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Andrea Watson is breaking golf’s glass ceiling

Andrea Watson is credited with being the first female manager of a Sandbelt region golf club and today remains one of the very few female General Managers of a golf club in Australia. Her incredible career spans almost three decades in golf management. Since March 2020 she has been the General Manager at Yarra Yarra Golf Club.

Andrea considers her foray into golf rather late after having time out to have six children. She first started at Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club (formerly Peninsula Country Golf Club) in the hospitality side of the business waitressing. She progressed through the ranks and spent nine years as Operations Manager. This led to an opportunity to be the Operations Manager at Kingston Heath Golf Club in the midst of a big change.

“I went across there as their operations manager, and within 12 months I was made the Assistant General Manager which was really fantastic and we did a lot of things over their tournament's and a $9 million club house restoration, the Masters with Tiger Woods and it was a great place to work, I really, really loved it,” Andrea tells Women’s Golf.

“Then I was approached to come and work at Royal Melbourne to deliver the 2011 Presidents Cup and I was a little bit hesitant at first because I really liked Kingston Heath, but the drawcard of working the President's Cup in 2011 was just too much for me.”

It would be another nine years Andrew would spend at Royal Melbourne as the Assistant General Manager which included two President’s Cups and a stint as Acting General Manager and helping in the background when her dear friend and CEO Paul Rak became ill and ultimately passed away in September of 2015.

After resigning in 2019 to pursue a new path in HR (Andrea has a Master’s in HR), but within two days of her resignation Yarra Yarra were in hot pursuit offering her the general manager position three times before she eventually accepted.

“To be honest with you I just, I love it. It's just such a great club to work for and the board are amazing, and they're very visionary and I've just enjoyed every minute of it”.

Steering Yarra Yarra through restoration and revitalising

Andrea joined Yarra Yarra just after a three year restoration of the course, with the aims of bringing it back to its Alex Russel designed course, particularly as the club will reach its 125th year in 2023.

Tom Doak was appointed to restore the course which included removal of up to 70 per cent of introduced trees and rerouting of the first six holes of the course. The works add up to $4.2 million to date and the club are not finished yet.

“We were ranked 53 when we started the restoration of the golf course and we were just ranked in Golf Australia Magazine as number 17,” says Andrea.

“The work has been really you know renowned people are looking at it and they're amazed by how beautiful the golf course is.”

Andrea credits the members for persisting through the heartache over the past four years of often only having nine holes and then facing forced closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders that heavily impacted Melbourne.

Membership has increased and member satisfaction is up and Yarra Yarra hosted the third day of the 2021 Sandbelt Invitational.

Golf a social sport of ‘honesty and integrity’

Andrea began playing golf after starting in the industry and realising she could spend quality time with her husband on the course.

“The idea of actually going out there with my husband for four hours and just being able to enjoy our walk and dedicated time together and just have conversation and fun and I think it's a very social sport,” she says.

“Golf is a game of honesty and integrity. Plus, it's a social game - I love all of those aspects of it.”

Golf a diverse career but more women are needed

Andrea credits her love of the industry to the versatility and range of experiences and opportunities she has found in golf such as the ability to utilise her background in human resources and marketing.

“I've never felt like I've been bored in any role because I've just continued to improve my skill sets and be able to utilise those across a range of different tasks that I do,” says Andrea.

“Probably to a degree, breaking their glass ceiling for women and hoping that other women will follow me in that path. There isn't a lot of female executives in golf and it's a very male dominated industry. So just trying to be a leader in in that aspect so that women feel like they can move in and progress into those into those management roles in golf.”

Although Andrea says the industry has changed ‘dramatically’ over her career and recalls a conversation with a person high up in the industry dampening her aspirations to be a General Manager. 

“I sat down with him and I discussed my aspirations and I said ‘I don't want to just be doing waitressing. I want to grow, develop, move forward and hopefully one day be a general manager.’ And the reply I got back was ‘Now sweetie, that's not really what you should be thinking of, you should be looking to maybe progress to a dining room manager’ and it was very derogatory.

Andrea says she has faced challenges in the industry and even today is often the only female in the room (like at a recent meeting of Sandbelt golf club managers) but that the industry is progressing to encompassing more gender-neutral aspects of golf.

Women in golf are…

We ask a lot of our interviewees to complete the sentence “Women in golf are…” and Andrea sums it up beautifully: “Enjoying life.”

Words by Ronelle Richards