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Based in Melbourne for the past 11 years, Sonia runs her own consultancy Kirkman Sports, is one half of Transform Golf Shop Specialists, sells the New York Jamie Sadock range of women’s golf and resort wear nationally, and is the retail buyer for Sanctuary Cove Golf & Country Club’s golf shops in Queensland.
When she is not immersed in business projects, you’ll find her teeing off at her local Yarra Yarra Golf Club.
“I try to play twice a week, although my husband Gavin [CEO of PGA Australia] says I play too much and I should be doing more work,” she says with a laugh. “I love the game, I love being a member, so I play when I can.”
Sonia has always been a sports lover and in her younger years played competitive first-grade hockey in her hometown of Sydney.
“I was working at Myer Grace Bros. in a management traineeship when Saturday trading was only until midday so I could go off and play hockey in the afternoons. But once it was extended to all-day trading I had to find another sport. I had swung a golf club before, so I got myself organised and joined Chatswood Golf Club so I could play on Sundays.”
Golf is also in her blood - her dad has played all his life. He was actually mid-round when Sonia decided she was ready to make her entrance into the world. “Dad was playing at Bayview when Mum went into hospital to have me. In those days fathers weren’t allowed in the delivery room so there wasn’t any reason for him to stop playing.”
After 10 years of rising through the Myer Grace Bros. retail management ranks, Sonia felt she needed a career change – and her passion for golf provided inspiration.
She read about the then new Advanced Certificate in Golf Management at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, quickly applied, quit her job, and moved to Queensland. She was the first female to complete the Certificate, which was offered through the PGA International Golf Institute. That was 1994. It was a one-year course and she then converted that study into gaining her Bachelor of Business in Club and Resort Management at Griffith.
To support herself while studying, she sent out numerous résumés and knocked on doors until she secured a part-time job at the Royal Pines Resort golf shop.
“I was at Royal Pines for quite some time. I ended up doing the buying for them and for the last part of my business degree I was working full-time there as well as studying full-time.”
From Royal Pines, Sonia moved to Links Hope Island Golf Club, where she was Golf Operations Manager. Along the way, she met Gavin and they married in 2000. After their daughter Bronte was born, an approach from The Glades Golf Club led her to start her consultancy.
“They said they needed someone to do the buying and asked if I’d like to be an employee or a consultant. That’s when I started Kirkman Sports and they were my first client. There was a niche for a golf retail specialist and my prior experience in department store retail gave me the best background and base. It gave me a real education in all aspects of retailing and consumer behaviour.”
Running her own business helped her to strike the right balance between work and family life. “I had my second child William after I started the consultancy and I would take him in the stroller to business meetings. People were accepting of that. With my own business, I had the flexibility to be home and attend things at school. I must say that today’s technology has been amazing in making that possible too.”
Over the years Sonia has expanded her business to provide retail analysis of golf shop operations and golf shop design – again filling a gap in the marketplace.
“No one was specialising in golf shop design. People were spending a lot of money putting in a new golf shop but without understanding golf retailing, the categories of merchandise, how to best display it so it is easy and exciting for customers to shop and easy for staff to refill and best present the merchandise.”
After working with award-winning Sydney retail fit-out specialist and golfer Ross Haron when she was engaged to create a new shop at the New South Wales Golf Club, she and Ross teamed up to create Transform Golf Shop Specialists in 2019 to specifically cater to the golf shop sector.
Demand for their services has been constant. They’ve completed golf shop projects across Australia, including at Terrey Hills Golf and Country Club in NSW, Lake Karrinyup Country Club in Perth, and most recently at Curlewis Golf Club on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.
The resurgence of interest in golf in Australia during the pandemic has certainly proved a bonus for business. And even though lockdowns and restrictions prevented her from traveling the country to sell Jamie Sadock apparel, Sonia pivoted and made YouTube videos so stockists could view the range.
“That way the stockists weren’t just looking at catalogues, they could see the clothes and the true colours. Over the past two years, this has proved very successful and the way of the future.”
Sonia is a strong advocate for sun protection in women’s golfing apparel. “It’s great to see Australian success stories like SParms with their sun sleeves and wraps, along with Jamie Sadock Sunsense tops and IBKUL long sleeve polos” – and for advances in fabrication.
“In the past 20 years fabrication has come such a long way. Some people will still say to me ‘I still want cotton’ but the breathability, moisture-wicking, movement, and performance of the manufactured fibres now in use are incredible.
“Because of my buying role at Sanctuary Cove, I am up to date on all the latest ranges of clothing and equipment out there, yet I still get comments from women that they can’t find the clothing they like, that there’s not the range available in Australia.
“There is a lot of choice from international and local suppliers and the on-course golf retailers that invest in women’s apparel, and not just dabble in it, reap the rewards of loyal customers and greater sales. I think on-course golf retailers generally do not put a lot of their money, time, and planning into stocking women’s apparel. Even some off-course retailers cannot see the potential of the female golfing consumer.
“I certainly encourage golf clubs to invest in their women customers. I know in general; golf customers are much more knowledgeable and discerning than they were two decades ago because with the internet they have access to information and shopping choices worldwide.”
Look out for Sonia playing golf, selling Jamie Sadock, or designing and merchandising a golf shop near you
Words by Karen Milliner