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How these women in turf make an impact on and off the golf course

By and |  April 10, 2023 0 Comments

 

At Bay Hill Club, Senior Assistant Superintendent Alexandra Hills sees that the sky is the limit. (Photo: Brian Carlson)

At Bay Hill Club, Senior Assistant Superintendent Alexandra Hills sees that the sky is the limit. (Photo: Brian Carlson)

No one path to a career in the golf course maintenance industry is the same. Alexandra Hills’ journey started in the stables.

Hills grew up riding horses. In college, she worked at Grand Cypress Equestrian Center in Orlando, Fla.

Plans change

Hills went to college to pursue a sports management degree. But as the economy took a downturn, the Grand Cypress Equestrian Center became a casualty.

“They had to close the equestrian center, and I needed a job,” Hills says. “(Grand Cypress) had an opening in golf maintenance, and since I already worked outside, I thought I could at least take the job while I was finishing school.”

Little did she know at the time, the trajectory of her life had quickly changed.

“I fell in love with it,” she says, recalling her first few weeks on the course. “My boss at the time said that if I was serious, I should go and get my turf degree. So that’s what I did.”

Alexandra Hills understands the responsibility that comes with her title at Bay Hill Club, host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. (Photo: Alexandra Hills)

Alexandra Hills understands the responsibility that comes with her title at Bay Hill Club, host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. (Photo: Alexandra Hills)

When in Florida

Fast forward to 2023 and Hills, senior assistant superintendent at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla., works alongside Chris Flynn, CGCS, director of grounds. Together, the duo hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Hills says the 40-person crew has fine-tuned how to prepare the course down to a science. Even with that confidence, 2022 had its fair share of challenges. Bay Hill suffered damage from several hurricanes that hit the Florida coast last year.

“Last year was really rough,” she says. “We had to bump our seed back a week before the hurricane came through, so we ended up seeding the week before Thanksgiving. This was also one of the coldest winters I’ve been through.”

Despite switching up the routine, Hills says the course avoided major damage, other than a few holes under water.

Women at work

At the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bay Hill hosted 25 volunteers, including several members of the Women in Turf Team, a group of female turfgrass professionals who volunteer annually on the crew for the U.S. Women’s Open.

“This was the most women I’ve had come and volunteer at our tournament,” Hills said.

Breaking the Turfgrass Ceiling, a 14-part docuseries created by Sheila Schroeder, Ph.D., a professor from the University of Denver, highlight the Women in Turf Team. The series showcases 30 female turfgrass professionals at the 2022 Women’s U.S. Open, including Hills.

“It’s one of those things that until you’re in it and you feel the electricity, it’s hard to explain,” she says. “It’s just a sisterhood that you can’t replace.”

Hills says that showing more women in this profession opens the doors to more opportunities for younger generations.

“I have a daughter, and I want to make sure that she knows that she can do anything that she wants to do,” she says.

Rules to live by

Hills says she has a few rules she tries to live by, starting with remembering to stay humble.

“One of my bosses once told me, ‘Never be greater than what you would say is your lowest job (is on the course), because that’s when you need to retire,’” she says. “He told me I should always be willing to fill in and never to ask my guys to do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Alongside humility, Hills says it’s important to keep an open mind in this industry, as it might lead to some pleasant surprises. When she first started on a golf course, Hills didn’t think she’d ever work at a PGA Tour stop. Now she says she can’t imagine working at a course that doesn’t host events.

“There are so many avenues that you can go down, whether you stay in the industry or do sales,” she says. “It’s such a broad industry and there are so many things you can take from it. The sky is the limit.”


The power of togetherness

(Photo: Morgan Creighton)

(Photo: Morgan Creighton)

For Morgan Creighton, an assistant golf course superintendent at Woodside GC in Airdrie, Alberta, Canada, a love of the outdoors and a high school summer job at a golf course started her down a path in turf management.

Creighton says she planned to study education in college but decided she’d rather be outside than inside a classroom. She enrolled in classes at Olds College and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in applied turfgrass management.

She bounced around between a job in forestry, a stint at a 9-hole golf course and another at a multi-course facility in Calgary. During her time in the industry, she experienced what many women, unfortunately, experience — workplace harassment.

“You’re always warned that it’s something that can happen,” she says. “I can put up with a lot and I internalized a lot. And then I saw this person doing it to one of the summer students. I don’t like seeing other people having to go through things.”

