Last weekend, something unusual happened at Walton Heath golf club, one of the world’s top courses whose first captain was King Edward VIII and which has counted four prime ministers, including Winston Churchill, among its members.
The prestigious club, set amid Surrey heathland, first hosted the English Ladies’ Championship in 1914. A century later, it launched a ladies’ academy to encourage more women to take up the sport.
But the group that took to the fairway on 29 May broke new barriers. “We’re female, we’re women of colour and some of us are women who cover,” said Ambereen Khan, referring to the hijab that she and some of her friends wear.
Khan was taking part in a series of taster sessions aimed at Muslim women at golf courses in England and Scotland this summer. The women’s taster tour has been organised by Amir Malik, founder of the Muslim Golf Association and advocate for inclusivity in the game.
“Most Muslim women have never had the opportunity to play golf. But it’s the perfect sport for them,” he said. There is no physical contact between players, and modest clothing and head coverings are no impediment.
Within a few days of launching his taster roadshow online, 180 women had signed up. Another 500 are on a waiting list to take part.
When approaching the clubs about his Muslim women’s taster tour, Malik said he had “conversations about diversity and inclusivity. At some clubs, there are members with very traditional views who don’t want change. Golf is still seen as elitist and white.”
But he was heartened by those who “swung their doors open” to Muslim women. At Walton Heath, the club chef offered to prepare a halal meal. “They made us feel really comfortable,” said Khan, who had signed up for the session with nine friends.
She had never hit a golf ball before. “We were all pretty quiet at the beginning, but by the end we were throwing around golfing terms.”
Shabana Gadit went with her sister. “I’d been thinking about having some lessons but I felt a bit daunted. This was a chance to have a go in a welcoming environment.” Both women have since signed up for a six-week course.
“It would be great to see more diversity in sport, especially golf. Sport should be accessible to all, we need to break barriers down, and all should be welcomed,” said Gadit.
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The Muslim Golf Association partnered with love.golf, which encourages women to take up the game and provides female coaches, for the taster tour.
Malik said: “My mission is to get women in niqabs on golf courses. This is a sport that is ripe for disruption.”
Alex Woodward, chief executive of Walton Heath golf club, said: “We are fully committed to growing participation in the game. Every golf club should reflect its community regardless of ability, age, gender or religious belief. It was wonderful to see these ladies dipping their toes in the golf water.”