Selection of Dungannon teacher for role hailed as ‘massive step forward’
This is the woman who has entered the sporting history books in Co Tyrone.
Alison Chestnutt is the first female captain in the 132 years of Dungannon Golf Club — and the first to captain an all-gender club anywhere in Ireland.
A teacher at the school where Open champion Darren Clarke was a pupil, she takes up the role next month.
Her appointment was confirmed at the club’s annual general meeting last night.
While golf clubs generally have branches for men and women, with different captains selected to lead each branch, this is the first time a woman representing both male and female members will lead a club.
Alison explained: “When people think of golf clubs they conjure up images of stuffy gentlemen in clubs with lots of rules, but I’m proud to say that Dungannon Golf Club is nothing like that.”
A biology and careers teacher in the town’s Royal School, Alison explained how she took up the sport after starting her teaching career.
She joined Dungannon Golf Club in 2000, and said the last two decades have seen gradual progress.
Full membership was offered to women in 2006, and in 2019 Dungannon became one of the first clubs in Northern Ireland to appoint a woman president, Lorraine Wilson.
Alison added: “I am absolutely delighted to become captain of Dungannon Golf Club. Whilst it’s a club with an illustrious past, it’s a progressive, forward-thinking club.”
She said the exploits of female stars like Leona Maguire, who last year became the first Irishwoman to compete at the Solheim Cup, had led to more younger females joining.
In 2021 the club signed up to the R&A and Golf Ireland’s Women in Golf Charter, and ran a popular Get Into Golf Programme for females of all ages during the summer.
As a result 20 women joined the club — around 10-12% of its membership is female.
Alison explained that she didn’t come from a golfing family, adding: “I only took up the sport when I started teaching in the Royal School Dungannon and my colleagues lent me clubs and taught me how to play.
“I joined the club in 2000 and, yes, it was daunting at the beginning, playing with people I didn’t know, but I soon realised that the women were very friendly and encouraging and they made me feel part of the club very quickly.
“Since then I have made many lifelong friends through golf.
“Dungannon is a club that’s brimming with positivity. We’ve seen membership grow significantly in recent years. In fact, last year we closed our seven-day men’s membership and we’ve currently got a healthy waiting list.
“In order to encourage female participation we have reserved spaces for women wishing to join.”
Asked about how the members had reacted to her appointment, Alison said: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement that I’ve had from the members and the community already and I promise to work as hard as I can to make sure Dungannon Golf Club continues to go from strength to strength.”
Sean T Hughes, a former club captain and president, said: “We are blessed at Dungannon that we have had some fantastic lady members of our club, and still have them.
“Alison will be the first lady to be captain of our club, but in the coming years she will be followed by other ladies in this club and other ladies across Northern Ireland.”
Anne McCormack of Golf Ireland said it was “a massive step forward for Dungannon”.
“We’re hoping to see more of this over the coming years,” she added.