When she spoke to the course’s human resources manager about the harassment, her colleagues treated her differently and blamed her for coming forward.

“I was working at a place where I was made to feel like I was less of a human because I was female, that I would never amount to anything,” she says. “I’ve known numerous females who leave the industry because of it. The only reason I didn’t is this is my postsecondary education. … It took me going through five different golf courses to find a place that is constructive. I’m not saying that all of them are bad by any means, but I’m now at a place that truly works for me.”

Finding inspiration in numbers

Around this time, she was accepted for and attended Bayer’s (now known as Envu) inaugural Women in Golf event, a supportive and positive environment.

“I went from feeling like I was worthless because I was female to feeling the most empowered I have ever felt,” she says. “It was amazing, and it’s something that I never really experienced before. I wanted to find a way to allow other women in the industry to be able to have that kind of connectivity that we created during those two days in North Carolina.”

Creighton founded the mentorship program Women in Turfgrass Management. The program matches three or four students interested in turfgrass management, enrolled in a program or a recent graduate of a turf program with other women in the industry, including assistant superintendents, educators, architects, industry affiliates and superintendents as mentors.

The Women in Turfgrass Management program matches three or four turfgrass students with women established in the green industry. The program recently held an in-person event and golf scramble. (Photo: Morgan Creighton)

The Women in Turfgrass Management program matches three or four turfgrass students with women established in the green industry. The program recently held an in-person event and golf scramble. (Photo: Morgan Creighton)

Every six weeks, Creighton and the students in the program come together to create a list of discussion questions for each student to take back to the mentorship groups — anything from how superintendents use growing degree data to negotiating a higher salary.

After a summer job on a golf course maintenance crew, Morgan Creighton says she knew she wanted to work in turf. (Photo: Morgan Creighton)

After a summer job on a golf course maintenance crew, Morgan Creighton says she knew she wanted to work in turf. (Photo: Morgan Creighton)

This year is the first year that five students in the mentor groups graduated and will transition into roles as mentors. She says she’s also expanding the mentorship program to the U.S. to connect more women in the industry. (Creighton welcomes any women interested in the program to reach out to her through email at womeninturfgrassmanagement@gmail.com.)

“To see how (the graduates) are changing and how they’ve used everything that they’ve gained over the last few years to be able to help the new students, it’s really quite amazing to see,” she says.

Worth the effort

For women considering a job in turfgrass, Creighton says, it’s absolutely worth it.

“Sometimes you have to put in the effort and work until you find a place that’s compatible with you,” she says.


From Olympic Club to Pine Needles

Web docuseries shines a spotlight on women volunteers at the U.S. Women’s Open

Behind every good story is a good storyteller.

In this case that storyteller is Sheila Schroeder, Ph.D., a professor of film studies and production from the University of Denver. In 2022 Schroeder traveled to the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, Southern Pines, N.C., armed with a camera, a student assistant and support from several industry entities.

Photo: Sheila Schroeder, Ph.D.

Photo: Sheila Schroeder, Ph.D.

At first, her goal was to promote Women in Turf volunteers and the work they accomplished at Pine Needles over social media. When she returned to Denver, that plan changed.

“When we got home we started logging all the footage, and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness … we have a treasure trove of stories,” Schroeder says.

The result of those stories is a 14-part web docuseries called Breaking the Turfgrass Ceiling. The entire series is posted on YouTube. The series documents what started at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in 2021 and continued at the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles. The series showcases 30 female turfgrass professionals and tells their stories.

“It’s behind-the-scenes at Pine Needles,” Schroeder says. “I was lucky enough to go, embedded with the Women in Turf Team.”

Photo: Kimberly Gard

Photo: Kimberly Gard

Support for the project came from the University of Denver, GCSAA, PureSeed, Vereens, Rain Bird, Syngenta and Toro. Schroeder is unsure if there will be a season two of the series, but she does know that the Women in Turf Team will volunteer at Pebble Beach Golf Links for the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open.

“Women in the turf industry are here to stay,” she says. “Hopefully this series raises awareness and raises opportunities for women in turf.”

This article is tagged with , , , and posted in Featured, From the Magazine

About the Author: Sydney Fischer

Sydney is a graduate from Kent State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations with minors in Marketing and Advertising. While attending KSU, she held multiple internships and was a reporter for the Kent Stater.

About the Author: Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is the former editor of Golfdom magazine.


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