By her own admission, Emma Betland didn’t really start getting serious about golf until she was 11-years-old.
“That was when I got my handicap, when I was 11,” she said.
“I got the highest you could get – I got 45.
“The [golf] pro at the time said ‘I think you could be a good golfer if you practise more’, so I started to get out and practise,” she said.
And practise she did.
Last weekend the former Forbes woman, who plays off as scratch handicap, returned to America where she is about to start her fourth year studying Sport Management with a minor in Communications.
The degree is part of her sport scholarship at Washington State University which allows the 21-year-old to study while playing golf on the university’s eight woman ‘Pac 12 Conference’ team.
Ms Betland’s life is a far cry from it’s humble career beginnings which saw her pick up a golf stick for the first time at eight-years-old, due in part to the influence of her older brother John.
“John started playing and then we started,” she said.
The ‘we’ is her two other older brothers, Steven and Scott, and her father Geoff.
Today it’s sister Kate turn to pick up the sticks.
“Kate is just starting and it is good to see she is enjoying the game and the chance to play with us,” Ms Betland added.
“It seems young to think of an 11-year-old [playing] but … back then I didn’t think of it like that, but other people at the golf club were like ‘She’s 11 and she’s practising’,” Ms Betland said.
The practise worked for Ms Betland who joined the Jack Newton Foundation, a foundation which is open to any junior golfer with a handicap.
“I played in as many of their events as I could.
“Usually my dad and I would travel … [this] led into opportunities to join teams and play at other events,” she said.
As a junior golfer with the Jack Newton Foundation, Ms Betland won the 16 years then the 17 years State Age Championships and the High Schools State Match Play for NSW.
Ms Betland also played with the State Junior Girls Team for two years.
In 2007 Ms Betland was named the Renay Appleby Memorial Award recipient – one of the highest accolades a NSW junior golfer can receive - during the foundation’s annual awards evening.
At a local level, Ms Betland’s achievements included taking out the Forbes Golf Club championships in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
“When I won it when I was 13, I was the youngest ever to win [club champion] which was exciting,” she said.
Other trophies adorning the family shelf include tournaments played in Bathurst, Parkes, Wagga Wagga and Orange.
It was while Ms Betland was playing in the Australian Mastercard Junior Masters in Perth, as one of only a few Jack Newton Foundation junior representatives, where Ms Betland met a scout from Melbourne who was looking for golf scholarship students.
“I kind of knew that I wanted to go there (to America) from year 10.
“I thought how good that is, you could you to school and get an education and travel and play golf,” she said.
“I didn’t even apply to go to university here.”
After the tournament Ms Betland contacted the scout and from there she started working on her profile for various universities - so they could look at her as a prospective student.
“Over there it’s a real business. They are always trying to find new players to play for them.
“It’s a sport where it’s a stepping stone,” she said.
Looking to other college students Ms Betland said it is rare for a student who is a tennis player to go on and become a professional player, but with golf it is a different story.
Most golfers who turn professional, have started out as a college student.
“Tiger Woods played at college for two years,” Ms Betland said.
Ms Betland said the scout told her she was the only golf student who contacted him following the Perth event.
“It’s not everyone’s thing to do because it is a big move,” she said.
“I got offered a scholarship from the school I’m at.
“At first because they offered it to me in January, which is in the middle of their school year and it was right in the middle of winter and I think that would have been a huge shock.
“It was hard enough when I got there,” she said.
Ms Betland said ahe had late night phone calls from various universities offering her positions, but she accepted Washington State’s because of their golf program.
“I wanted to play in that because it’s the strongest in the US. They are really strong for golf.
“That’s really my main reason because I was worried about the cold weather.
“The year before I got there they build a new golf course and it’s ranked the third best college golf course in the US.”
Ms Betland described studying and playing in the golf program as “full on”.
“We are really busy. We played in 12 tournaments last year,” she said.
The golf year is divided into two parts – the fall tournament, which is equivalent to the Australian Autumn, and the spring tournament.
The fall tournament starts in early September and runs until early November.
Last year the University’s team played in five tournaments during this period.
The spring season runs from mid February until the end of May and can see the team play in anything from five to 10 to 14 tournaments depending on how well the team performs.
During a normal week ‘in-season’, Ms Betland said she works out three times a week, usually around 6.45am with her other team members, attends class from 9am to 12noon, has lunch, then practises from 2pm to 5pm four days a week.
Wednesday is their only day off to allow for other commitments.
“Usually we are travelling in between and we are playing on weekends. It depends on our tournaments,” she said.
“The first two years weren’t that bad because the school work wasn’t that hard but the last two years you really focus on your major … you are always planning with your teachers when you are going to be away,” she said.
Looking back on her initial trip to the university three years ago, Ms Betland said it took about a month to settle in.
“I’d never been overseas before, I’d never been to the US before. I’d only ever travelled in Australia,” she said.
Ms Betland said she flew into San Francisco and then flew on to Spokane which is around 1 ½ hours drive from the universities’ town of Pullman.
“It was a really horrible day. It was colder in Spokane than when I had left Sydney.
“I still remember getting into the car and driving on the wrong side of the road.”
Ms Betland said she was then dropped off at her dorm room.
“My room mate wasn’t there so I had a couple of days on my own and I remember waking up and I didn’t know what time it was.
“I decided to go for a walk and I went to cross a road and nearly got run over,” she said.
“Now I love it. It’s good fun.
“I love the culture of the college, especially the culture of sports.
“It’s a big family… I love my coach, I get to travel and competitions are really hard and fun – they are competitive. I don’t want to graduate,” she said.
“Everything over there is paid for except for getting over there and some spending money.
“There are so many people … they just give you everything you need to succeed.
“If you’re not doing well in school you get a tutor. There’s trainers, there’s physio. It’s a very good deal,” she said.
For the year ahead Ms Betland said she wants to focus on finishing strong with golf and academically.
“Our coach has brought in stronger players so I think this next year will be quite exciting.
“[Our coach] is rebuilding so each year our team is getting stronger and better,” Ms Betland said.
After her graduation Ms Betland is required to do an internship, which she is yet to decide if she will complete it in Australia or the US.
“I love it when I’m there (in the US) and I love it when I’m home as well. I can see myself in both.
“It’s hard because over there is so much opportunity but then my family is back here.
“I always had a plan. I wanted to make a team, get my handicap down then get to college and now I don’t have it figured out. [But] things have a way of working out,” Ms Betland said.
Pullman is located five hours east of Seattle in Washington State near the Idaho boarder.
The population of Pullman is 30,000 and is known for being one of the biggest lentil producers in America.
Each year Pullman celebrates with a lentil festival.
Around 22,000 students attend the Washington State University.