British golf protege turned Wisconsin pro aims to make the sport more inclusive
As her life in golf progressed from touring professional to instructor and brought her to the States, Shapcott has worked to rid the sport of the male-dominated mindset.
The 1988 Curtis Cup pitted a team of women golfers from the United States against a team from Great Britain and Ireland, or GB&I, at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in England. The biennial competition is one of the most prestigious events in amateur golf.
The star of the week was an 18-year-old Englishwoman from Bristol named Sue Shapcott, who won the match that secured the cup for GB&I.
Years later, Shapcott still remembered the excitement of those matches, the cold and windy late spring weather in County Kent, and one more thing: the sign in the golf club’s parking lot.
“No Dogs, No Women.”
Women could play the course as guests or in a tournament, but they couldn’t be members. There was no changing room for women.
“We used these porta-cabin type things,” Shapcott says.
In the decades since, as her life in golf progressed from touring professional to instructor and brought her to the States, Shapcott has worked to rid the sport of those parking lot signs and the mindset behind them. A teaching pro in Madison since 2013 and the owner of Change Golf Instruction, Shapcott doesn’t just help people with their golf swings. Her partnership with Madison’s public courses has resulted in programs that promote the health, social and career benefits of the game, welcoming newcomers and making golf more inclusive.
“It’s so frustrating to me that golf is sometimes seen by nongolfers in a one-dimensional way,” Shapcott says. “That it is an elitist sport.”
Parking lot signs aside, Shapcott sees her own journey as validating golf’s progressive possibilities.
Bristol is in southwest England. Shapcott’s parents didn’t play golf, but the path she and her older sister, Allison, took to school crossed the Knowle Golf Club course, where the girls would occasionally annoy the players.
“Instead of being such a nuisance,” she recalls a Knowle pro saying, “why don’t you do something useful? Caddy. Earn some pocket money.”
“We started pulling trolleys around the local course,” Shapcott says.
The pro — Gordon Brand Sr. — was tough, profane, fond of cigarettes. He was also one of the best instructors in the United Kingdom, with a son who played in the Ryder Cup.
“He kind of took us under his wing,” Shapcott says.
The Shapcott girls, especially Sue, became prodigies. She won national junior championships and, as noted, was a Curtis Cup star at 18.
Shapcott turned pro in 1989. She struggled initially, even quit for a time, but eventually found her rhythm on the Ladies European Tour.
A serious 1996 bicycle injury — she went head over handlebars in London’s Richmond Park — derailed Shapcott’s playing career.
A British golf journalist introduced Shapcott to Hank Haney, a well-known instructor on the cusp of true fame as Tiger Woods’ coach. Shapcott was considering a teaching career.
She told Haney, who had a golf school in Texas, “If you ever need an instructor … ”
“We’d love to have more female instructors,” he responded.
Shapcott moved to Dallas in 2000.
“It was a fantastic opportunity,” she says. “It triggered my passion for teaching. He is such a great instructor. All I did the first couple of months was watch him.”
Haney required potential instructors to give a lesson while he watched before they could teach under his banner.
“That was potentially the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done,” Shapcott says. “Far more nerve-wracking than hitting my drive off the first tee at the Curtis Cup.”
Secure in her knowledge of the technical aspects of instruction, Shapcott went on to earn a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate in educational psychology. She was interested in inspiring recreational golfers and keeping people who take up the game motivated to continue, particularly women and minorities.
It was in Dallas that Shapcott met her wife, Carrie Sperling, whose position at the University of Wisconsin Law School brought the couple to Madison in 2013.
Shapcott taught golf at Blackhawk Country Club her first year in Madison. She enjoyed it, but a country club was not the place to pursue her goal of diversifying golf and growing the game.
Over the next few years, after founding Change Golf Instruction in 2016, Shapcott forged a lasting partnership with the Madison municipal courses to teach with an eye toward making golf more inclusive.
Early on, Shapcott told a friend in Europe — legendary coach John Jacobs, the man often credited with launching the European men’s tour — that she was working at public courses.
Jacobs responded: “I just love teaching at public facilities. You get to meet so many people from all walks of life. There are always new people coming in.”
Worldwide, even the private clubs are paying heed.
In 2013 — the year she moved to Madison — Shapcott initiated a 25-year reunion of her Curtis Cup teammates at Royal St. George’s in England. “It was nice to get everyone together again,” she says.
The sign was gone from the parking lot, though the Royal St. George’s membership was still exclusively male. Shapcott wrote a column about it in the New York Daily News.
In March 2015, the club voted to allow women members.
Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Read his blog, “Doug Moe’s Madison,” on madisonmagazine.com.
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