“Inclusion is empathy”, golf coach Adrienne Engleman says to me over the phone. “It’s just the patience, the listening, the understanding of people’s needs and how they learn.”

She tells me the story of her inclusive coaching qualification exam, where she was coaching a teenage girl with autism. “Honestly, I thought I’d failed the practical exam. We started the session very well: she was really proactive, but a switch went and she walked off and sat down and didn’t want to participate any more. So I made the decision to go and sit with her and we made daisy chains, would you believe! And towards the end of the session I asked her if she wanted to have another go at the golf and she said yes. We got up and had a wonderful time.

“And the examiner took me to one side at the end of the day and said, ‘that’s what inclusion is about, you know. Everyone else is out there trying to coach and do the technical stuff, but you did what she wanted you to do. And that’s inclusion: you got her to feel comfortable and you got her back into playing sport.’”

Adrienne is a former professional golfer turned full-time coach. As a young woman in golf (she turned pro at 17), she experienced exclusion and discrimination in the male-dominated golf world, which she said “kind of sowed the seed for the rest of my career going forward.” After building up a large coaching academy over several years, she decided that all she wanted to do was focus on coaching.

“I took further qualifications with the Professional Golf Association, including my level three and inclusive coaching qualifications.” This led Adrienne to running a big Junior Academy where she was meeting more and more children with various disabilities, whether sight or hearing loss, learning disabilities, mental health or physical impairments. “I got involved with the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire golf development groups and was asked to be their equality, diversity, and inclusion officer. It was a voluntary role but it enabled me to get more involved with schools, SEN schools, BAME groups and other communities. It was a wonderful few years of understanding and being more aware of the importance of inclusion.”

Adrienne is now based at Colmworth Golf Club in Bedfordshire, where she runs a Junior Academy and inclusive golf days alongside a range of golf coaching and tuition. She also travels to various schools, clubs and groups to provide coaching. When I asked her whether she could tell me a bit about what she does in her inclusive coaching, she said “it’s a really difficult question because I don’t overthink it. When I go to a facility, I look at what I’ve got to work with and then just try to adapt it to make it as inclusive as possible.”

Adrienne’s instincts for making golf adaptable and accessible seem built in to how she coaches, but for her, it’s primarily about the environment. “You have to be conscious of the environment around you, and how you can make the environment inclusive for everybody.” This includes peoples’ experience of feeling welcome entering the venue, to having handrails in the carpark, to clear and visible signage.

Coaching is also far more than training someone in techniques. After that coaching exam, Adrienne realised an essential coaching skill. “Instead of being an instructor, I became someone who is there to nurture ability, because everyone has ability.”

There have been some big improvements within the wider sport of golf to make it more inclusive. There are far more women involved in the game, and, Adrienne says, a huge breakthrough has been in encouraging families to play golf together.

Jamie Blair, Diversity and Inclusion lead at England Golf, told me that a key focus of the organisation is to change the image and perception of the game, which is one of the biggest barriers to people trying out the game. They work with golf clubs across the country to create and develop communities, and at the same time, to bring new communities together by introducing them to golf. Key to this is giving clubs and coaches the confidence to make mistakes, take risks, and to try new things.

Golf Access is also trying to encourage more people to try out golf by breaking down barriers such as previous experience or equipment. Simon Wood, the company’s director, said that the charity partners with clubs to provide ‘park run’-like events, where people are encouraged to come along and try out golf without needing any equipment or previous knowledge. “It’s really to try and change the perception for new people coming into golf that golf is a great game for everyone.”

But there is still a long way to go for golf. Adrienne said that for a long time, golf has taken a backseat in the sporting world; and many people are still scared and nervous about trying inclusive sports and coaching.

“I think people have been very scared in the past. And I can admit that I was like a rabbit in the headlights when I started this journey. I was very concerned about doing and saying the wrong things. But at the end of the day, I think we’re all learning to embrace and enjoy our diverse environment, our diverse world. Diversity doesn’t exist without inclusion.”

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Anna Willis

Freelance journalist and story teller; on Twitter @annawillis101