Definitely not one of the guys: A 2019 Women in Golf recap

By |  November 19, 2019 0 Comments
Women in Golf 2019 (Photo: Bayer)

Women in Golf 2019 (Photo: Bayer)

Photo: Brandi Merrick

Photo: Brandi Merrick

Brandi Merrick is assistant superintendent of golf maintenance at The Omni Grove Park Inn Golf Club in Asheville, N.C., but she went to Iowa State to be an actuary because she loves math. She soon realized, however, that crunching numbers for an insurance company also meant long hours in the office, something on which she wasn’t so keen.

“I changed to pre-vet med, and after about a year or so, decided I couldn’t deal with the more gory aspect of that career,” she says. “I was flailing.”

She landed in the agricultural education program, and after taking a turf course and enduring a particularly brutal Iowa winter, decided she needed to move south. She applied for an internship on the grounds crew at Pinehurst.

She finished her teaching degree in Iowa, but after five years of working in the classroom, she heard the call of the greens and moved to North Carolina to work on a golf course year-round.

Married to the job

Photo: Joy Negen

Photo: Joy Negen

Joy Negen is assistant superintendent at Desert Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. She started her career, though, cutting something much different from grass.

“I have 25 years of experience of hairdressing, and I am still currently licensed to be a hairdresser,” she says.

Negen’s husband is a superintendent, and she began helping her husband on the course three years ago, shortly after both of their mothers passed away.

“I was cutting hair, helping him mow and working at the YMCA (…) he really needed help with the agronomy and the horticulture side. He needed help with the flower beds. It was just therapy for me.”

When the couple moved from Minnesota to Arizona a little over a year ago, she got a job at Desert Mountain and soon was promoted to assistant superintendent.

School’s in session

Photo: Ana Alvarez

Photo: Ana Alvarez

Ana Alvarez is golf maintenance operations manager at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Like Merrick and Negen, she began her career doing something completely different.

A former Marine, Alvarez studied computer information systems. She started working at Shinnecock as an administrative assistant but eventually spoke with John Jennings, CGCS, about helping out on the grounds crew. And so, once a week, on Sunday mornings, Jennings allowed her to try it out.

Over the course of a couple of months, she learned how to do everything the crew could do.

“I was like, ‘Just give me a chance to see how I can do it.’ It was like something that was meant to be. I was a natural, and I felt very proud of myself. And I was good at it, and I love it and here I am at the year’s end, mowing anything (Jennings) throws at me.”

She loves it so much that with Jennings’ support, she’s decided to go back to school. This winter, she will complete the UMass Winter School for Turf Managers certification program, which covers topics such as soil science, turfgrass diseases, weed management and irrigation.

And they said it wouldn’t last

Photo: Alex Hills

Photo: Alex Hills

Alex Hills, assistant superintendent at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla., stumbled into her career in the golf turf industry by accident.

She was working at the equestrian stables at Grand Cypress when they closed in 2008 because of the economic downturn. Knowing that she liked to work outside and with her hands, she found herself a position on the grounds crew at the golf course and didn’t look back.

“Some of the guys didn’t think I would last long,” Hills says. More than a decade, a turf degree and three years of working with the PGA to get the course ready for the Arnold Palmer Invitational later, she’s proven them all wrong.

Start young, stay awhile

Photo: Sally Jones

Photo: Sally Jones

Sally Jones, superintendent of Benson Golf Club in Benson, Minn., had a traditional path to her career in the turf industry. She started working on the grounds crew of Benson GC when she was 15 years old, then went to Penn State, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in turfgrass science.

She was hired as superintendent of Benson GC when she was 22 years old.

“I applied and got (the job) and they low-balled me, probably because I was 22, so I decided I was OK and told them no, and they came back with a better offer,” she says. “I decided I would take it as a stepping stone, and I’m still here.”

She added general manager to her title in 2016, which she says makes the job a lot more stressful. However, it helped her get to know the membership and makes her more approachable, she says.

The rewards, the struggles

Women in Golf attendees take part in professional development (Photo: Clara Richter)

Professional development was an important part of the Women in Golf event. Here, attendees learn that not everyone on a hiring committee may know the ins and outs of what a superintendent does and how to account for that in the hiring process. (Photo: Clara Richter)

These five women were drawn to the golf turf industry in different ways, but their passion for what they do and the industry they’ve chosen to work in is undeniable.

Being able to work outside, working with good people and getting the opportunity to see how their hard work pays off are just a few of the reasons they cite for being happy in their chosen career field.

“I like being outdoors. I don’t know if I could ever have an indoor job,” Jones says. “That would be quite hard. I also like the versatility of the position. I always think I know what I’m going to do when I go to work each day, but it never turns out how I’m thinking.”

Alvarez says that the industry — and working at Shinnecock — has given her a chance to succeed and grow. As an added bonus, she notes, the sunrises on the course are beautiful.

Negen says she still loves cutting hair, but she loves her current job at Desert Mountain more. She loves being outside and gets a thrill out of learning new aspects of the job from her peers and her coworkers.

Hills says that she values her position because it gives her the opportunity to see tasks through from start to finish. “I like taking a project from the dirt and making it into something gorgeous,” she says.

Women in Golf attendee (Photo: Clara Richter)

Photo: Courtesy of Bayer

Still, it can be difficult being a woman working in a position that more traditionally is held by a man.

