WIRRAL LADIES Golf Club is to break with more than a century of tradition.
Since the club was first formed, way back in 1894, the club captain has always been a lady.
However a change in the laws surrounding equality sparked a lengthy discussion amongst members at the club – which can be found in Bidston Road, Prenton – which has resulted in a ground-breaking decision.
For 2013 the club has voted to appoint joint captains, one of each gender, which will become standard practice in the future.
The two captains elect, who will be confirmed in office at the AGM in March, are John Hughes and Janet Mills.
The tradition of ladies only for the captain’s role stretches back to the 1894 articles of association. These dictated that committee members should be all female. It was a structure that lasted more than 100 years until men were given a vote in the late 1990s.
Ironically the club had been born out of the equality battle.
By the end of the 19th century, golf was becoming a popular pastime, but ladies were forbidden to join clubs.
The Golf Magazine of 1891, however, declared that the sport was eminently suitable for women, “combining a sufficient amount of exercise with the gracefulness of deportment which every true woman is properly proud of possessing”.
In 1894 the female family members of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club pressurised their men folk into putting up the money to lease a piece of common land on Oxton Heath.
This was the beginning of Wirral Ladies’ Golf Club, one of several to be founded at the time and yet one of only a handful to have survived. The course was specifically designed with the ladies in mind and is around 5,000 yards in length.
While a minnow in comparison with some of today’s championship monsters, it is a course that has stood the test of time as a sporting challenge.
The Birkenhead Advertiser of February 1894 reported that ‘no longer were the sterner sex going to have it all their own way at the putting game, for Wirral Ladies’ Golf Club now have their own links prepared for their own special behoof’.
Men are now able to serve on all committees at the 21st century version. Further equality changes have allowed the men to stand for election as chairman of various committees while three years ago the first male chairman of the management committee was appointed as the club fell into line with the 2010 Equality Act.
Club manager Peter Greville explained: “Wirral Ladies’ has been a genuine mixed gender golf club for many years, with both men and women enjoying equal access to the course. The club continues to promote itself as a friendly club providing opportunities for golfers of all ages and abilities.
“Our delightful heathland course has been independently portrayed as ‘a hidden golfing gem’ and is a short, but challenging course that requires accuracy in order to score well.
“It is an ideal course upon which both established golfers and newcomers can develop their skills.”
Last year the club became the first on the Wirral to achieve GolfMark, a national award which recognises clubs that are beginner and child-friendly.
Greville added: “The members are very mindful of the great traditions of Wirral Ladies’ Golf Club but this historical change to appoint joint male and female club captains further demonstrates the club’s ability to adapt and move forward.”
The two members to take on the historic roles as joint captains have both been actively involved with the club for a number of years.
Janet Mills is a retired headmistress from Merchant Taylors’ School, Crosby. She has been a member of Wirral Ladies since 2001 and plays off 14.
She has won numerous club trophies over the years and represents the club in the Ladies team matches. She served as club chairman for five years and is the ladies handicap secretary.
She organises an annual golf event at Wirral Ladies for the Merchant Taylors’ Old Girls and manages to fit in regular visits to see her young grandchildren in New Zealand into a busy golfing schedule.
John Hughes is a retired schoolteacher (Wirral Grammar School) and only took up the game five years ago at the age of 57 when he joined Wirral Ladies GC.
Prior to that his main sports had been rugby union, judo and tennis. He was a black belt at judo, a long-standing member of Birkenhead Lawn Tennis Club and a former umpire at Wimbledon.
He is the men’s chairman at Wirral Ladies – a position which will become obsolete with the appointment of a male captain for the first time. John has a handicap of 18 and is a previous winner of the club’s Ireland Cup and Bickett Trophy.
He won the mixed championship with Miss Irene Lewis and lists his favourite golfing memory as an eagle on the par-four 18th at Wirral Ladies.