Meet the Tour’s first female referee

Gaia Zonchello

Gaia Zonchello had worked for the European Tour for nearly 20 years when, three years ago, she realised she needed a new challenge.

She loved the life being on Tour gave her though – the travel, the different cultures and the large team of colleagues she’d grown close to over the years.

The solution? She sat The R&A rules exam and swapped her role as a tournament secretary for one on the course as a referee.

“I was comfortable and very happy doing a job I loved, but latterly I didn’t really have a goal,” says Gaia. “I decided to challenge myself and make a change.

“I spoke to my boss and he asked if I was interested in taking the rules exam at St Andrews and becoming a referee. The job wasn’t mine – I still had to apply – but after thinking about it for a couple of months I decided to go for it, and here I am.

“It’s been a great journey, but it wasn’t easy. It was scary and quite hard at the beginning, but I am loving my new career.”

Gaia Zonchello

The Italian now officiates some of the biggest golf tournaments in the world, and this summer will be a Tournament Director for the first time, at a Challenge Tour event.

In an industry traditionally dominated by men, Gaia is one of a number of women breaking through and shifting the balance.

“When I first started working it was rare to spend the tournament week with another woman, but these days I have many more female colleagues.

“We also have diversity in the form of different nationalities, ages and cultures. From a 30-year-old Italian to a 60-year-old Swede. Everyone gets on well and brings out the best in each other.”

Gaia Zonchello with John Paramor
For other women considering a career in golf, Gaia has one piece of advice: believe in yourself.

“Working hard, studying and listening to people’s advice are the obvious things if you want to succeed, but one of the best things you can do is set a goal and believe you can achieve it.

“I always say to myself ‘if it doesn’t work out, you can do something else’.”