Q & A – Outgoing WGSA President Karen Olivant

We sat down with outgoing president Karen Olivant to find out more about the highs and lows of her six-year tenure at Womens Golf South Africa. We also found out where her passion for golf administration began and how she plans to spend her ‘retirement’.

Tell us how, where and when to took up the game, clubs you’ve been a member of, your current handicap and golfing highlights.
I took up golf about 20 years ago when my husband Tonysuggested we take up a game we could play unitl we were 90, unlike squash, which was my sport of choice at the time! My current handicap is 19, but I’ve been as low as 12. I have only ever been a member of Port Shepstone Country Club and the top highlight of my career was winning the Match Play championship one year.

Where did your journey into the administration of the game begin, and how did you end up holding the most important post in amateur golf?
My passion for golf has always stemmed from the Rules of Golf. Mary Eckley from Scottburgh Golf Club was a founder member of the Kwazulu-Natal Ladies Golf Association Rules Panel and I was on the KZNLGA Executive committee. Mary got me involved in administration and so the journey began. After serving as a club captain and the South Coast Regional President, I went on to serve as KZNLGA President and as such, set on the South African Ladies Golf Union (now Womens Golf South Africa) Executive.

Looking back over the three years as vice-president and three years as President, what does the WGSA’s ‘report card’ look like?
It has been a very interesting six years, especially with talk of the amalgamation of the SAGA and WGSA becoming a reallity half way through my term, and as with any merger there have been ‘stepping stones’.

Have there been any disappointments, or things that you wish could have turned out differently and what were the highlights of your tenure?
I think one looks back and there are always things that one could have been done slightly differently. One of my highlights was playing an integral part in getting a South African girls team invited to participate in the Toyota Junior World Cup in Japan in 2014 and 2015. And being part of the process to establish an Africa Girls Qualifier for the Junior World Cup. This was played for the first time this year concurrent with the Africa Boys Qualifier at the All-Africa Junior Golf Championship in Zimbabwe. I hopefully played a small part in growing junior girls’ golf in Africa and I hope it continues. I’m also proud to have been invited to officiate as a Rules Official at the 2017 Junior World Cup.

There have been some amazing women at the helm of Womens Golf in the past 103 years, too many to name but Erica Lefson took us that one step further in the professional way we run our tournaments today. Cynthia Rayner continued that trend and now furthers women’s amateur golf’s interests as a board member of GolfRSA. I feel very privileged to have been the last President of WGSA as we know it, as well as being a founder member of the board of GolfRSA.

You were required to travel a lot during your tenure – was this something you enjoyed and what were your highlights?
I have enjoyed the travelling although it was very tiring. The time out of the country is never quite long enough and it was sometimes quite difficult to adjust. The WGSA President is very hands on, so whilst away, there are invariably things to attend to for an upcoming event at home. But seeing so many different countries and watching our wonderful talent in action was very rewarding and a real privilege!

How important do you regard the ‘club culture’ in golf, and are you concerned that the younger generation seem to show less club loyalty.
I think club culture is key and must become more of a focus, and yes, I do think that the juniors should participate more in their club events. Having said that, it is very hard for the school-going players to keep their grades up and fulfill their commitments at club, provincial and national level.

It is no secret that many golf clubs are struggling for survival. How do you see GolfRSA, WGSA and the SAGA being able to assist in marketing the game to a wider audience?
All the above bodies are working hard at finding ways to improve affiliated numbers, and I believe there are exciting things in the pipeline.

Do you ultimately see the game growing in South Africa? And do you have any ideas that could be implemented to provide more affordable facilities being available to new golfers in the lower income groups?I have no doubt that golf in South Africa will grow as the country climbs out of the economic slump and hopefully the introduction of municipal courses could be the thing of the future?

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