Initially, Merrick was concerned that she wasn’t going to be able to meet the physical demands of the job, saying that she was concerned about it while working at Pinehurst the summer she was teaching. Still, she managed to spin it into something positive and find an opportunity to prove herself.

“I asked one of the assistants if I could do the job,” she says. “I picked him specifically because I felt like he was kind of on the fence about me. He never was, but anyway, I asked him if I could do this job, and when I was done, he looked at me and said, ‘You just worked your tail off.’”

Some women mention feeling like they don’t always fit in. Sticking out like a sore thumb never is comfortable, but it’s how some women in the industry say they often feel when attending events or trade shows.

Women in Golf attendees (Photo: Bayer)

Women in Golf attendees (Photo: Courtesy of Bayer)

“I feel like it hasn’t been easy to be included, and I think that’s just because there is such a huge difference between numbers in men and women,” Jones says. “If you go to a meeting and you’re the only female, it’s hard to go and introduce yourself to men, and I’m sure if the roles were reversed it would be hard for men, also.”

Hills adds that it’s intimidating to walk into a room filled with 50 men.

Clearly, the fear of not fitting in hasn’t held back any of these ladies. In fact, Merrick views it as a positive thing.

“I feel like it’s an advantage, because I stand out more,” she says. “I feel like it’s easier for people to remember me.”

But Hills says it can be a double-edged sword. There are negative aspects to being the only woman in the room, but there also are advantages.

“We are a close-knit industry, so I think once you get your name out there and people recognize you, it gets better,” she says. “It is a double-edged sword because coming in as an underdog gives you the opportunity to go out and prove yourself.”

Encouraging more women

Attendees of Women in Golf spent the final day of the event learning about their different working styles by completing a workshop in psycho-geometrics. (Photo: Bayer)

Attendees of Women in Golf spent the final day of the event learning about their different working styles by completing a workshop in psycho-geometrics. (Photo: Courtesy of Bayer)

As the labor crisis continues to hit courses around the country, filling out crews with more female employees may be a way to mitigate some of the strain put on crews that are lacking a few extra members.

Getting the word out to young women — and just young people in general — is an important first step to boosting the number of females working in the industry. Many people don’t even realize there are career opportunities in the field, and therefore, they don’t know to pursue them, according to Hills.

Alvarez uses Twitter to promote her job and the industry as a whole, tweeting about turf and various happenings at Shinnecock. She says she also follows a lot of turf groups and has been thinking about attending job fairs at local schools.

Brandi Merrick aerifying (Photo: Brandi Merrick)

Brandi Merrick initially was concerned about operating the heavier equipment, but found that she was able to use it as an opportunity to prove herself. (Photo courtesy of: Brandi Merrick)

“High school or college students don’t think this is something you can go do school for,” she says. “I tell the girls who work here that you can go to school for this.”

Merrick says she talks about her job a lot and shares about it on social media. She also encourages anyone who might be interested to go out and try the job. She advises taking advantage of the many courses that hire part-time interns in the summer.

She and Hills echo Alvarez’s sentiment that many people just don’t know about the job. “I’ve talked to many assistants, and for the most part, most of the people I know found out about this job later in life and came into it later in the game,” Merrick says.

Hills says that before she was in the industry, she didn’t know that her current career was even an option. She encourages industry members to target high schoolers before they go to college, when you can get them thinking about alternate career paths.

For Merrick, involvement also is an important aspect of getting the word out that there are jobs for women and young people in the golf turf industry. She is on the assistants committee for the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association, attended the South Carolina FFA convention in June 2019 and is in the process of starting a First Green program at Grove Park Inn.

Negen says she takes the opportunity to share her knowledge with anybody willing to learn, because so many people — including her husband — have taken the time to share their knowledge with her.

Diversity is important

Photo:

Proud graduates of The Ohio State University attended Women in Golf. From left, Renee Geyer, Elizabeth Guertal, Carey Hofner and Jennifer Schneider spell out their alma mater, O-H-I-O, punctuated with a thumbs up by Brianne Kenny. (Photo: Courtesy of Bayer)

Spreading the message to young women that there are careers for them in the golf turf industry is important, Merrick says.

She encourages managers to cultivate diverse crews because, if nothing else, it’s fun for morale.

“We try to celebrate our diversity,” she says. “We had interns from Eastern Europe, and they brought in some of the food that they eat, and everyone loved that. And we have a guy from El Salvador and one from Mexico, and they will bring in their food.”

Promoting a diverse team, whether that means incorporating more females, different ethnicities or other backgrounds, is more than just a fun way to spice up the lunchroom, these women say. It’s important to any crew because it means there are more perspectives and ideas from which to draw.

“Everyone looks at everything differently,” Hills says. “Everyone brings different sides to the puzzle, so having diversity makes you a more well-rounded team.”

Photo:

Women in Golf attendees (Photo: Clara Richter)

Alvarez adds that everyone brings different skill sets, and the more of those you can pack into a team, the better. She says the women on the crew are more detail-oriented, while the men tend to be a bit more laid back. She says it’s important to take everyone’s suggestions into consideration because not everyone thinks the same.

For that reason, Jones has tried to keep women on her crew the entire 16 years she’s been at Benson GC. “Each person brings a different outlook to the game, and to have more than one viewpoint would only strengthen your team.”

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