The recent U.S. Women’s Open Championship marked the 76th anniversary of the most prestigious event in women’s golf. It was the first women’s professional event contested at the historic Olympic Club, which has hosted ten USGA national championships, including five U.S. Opens.
In planning for the event, Troy Flanagan, course superintendent at Olympic Golf Club and long-time friend of Rain Bird, approached Stuart Hackwell, Rain Bird Director of Golf, to talk about the idea of inviting more women to volunteer at the U.S. Women’s Open. After some discussion, Stuart Hackwell came up with the idea of Rain Bird covering the cost of airfare to San Francisco to encourage participation by females.
Troy recruited 29 women, roughly half of the volunteer grounds crew, during the U.S. Women’s Open Championship to help his team prepare the course. After receiving the list of volunteers from Troy in early 2021, Rain Bird arranged the flights of the female volunteers traveling from as far away as Florida and the northeast.
The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America reports that only 2% of its approximately 16,000 members are female. Building diversity in the golf maintenance profession is important. This isn’t the first time women have volunteered at a major championship, but the successful recruitment of so many women volunteers made this event one-of-a-kind and will hopefully set a new precedent for the future.
Something I heard multiple times throughout the week was along the lines of “I didn’t know women could work like this.” Overcoming this perception is something I’ve considered one of the biggest challenges for women in the golf industry (and in many other industries). At one point one of the crew said to me “there must not be any women from California in your group, right?” I said we actually had four. He was very surprised, but it was a wonderful teaching moment.
I won’t try to diagnose how or why this perception develops, but I do know that it happens often enough that the majority of us have encountered it. That’s why this week was special. While some of the men had those perceptions they still gave us a chance which led to acceptance and respect. We’re not always given that opportunity. We were able to show that women are not only capable of doing the work, but produce top quality work… and we sure know how to have a good time doing it!
I believe it was Kelly Lynch who came up with the phrase “breaking the grass ceiling.” I like to build on that and say we are breaking the grass ceiling one blade at a time. We make people question their assumptions of what women can do and every time that happens we are chipping away at that hurdle for others.
It was such an incredible week. To be able to be on that property, to be able to be out and feel normal after such a long year, and to meet all those who took part in making it all come together. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this initiative, and I am happy we could both be a part of it!
My favorite thing about volunteering is going to see another operation and how they function. Everyone has their maintenance facilities set up differently, they have different tools for course setup, different mowing or bunker raking practices, and how they run the meetings. It is an opportunity to see how else you could do something and if there’s a benefit in using that tool later. It can also show you something you didn’t know and like, as well as engaging with other volunteers about all of this.
We are in a very male-dominated industry and to be surrounded by almost 30 women in one setting was very intimidating. I was very quiet at first. It took me a while to come out of my shell. Within a few days, I felt so comfortable and embraced this group of women. We shared war stories about our careers and had the most fun in the world doing “basic” maintenance tasks, as we were volunteers.
There were two groups of people coming together for this event. The current staff, which was a very seasoned staff, and a group of women from all over the country. From the first day, the two groups came together and united for the event. We shared tables for food and worked on the course together. There were many pictures taken together and new friendships made. It was so neat to witness such a diverse group become so close and unified.
Life is about what we give to others and volunteering is just that, putting our best efforts forward to help others. The highlight of the US Women’s Open at The Olympic Club for me was meeting all these amazing women and all the gentlemen that welcomed us with open arms. I also learned that there are things that I can be doing better and more efficiently in my reel grinding schedule. What we put into life willingly comes back tenfold.
My favorite golfer is the one that says “Dang Super, you have an outstanding technician in the shop, don’t you?!”
The turf industry used to be a man’s world that some of us lived in. What we aspire to attain is a more balanced workforce. Women are the exact thing that a game of detail and precision needs. Our attention to detail and drive are our hallmarks. Because it has been a man’s world, we have always had to present ourselves with a chip on our shoulders and a fire in our bellies to prove them wrong. Bringing passion and compassion to staff can change everything for a facility.
The challenge can present itself in many ways. Due to our push to prove them wrong about us, we can come off as arrogant or even seem too strong. Women and men don’t always find the same things at the top of the priority list. Instead of head butting, this should start passionate discussions so each can freely express their reasons for their priority item. I can only speak about my personal experience as an Equipment Manager, but I have had many instances where my ideas and suggestions to push the golf program forward have been disregarded as I am “Expecting too much” or “Too focused” on things like cleanliness, safety, and training. Standing firm can be one of the hardest things in a room full of men, especially if they have years of experience. However, new and fresh thoughts and ideas are the only way we move forward as an industry.
I had a little bit of free time to talk with John Pollock from Rain Bird one evening. We had a great conversation concerning the event, the women, and the impact that this event had on each of us. Needless to say, I shed several tears with John reflecting on an incredible week that will forever be the moment I truly realized what we were striving for. I couldn’t thank him and Rain Bird enough for making my monumental experience become a reality. There is a huge possibility that I wouldn’t have been able to attend without the financial support from Rain Bird and all the other sponsors, so thank you!
My favorite takeaway from this event was realizing the amazing support we have! We have so many people & companies in our corner that are ready to help launch us into the gut of this industry. We are here and have so much to offer….and we are starting to get noticed.
Thoughts on Women in the Golf Industry: Yes, please!!! We are here and a formidable group. We have the knowledge and more intensely the drive to be here and succeed. We feel we are expected to work twice as hard, that’s fine…bring it on! This, and future events will ensure visibility for young girls interested in this profession. Even if they don’t think of this as a profession, they might see us featured in magazines, podcasts, etc., and think, “Hey, that seems cool…maybe I want to try that!” One of the main group goals is to show young girls that this could be an opportunity for a future profession, and we want to help them along the way.