, couldn’t join us for the celebration. Unfortunately “Dags” as she is known to her colleagues, is battling some health issues and couldn’t travel to Melbourne but our thoughts that evening were very much with her.

Unfortunately, both Penny Pulz (who lives in the USA) and Judy Gibson (who was the same week celebrating her 80th birthday with family and friends who had flown from the US and the UK to celebrate with her here in Australia) were also unable to attend.

Our thoughts on the evening were also very much the 11th founding member, Jan Kelly, who sadly passed away some years ago. I hope that she was looking down on her colleagues with great pride.

It was then time for another panel discussion with Jan Stephenson, who had also flown all the way from Florida to join us for the celebration, and past presidents and life members of the WPGA Tour Sandra Mackenzie and Anne Wilson Lawrence, who shared many wonderful stories and insights into their careers in those early days.

The final presentation of the evening was also an incredibly special one.

This honour fell to me to present the late Margie Masters with posthumous life membership of the WPGA Tour. Sadly, Margie passed away in October 2022.

She was the first-ever Australian woman to play on the LPGA Tour and also the first to win an LPGA Tour event in 1965. Margie truly was a trailblazer and one of the pioneers of Australian golf.

It was so wonderful to meet Margie’s nieces Amy Fallon, Cassy Miles and Leanne Barrett who spoke on behalf of the Masters family.

It was a very emotional moment for the three women and there was hardly a dry eye in the house as they spoke of their love for their beloved aunty and how much this honour would have meant to her.

Looking back now more than a month after the event, it truly was one of the most special occasions I have been privileged to be a part of and I would sincerely like to thank everyone who played their part in making this celebration happen.

Firstly to all of our founding members who attended – Laureen Ford, Barb Jones, Anne Kenny, Glennis Dwyer, Roberta Simpson, Judy Perkins and Marilyn (MJ) Smith – thank you for making the effort to travel to Melbourne.

To all of our WPGA Tour members and partners who joined us, it was great to see so many old and new friends in the room.

To the WPGA Tour president Julia Boland and our board for supporting the 50th anniversary project and my colleague at the WPGA Tour, Lee Harrington and her daughter Tara, along with my sister Mardi Lunn for all their help in setting up the event.

I also need to say a huge thank you to Andrew Taylor and his amazing staff at Kingston Heath Golf Club for hosting the event. We honestly could not have asked for a more perfect venue.

And finally, to our incredible host on the night, Tiffany Cherry, for doing such a great job and for all of the work she did in planning the evening, and the PGA of Australia and Golf Australia staff who also supported the event.

source: insidegolf