Hannah McAllister, Wales Golf‘s Development Director, is to become the next chief executive of Wales Golf – making her one of the first female leaders of a merged golf governing body in the world.
The former Wales international player will also be the first female CEO of a merged golf union in the Home Nations when she succeeds Richard Dixon, who is retiring this summer after 30 years at the top of the Welsh game.
McAllister joined the development arm set up as a result of the Ryder Cup bid 19 years ago, rising to Director of Development, as well as deputising for the current CEO for the past three years.
The 42-year-old has played a key role in bringing more than half a million people through schemes run by Wales Golf, as well as improving and increasing the way the governing body works with member clubs. That relationship has been particularly crucial through the Coronavirus pandemic, Wales Golf working directly with 99% of the clubs to help them through the crisis.
McAllister believes this is a good time to be taking over to build on the strong relationships built with Welsh clubs during the pandemic. Improving equality, diversity and inclusion within golf, as well as engaging with all existing and potential golfers, will be key targets moving forward.
“I can build on Wales Golf’s strong foundations, grow and develop it further and lead our established team through the changes and challenges that lie ahead. I will be looking to provide stability and create sustainability,” said McAllister. “We have got a fantastic culture and I am just excited about the times ahead. We have created a really good relationship with our clubs and our golfers, we will be building on that and moving it forward.
“It has been a tough year, but in some ways there has never been a better time to take over. I feel I have got that experience – I just need to take the next step now and I am really looking forward to it.”
McAllister paid tribute to Dixon, who oversaw the merger of separate men’s and ladies golfing unions, with no sport development side, into the creation of Wales Golf – with Wales being the first of the Home Nations to unify golf’s governing bodies.
“Richard needs to be proud,” said McAllister. “He has created this fantastic working culture, he has allowed me and the other staff to develop and he is leaving this organisation with his head held high because he knows the organisation will be in a good position.”
Golf Development Wales was set up as part of the Ryder Cup bid under the umbrella of what was then called the Welsh Golfing Union, with McAllister joining right at the start.
“It has been a fantastic journey and we have gone through different strategies as well,” she said. “In 2010, due to the financial crash and the need for clubs to move with the changing times, I led the development and implementation of the Golf Development Wales ‘Securing the Future’ strategy. This involved implementing an innovative new way of working using a whole-club business support approach, aside from the traditional sports development approach. Being the first NGB to take this approach, we were asked to share our knowledge across the golf and sports sectors.
“I have built a diverse team from the original three to nine people by sourcing funding and building strong business cases to create sustainability.
Because we have expanded the team, we have got two approaches – the business development angle and the community team.
“We have developed over that period, as have the high performance and championships sides of Wales Golf. We run more events for all, including two Wales Golf festivals this year which will involve a disability event, beginner events, as well as performance events, so the whole organisation has evolved to become more inclusive.
“Producing Welsh golfers who can go on to be successful on the international stage is also a key part of the role, and there is good progress being made there too. Support has been put in place to develop a whole player model, focusing on individual player needs. Processes have also been streamlined to ensure we are investing in the right player, at the right time, in the right place.”
McAllister took up golf at the age of 12 and moved up through Llanwern golf club and county levels until she was part of the Wales squad at the age of 17.
“I used to play tennis, and then my Dad asked me to swing a golf club, he said it was a good swing and took me to a driving range, I developed, joined Llanwern golf club and within a year came down from 36 to a 12 handicap,” she said.Then I gradually improved, played for the club ladies team, the county and was recruited to the Welsh junior squad.
“The sport has given me many opportunities and skills. It has enabled me to travel all over GB and lead me to my education and career path.”
McAllister is proud to be one of the first female chief executives of a merged golf governing body and hoping the appointment will encourage more women to take up a career in golf.
“I am the most experienced person for the job. However there is a gender gap within golf in participation and the workforce and I hope I can be a good role model within the sport,” she said.“My appointment will set a good example to organisations that need to improve their gender diversity at a senior executive level. I am looking forward to showing what Wales Golf can do and how we can drive the sport forward in Wales.
“There is a lot to do in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion within the sport, but we have made significant progress, and I am looking forward to building on this. Schemes such as New2Golf have 65% female participation. We also have the business support scheme, which helps to improve the business planning process and governance within clubs, so we have the support to encourage more people to take up this great sport.
“It is also essential coming out of the pandemic that we focus on the health benefits of golf and that is it a safe sport to play. It can change people’s lives and improve health and well-being due to the social aspects and exercising in the great outdoors.
“We have some work to do to ensure we break down some of the traditional perceptions of the sport to ensure we reach our vision ‘Everyone’s Game, Anywhere.’
“There is a version of the sport for everyone, it can be low cost and good value for money, and we need to promote all the opportunities to get people to try the sport and take advantage of all golf has to offer.”