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From landscaping to leadership, women share how their careers brought them to golf

By |  April 27, 2023 0 Comments

Golf course architect Jan Bel Jan has a storied career — first working for the Davey Tree Expert Company and then for Tom Fazio, teaching at the Johnson School of Business at Hodges University and serving as president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Jan Bel Jan is the second woman to serve as president of ASGCA. Photo: ASGCA

Jan Bel Jan is the second woman to serve as president of ASGCA. (Photo: ASGCA)

“First, I’m very fortunate to have had the upbringing that I had and to have had the mentors I had,” she says.

Bel Jan says coming from a large family where everyone contributed both to her interest in golf and her self-confidence. She says she never believed she was any different than her other siblings.

“My father and his five brothers — my uncles — were all club professionals. My father designed and supervised the construction and was the pro and superintendent of the course where I grew up (Mannitto Haven CC in New Alexandria, Pa.),” she says.

Growing up, Bel Jan says she started working at Mannitto Haven when she was about 14. She mowed greens, tees and fairways on weekends and during the summer. Her weekends and summer mornings consisted of digging ditches and raking bunkers. In the afternoon, she worked at the golf shop configuring golfer handicaps, running golf events and managing retail merchandising — all skills that would later come in handy as she started in the green industry.

Bel Jan says she was Davey Tree Expert Company’s second female hire. She worked in the company’s Pittsburgh, Pa., lawn care division as a sales representative and technician who sold and applied lawn care services. She also drove a 1,500-gallon tanker truck. When she met Tom Fazio, he recognized the considerable amount of experience and transferrable skills she brought to golf.

“Tom Fazio hired me at a time when, as far as I know, no other golf course architects hired women to work,” she says. “I did pretty much the same as the guys did at the time. You spend some time working in the office and learning design, specification writing and bid form creation and then ultimately you have a chance to do field work.”

Bel Jan says as she started working on projects, her interest and enthusiasm for learning became clear to the whole team.

“I asked questions because I wanted to know why,” she says. “I wanted to know, and I wanted to learn. If you demonstrate that you’re interested, it’s no different than anybody else who wants a job.”

For women interested in a career in the golf industry, she says go for it.

“You don’t have to wait to be invited, you can take action,” she says. “You can say, ‘I really want to do this and pursue the possibility.’”

Bel Jan says advocating for yourself and showing interest in the role can work in your favor.

“If you, you demonstrate that you’re interested and willing to work, it’s no different than anybody else who wants a job,” she says. “If you really want the job, then you go at it one more time.”

For the love of turf

One of Bel Jan’s newest projects is a renovation of Miami Springs Golf and Country Club. Laurie Bland, Miami Springs’ director of golf course maintenance, met Bel Jan years ago at a women in turfgrass event.

Bland says she fell in love with turfgrass as a child when playing golf with her family. She realized it was a profession when a field trip took her to Lake City Community College (now Florida Gateway College), and she learned about turfgrass management as a career path. 

“The professors won me over because they said, ‘There are not a whole lot of women who do this. So pretty much the field’s open for you, so if you want to try it, we have scholarships available,’” she says. 

Bland was one of two women in her class. She thrived in the welcoming and supportive environment at Lake City. She interned at The Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter and worked at Doral and the Blue Monster.

She says that growing up in a Latin family, she still faced some challenges to the cultural norms as a working woman and having a child. 

“Being a woman, dealing with even my own culture, the norms of a woman working, instead of being at home, taking care of the family that was quite a shocker,” she says. “I had to prove myself to these men that I belong. … It was really interesting that, in time, they all came to appreciate everything that I was doing.”

About 10 years ago, she took the Miami Springs job and went from a PGA tour course to managing a municipal course. She says the Miami Springs was losing money when she started, and the city wanted to turn the property into a park.

“Within several years, we were able to turn a profit,” she says. “And that’s with me just getting my agronomic background in there and just working the soil and getting the turf back up to a playable standard. For the first time in the history of the golf course, it is actually bringing in revenue.”

Keys to success

Bland says a part of her success is the support from her male colleagues as she raised her son. 

“There’s like that extra round (of scrutiny) that’s put on to us because we also want to raise a family and to grow in the industry,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate to work a lot alongside people who believe that and support that.”

She says support is so critical for women looking to join the industry. As one bad experience could turn someone away from golf course management at a time when the industry needs all the help it can get, encouragement is vital.

“If you support that, then it’s a no-brainer because you’re going to get someone who’s going to be enthusiastic about maintenance,” she says.

Bland says she approaches all new hires the same way — with a look to the future. 

“I’m always looking down the road. I want to know that whoever I bring on is going to replace me or succeed or go further than me,” she says. “I try to treat everyone as equally as possible.”

And for women, keep at it, she says. Know and understand that every job has its ups and downs.

 “You’re going to have good days, you’re going to have bad days — that’s anywhere,” she says. “I personally love working outdoors, so if you love working outdoors, you love being outside in nature, you’re going to love it.”

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About the Author: Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is the former editor of Golfdom magazine.

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