Heather Hilder-Darling of Worthing Golf ClubIn my quest to be a decent Lady Captain, I thought I’d seek the advice and experience of friends who have already taken the mantle. Heather was Lady Captain at Worthing Golf Club last year. Our two clubs couldn’t be more different: we have 9 holes and they have an outrageous 36 holes over two wonderful downland courses. The Ladies’ section, as well as the whole club, also boast a much bigger membership. I still was curious to hear more about her experience and to seek her precious advice on how to carry out my duties. Over to you, Heather, and thanks again for talking to me!


Tell me about the women’s section at Worthing GC.

It’s a large section, with about 130 playing members. Most of our ladies play on Tuesdays, while the ‘business’ ladies play their competitions at the weekend; there’s also a group that plays social golf on Thursdays, as well as at other times of the week with friends and social groups. These groups are quite separate, especially as some Tuesday ladies are 5 day members, so they rarely play at the weekend. However, nearly everyone comes together for certain ‘landmark’ events in the year, such as the Spring & Autumn meetings, Away Days, and Lady Captain’s Day.

We have teams in all three SCLGA (Sussex County Ladies Golf Association) divisions and a scratch team, of whom we’re enormously proud. And we have our juniors, about 80 in total, a mixture of boys and girls of different ages. We attracted new players as a couple of neighbouring courses closed recently, which meant we had quite an influx of players, both ladies and men. Our Ladies Captain and Committee is very welcoming and introduces new members to other players through our new members’ events.

What were your main duties as Lady Captain?

What weren’t they? I’ll send you a job description I drew up for myself to help future in-coming Captains as I was slightly in the dark as to what was involved [Later, Heather sent me the file and it has 45 bullet points! 45!]. Obviously looking after the Ladies’ section, and I instigated ‘Heather’s Golfing Round-Up’, an internal newsletter so our Ladies knew what was going on, and to encourage them to sign up for competitions. Then all the extra committees like House Committee (anything to do with the clubhouse, staffing, decoration, etc.). It was quite a wide brief, with Golf & Handicap Committee as well – anything to do with those areas, we’d have a representative from the Ladies’ section. I organised events, trying to keep them fresh, interesting and FUN. Also social events – I introduced a dinner and prize-giving following our Ladies’ Club Championship and people really loved it.

Then we had an exchange with Ham Manor GC in January: two Worthing and two Ham Manor members playing in a friendly match, light lunch and prize-giving afterwards. These events spread the word and help women meet players from other clubs; it opens things up. I also organised days out at Mid Sussex GC and Mannings Heath GC, with a round of golf, lunch and prize-giving, plus a Strawberry Cream Tea at The Dyke GC. For prizes, I had a lot of support from our Worthing Pro, Mike Henning, who provided prizes and vouchers and was very accommodating in getting winners the right size. Aside from golfy prizes, I ran a vintage theme throughout my year; I bought ‘vintage’ prizes for certain events, and one of my prizes for the ‘Teapot Trophy’ was afternoon tea at MetroDeco, a vintage tea room in Kemp Town, and I was chauffeur – that proved very popular!

Did you have any goals for your year as Captain? What were they? Did you achieve them?

YES. At the beginning of my year, I wrote myself a list called “What does success look like?”

1. More integration of weekend & Tuesday ladies/juniors
2. Wider cross section of golf linked activities
3. Increased participation in both qualifying and non qualifying comps
4. Charity collection = £3000

I believe I achieved over and above, according to feedback from the Pro and some Lady members. I’m a perfectionist, so whatever I do is never good enough.

What made you particularly proud?

Worthing Golf Club TeamI’m particularly proud of getting through the year because I was working full-time, looking after my grand-daughter once a week, so there was a lot of stress and pressure. I’m also really proud of getting my handicap down to 9, but that’s probably because I played over 130 rounds of golf during my year!

But most of all I wanted people to have fun, I wanted to have fun myself and hear a lot of laughter. I also wanted to introduce a few new competitions and events that were more up-to-date and raise the bar a little. Whether my changes will survive is a question mark, because each Lady Captain goes in with her own ideas, to put her own stamp on – what happens one year could be overthrown the following year.

What did you find most challenging?

I was keen to modernise the section and introduce new ideas. If we want to continue to recruit new members, we have to change and be more flexible and versatile in the things we offer, like 9 hole and early evening competitions to fit in with work and motherhood. Changing how things were done and new marketing ideas were the most difficult task for me, because like a lot of members’ golf clubs, tradition prevails. But I did get NOBO boards on the back of the cloakroom doors to promote events!

What did you enjoy the most?

The Championship Dinner, which was a first, and I’m glad that our Lady Captain organised it again this year. I can be a bit of an ‘actress’ sometimes, so I loved being organiser, speaker and acting ‘the part’. What gave me the greatest satisfaction was seeing people enjoying themselves. I also organised two speakers: Lucy McCrickard, of LGM Nutrition, from Brighton, who performed some interesting tests on members. I also had a guy from Owls About Town near Chichester because we have a competition called the Tawny Owl, so he brought Ginny, a tawny owl with him, and we had a chat about how owls compare to golfers – that was fascinating! Very early in my year, I organised County Match Week, and had a huge amount of support from our Ladies Committee and Members – the feedback from visiting clubs and SCLGA was outstanding, and of course, Sussex went on to become overall runners-up.

If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?

I’d have to think long and hard about doing it again! The sheer personal effort involved was enormous as I was working full-time. I believe that if you put a lot in, you get a lot out, but it took so much out of me personally. It can be difficult to deal with negative feedback and to get everyone to buy into your plans. If I were to do it again, I’d delegate more and get members of the committee to organise specific events. I found it emotionally draining because I didn’t realise the enormity of the role and I wish I had used my year as Vice-Captain to better prepare myself, but there are many ‘unknowns’ eg the weather! It was demoralising trying to make changes in a club big on tradition.

After 25 years in business, I tend to think I know what I’m doing and I’m used to being in charge, so it was difficult to encounter resistance to some of my ideas when I had such a short period of time.
It’s probably too soon to appreciate what I achieved and I’m finding it difficult to transition to being a regular member again. So what I would do differently is ask for more advice in my Vice-Captain’s year in order to be ready for the emotional roller-coaster that being a Captain can be.

Any tips?

Stay cool. Plan ahead. Get a good team around you. Recognise all the different needs within the Ladies’ section and look after all of them, but realise you can’t please everyone, all of the time. Leave lots of notes for the incoming Captain and enjoy yourself – because it goes so quickly!