Leigh-Jane Middleton is the owner and head teaching professional of LJM Golf Academy at De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate. In 2022, she was appointed the PGA of South Africa’s first female vice-chairperson. Johann Naudé
Congratulations on your historic appointment. What does this achievement mean to you?
It holds great personal and professional significance to me and gives me a sense of responsibility, pride and opportunity. It allows me to contribute to the growth and development of golf in South Africa, and to pave the way for future generations of female leaders in the sport.
What do you hope to accomplish in your role?
My goal is to leave a lasting and positive impact on the PGA of SA, the golf industry and the sport itself. I aim to help create a more inclusive, accessible and vibrant golf community while supporting the professional growth and development of the PGA of SA’s members. I plan to raise awareness among young golfers about the career opportunities within the golf industry, enabling them to pursue their passion without the necessity of playing professionally.
How did you become involved in golf, and what has your journey been like as a female in the sport?
I was 13 years old when I first held a golf club during a meeting with the son of my dad’s friend at a driving range in Ruimsig, he was participating in a junior golf clinic. Despite being the only girl there, I felt no discomfort, and over the following months I often left with the floating trophy. Unfortunately, my journey lasted only six months as the coach relocated. Other sports and dance forms led me away from golf but I rediscovered my love for it in matric. I realised I wanted to continue playing golf and be involved, no matter the cost. It became clear, though, that playing on a professional tour was not feasible. However, thanks to the PGA of SA’s education programme, I could pursue a career within the industry. I was the lone female when I starting my apprenticeship nearly 20 years ago, but it didn’t faze me and I owe a debt of gratitude to my mentor, Phil Simmons, who treated me as an equal among the “boys”.
Can you expand on your involvement with Walter Sisulu Primary School and the programme you managed called GiGis?
In 2015, we initiated a golfing programme with eight young girls from Walter Sisulu Primary School in Olievenhoutbosch, a township in Centurion. They received weekly hour-long lessons at the club, which included instruction and life-skills training, thanks to the support of Progressive Women in Golf. Witnessing these young girls’ growth in confidence and skills was truly humbling and rewarding. The success of this programme relied on collaborative efforts, and we are most grateful to Paul Leishman, The Bryanston Country Club and Golf Academy. Golf serves as an ideal platform for transforming lives, and I believe we achieved that.
Golf can be quite overwhelming, which is why I conceived GiGs (Get into Golf Slowly), a programme I managed for 15 years at The Bryanston Country Club. It serves as an introduction to golf etiquette, rules and course management for ladies who have some experience. We enlist experienced female members to accompany and guide new female golfers, making them feel comfortable every step of the way. To date, over 800 ladies have participated in this programme, with some choosing to continue their golf journey through regular female programmes and even representing their club in league play.
Learn more about how the youngsters from Walter Sisulu Primary School benefited from the Progressive Women in Golf programme.
What are the most valuable lessons golf has taught you?
The numerous lessons include resilience, discipline, focus, integrity and humility. I believe the most valuable lesson is to have patience, golf has taught me to stay calm and composed. Learning to wait for the right moment to make a shot or recover from a mistake is a valuable life skill. These lessons have enriched my personal and professional life. To echo the words of Bobby Jones, “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots, you get good breaks from bad shots—but you have to play the ball from where it lies.”
Leigh-Jane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
Dr Kirsten van Heerden is one of only a few people in South Africa to have represented her country as an athlete and hold a PhD in sport psychology. She has worked and travelled extensively within high performance sport for more than 15 years. She has published a book on the challenges athletes face when they retire from elite sport called Waking from the Dream and hosts her own podcast called ‘Behind the Dream’ where she talks with some of the world’s best athletes about the ups and downs of being a professional athlete. She is also the founder and chairperson of Girls Only Project – a non-profit company focusing on women in sport issues. She is in private practice at Newton Sports Agency.