Malaysian golf legend Lim Siew Ai believes that the future is bright for the nation’s next generation of lady golfers.

“It’s exciting to see this new wave of talent in Malaysia. For a while it was just me, then for a long time it was just Kelly (Tan) … now you’ve got Natasha (Oon) coming on the scene, you have Mirabel (Ting) who’s in the wings, Ashley (Lau) will be heading down the professional route, and many more,” said Lim.

Having played on the LPGA Tour from 1999 to 2008 and now firmly established as one of the region's most sought-after elite coaches, Lim certainly knows what she’s talking about.

“I love the fact that they’re taking a risk and going out and trying their hand at professional golf, and see if it’s something that they want to do long-term. It’s certainly an experience and an opportunity that I would encourage, especially after getting your college degree,” noted Lim, who is the founder and Director of Instruction of the Masters Golf Performance Centre at Glenmarie Golf & Country Club.

Prior to turning professional in 1996, Lim played on the U.S. college golf circuit for the University of South Carolina where she earned All-America honours in her senior year. Her long list of achievements as a member of the national team include two Malaysian Ladies Amateur Open titles and winning the country's only Southeast Asian (SEA) Games ladies team gold medal in 1993.

Lim noted that it was good to see the current crop of Malaysian lady professionals supporting each other. “If you look at the current group of players, Kelly Tan, Michelle Koh, Michelle Low, Ainil, Genevieve, Dianne Luke, Aretha – they’re all very tight, and they kind of serve as a support system for each other,” she observed.

“And I also see them very involved with the next generation, so they’re trying to help perpetuate the positives that have already been established, and that’s a really good thing."

There are more playing options now for lady professionals, Lim added, compared to her competitive days. “There are definitely much more playing opportunities now compared to when I was playing! Thailand has a good ladies circuit, I think they’re starting the Ladies Asian Tour, and lots of stuff happening in Korea and Japan."

At the elite amateur level, Lim stressed that she would like to see more Malaysian girls heading out of the country to compete.

“Organisations like MGA and MALGA have done well to send some of these kids to see what the rest of the world is doing. I think that’s been good and I would love to see more such opportunities arise. I know, unfortunately, funding is always an issue so they can only send so many,” said Lim,  whose best result on the LPGA Tour was a T2 finish in the 2004 Kellogg Keebler Classic.

While the number of lady golfers is growing, Lim noted that there are still barriers that need to be broken.

“Part of it is dress code. If you look at young people today, they don’t dress as traditional golfers dress,” she pointed out.

“For example, some of my younger students don’t want to wear shorts that are down here, just above the knee. They like the trendy shorts that are mid-thigh or slightly higher. Is that acceptable on LPGA, of course it is today. Is it acceptable at a lot of clubs … no!

“I’m not saying go ridiculous with tank tops and all that, but I think golf can be fashionable and a bit more up to date. That would make it easier for the younger generations to embrace the sport.”

Lim with some of the golfers from her Wednesday ladies cliinc

Lim stressed that accessibility, or rather the lack of it, is still the biggest barrier. “We need more public courses to make the game more accessible. One of the issues that juniors have is that they don’t have access to golf courses, so they can’t get on the golf course like the kids in the US or overseas. If they can, it’s super limited, and when they do, other people are not free to play.

“Look at the First Tee program in the US … golf clubs would give priority to juniors, for example on Sunday afternoons. If you’re not playing with a junior, you can’t play. At a private club in the US, even non-member juniors could pay USD10 and play … that’s their CSR. If private clubs could do that here, maybe nine holes twice a week on a weekday, it would be amazing!”

Getting new golfers out on the course, Lim added, is the best way to get them hooked on the game. “We can get people to pick up the game, but we’ll lose them if we can’t get them on the golf course within two to three years.

“You can only do so much on the driving range to keep them interested. Unless they actually play the game, they won’t feel the thrill of seeing that putt go in … so that’s what’s more important, to get these people on the golf course so they really know what golf is.”

Lim shared how the students in her Wednesday ladies clinic morphed into a golfing group. “I started with two ladies that I was already working with and others joined along the way.

“As they got to know each other, eventually it morphed into an opportunity for them to go and play golf with each other. I think that’s important in terms of helping ladies get into the game, because their biggest problem is who to play with.

“Now that they have friends to play with, they will stay in the game!”