GIS 2019 Highlights: Women in Turf

By |  February 12, 2019 0 Comments
Photo: Golfdom staff

L to R: Patricia Sloan, Leasha Schwab, Jessica Lenihan and Miranda Robinson and Bethany Chambers. (Photo: Golfdom staff)

This year’s Golf Industry Show in San Diego featured the latest and greatest equipment from golf maintenance companies and some key insights from a growing demographic: women.

The Women in Golf panel, sponsored by Bayer and moderated by North Coast Media’s Director of Audience Engagement Bethany Chambers, brought together four female superintendents — Jessica Lenihan, Miranda Robinson, Leasha Schwab and Patricia Sloan — for a candid discussion about their experiences as women in turf.

Miranda Robinson, superintendent at Summerlea Golf Club in Port Perry, Ontario, noted that when she started working on the golf course 14 years ago, there were ‘boy’ jobs and ‘girl’ jobs, but that she pushed to do jobs such as changing holes and eventually, she was able to gain respect and move up in the industry.

Things weren’t so simple for Leasha Schwab, superintendent at Pheasant Run Golf Club in Uxbridge, Ontario. She said she’s had male employees walk off the job at every golf course she’s been hired as a superintendent, because they didn’t want to work for a woman.

She’s developed a philosophy about those days. “If they don’t want to work for me, that’s fine,” she said.

Schwab and Robinson have paved the way for other women such as Patricia Sloan, assistant superintendent at Sun Peaks Resort, British Columbia. Sloan grew up with a superintendent father and says that being female and working in the industry hasn’t been an issue for her.

“I’ve always had other women on my crew and I’ve always worked with other girls. But it is nice to see more coming up,” she said.

Creating an environment of inclusivity in today’s golf industry was a main topic of conversation as well.

Robinson reflects that because modern households tend to be double income, couples want to able to go out and do things together — including participating in golf. “That might invigorate enough people to come and work on our side of the business,” she said.

Jessica Lenihan, assistant golf course superintendent at Hayden Lake Country Club in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was one of three female volunteers at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, in Southampton, N.Y.

“You volunteer and you see so few females — it’s a boys’ club, it’s a ‘brotherhood.’ it definitely is, but everyone’s been so welcoming and inclusive, so it’s been awesome,” Lenihan said.

“I think it’s important for women to volunteer and be in high visibility spots — it just plants that seed,” said Schwab. “I can’t tell you how many guys come up to me and say “I just hired a female assistant.” So that when a girl walks in the door, they go, ‘Oh, listen, I know some girls who are really succeeding.’ It doesn’t cross their mind that (being female) would be an obstacle anymore.”

Canada could be ahead of the U.S. in female superintendents — all four superintendents on the panel were from Canada and only Lenihan works on an American course. A handful of female superintendents in the crowd raised their hands when Chambers asked who else present was from Canada.

Schwab said that in her travels, she’s seen that golf is an industry hardly known to women in Australia, where she spends a lot of time, and that Maureen Kahiu, another woman who spoke at this year’s GIS, is only one of two in Kenya.

She says it’s more common to see Canadian women working in turf. “I don’t know, maybe you just have a bunch of really aggressive women,” Schwab said.

“I say ‘progressive,’” Robinson interjected with a laugh.

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