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These four women in turf jumped right in to the golf industry

By and |  July 11, 2022 0 Comments

History may have been made at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco when the crew, full-time and volunteer, proudly boasted a large contingent of women maintaining the course. Last month, history repeated itself when another large contingent of women in the golf maintenance industry ascended on Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, Southern Pines, S.C., to maintain that course for the best women golfers in the world.

“Everyone needs to get used to seeing us out there at the (U.S.) Women’s Open … We all love this industry and love this game,” says Jill Seymour, superintendent for Monmouth County, N.J.’s six public courses. “I drive on the golf course daily, and heads still turn seeing a girl on the golf course, let alone if I walk up to them and tell them I’m the boss. We’re here to stay.”

We spotlight these four women — working on America’s fairways and greens — who see golf maintenance as a rewarding role.

Kelly Kuchelmeister (Photo: Tim Klein Photography)

Kelly Kuchelmeister (Photo: Tim Klein Photography)

Kelly Kuchelmeister

Superintendent, Sinnissippi Golf Course, Rockford, Ill.

When Kelly Kuchelmeister graduated high school, she had a difficult decision to make. The University of Kentucky recruited Kuchelmeister to play softball but she didn’t want the sport to become her life. She decided to postpone college and instead take a job at Countryside Golf Course in Wisconsin.

“A friend of mine worked at Countryside and said they were hiring for help inside the clubhouse. I started off cleaning the clubhouse and scrubbing toilets,” Kuchelmeister says. “Come fall, they were shorthanded outside and asked if I wanted to help. I immediately hopped on a mower on the fairway. It was pouring rain and 40 degrees. It was awful, but when I came back inside, they offered me a full-time job on the grounds crew.”

After four years at Countryside, Kuchelmeister moved to Rockford, Ill., where she attended college. Sinnissippi Golf Course hired her when the superintendent retired in 2017. There are five courses in Rockford’s Park District, and Kuchelmeister says the crews all work closely together. “If you need help, you call each other,” she says. “Getting to learn from guys who have been in the industry longer than I have and being respected by them has been awesome.”

Save Sinnissippi

In 2018 Sinnissippi needed help. With budget shortfalls across the parks district, the course faced permanent closure. Kuchelmeister found herself off the golf course and in meeting rooms.

“There wasn’t much I could do — I kept my budget lean while trying to produce a quality product,” she recalls. “(Director of Golf) Ann Broomfield and I did a lot of speaking, advocating for the course. We told them, here’s the business end, but the biggest thing is, just come out and golf.”

The community responded with a “Save Sinnissippi” campaign, as well as a spike in rounds played and talk of closing the course has gone away. “The community decided that Sinnissippi was valuable,” she says.

Have no fear

Kuchelmeister encourages women getting into the industry to reach out and follow others on social platforms. She also urges women to get on as much equipment as they can.

“That’s what I did. Tractors, mowers, backhoes, dump trucks all kinds of stuff,” Kuchelmeister says. “Don’t be afraid to learn and know that you’re not going to be good at it right off the bat. It takes time.”

 

Jill Seymour (Photo: Jill Seymour)

Jill Seymour (Photo: Jill Seymour)

Jill Seymour

Superintendent, Monmouth County Parks System, N.J.

A couple of years studying psychology in college was enough for Jill Seymour as the golf industry and associated outdoor work proved irresistible. That desire and more than two ensuing decades in the industry earned her the role of superintendent in New Jersey’s Monmouth County Parks System.

Seymour says she’s never looked back after her drastic change in career plans.

“I was doing an internship, two and a half years into the (psychology) program,” she says. “I remember coming out of a building and seeing four inches of snow on the ground. It made me mad because I missed it, and no one told me it was snowing. It hit me that I didn’t want to be in an office. I wanted to find something else. I kind of floundered around for a few years, then a friend told me about a degree they were going toward.”

That talk led Seymour to Penn State University’s turfgrass science program, where she earned a bachelor’s degree that paved the way for multiple stints as an assistant superintendent in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Seymour also served as an adjunct professor of turfgrass science at New Jersey’s Mercer County Community College.

Now a seasoned industry veteran, she is entering her seventh year as Monmouth County Parks System golf course superintendent.

“I fell in love with this life, this line of work,” Seymour says. “I lived with my parents for a summer in Maryland and got a job at a golf course, thinking I should give it a try before I go to school for it. As soon as I got there, I was helping with bunkers, cutting the pins, doing morning set-up. I absolutely fell in love. I knew this is where I wanted to be.

“After that, it took about 15 years of hard work to get to this point,” she continues. “But here I am.”

A boom for public golf

The Monmouth County Parks system includes six golf courses in Colts Neck, Wall, Millstone Township, Farmingdale, Manalapan and Neptune, N.J. The courses were steady before, but then the pandemic created a full-on golf boom of new and former golfers for the public courses.

“We don’t have memberships here, as a public course, so anyone who wants to pick up golf is always welcome to come out,” she says. “The increase for us has been huge. It’s hard to get anything done in the afternoon once everything gets rolling. It’s hard to get the labor in here and get enough people to help us out.”

Even on the most hectic days, Seymour says she’s happy to be part of the first and second generation of women who’ve normalized being part of the golf industry and sitting in leadership positions.

“For me, it’s always been about being eager and being passionate,” she says. “Everyone needs to get used to seeing us out there at the (U.S.) Women’s Open. The grass doesn’t know male or female. We all love this industry and love this game. I drive on the golf course daily, and heads still turn seeing a girl on the golf course, let alone if I walk up to them and tell them I’m the boss. We’re here to stay.”

 

Tami Jones (Photo: Tami Jones)

Tami Jones (Photo: Tami Jones)

Tami Jones

Superintendent, DeSoto Golf Club, Hot Springs Village, Ark.

Growing up in southwest Florida, a passion for golf and a desire to enter the industry took hold of Tami Jones as a teenager.

Now a 40-year industry veteran and superintendent at DeSoto Golf Club, Hot Springs Village, Ark., Jones is happy she chose to “be there” while working her way up from irrigation and mowing duties.

“I really didn’t know what I was doing at first,” Jones says about her first industry job. “I was just looking for a high school summer job. I wanted to get in early, get off early and get to the beach with my friends. I had a car, and I needed gas, so that’s how it all started.”

Jones says proving herself reliable and simply showing up went a long way.

“It was a matter of choosing to be there and put my full effort into it,” she says. “It was a matter of getting out there, being seen and talking to people, showing them I’m here to do the work. I just wanted to get involved, and people could see that.”

A daring act also played into landing her first golf industry job.

“There were submergible pumps at the course I was working at,” Jones says. “There were two of us standing on a floating dock. The superintendent said, ‘Whoever dives in and puts a chain around the pump gets the job, the irrigation position.’ I dove right in, put the chain on and told them to haul it out. The other guy didn’t even go in.”

Jones’ efforts eventually earned her Integrated Pest Management (IPM) credentials — an area of the industry she worked in for roughly 10 years. That was followed by stints as assistant superintendent at Highland Wood G&CC, Bonita Springs, Fla., and her first superintendent position at Osprey Ridge Golf Course adjacent to Walt Disney World.

She took over as superintendent at DeSoto Golf Club in 2018, making her the first woman in Arkansas history to hold that title at any course.

“I just love leading a team,” Jones says. “I don’t really look at myself as superintendent. I look at myself as the lead team member. I handle the purse strings. The assistant handles the crew. He and I make up the plans, he executes, and I make sure it’s paid for. That about sums it up.”

Jones is also the current vice president of Arkansas’ GCSAA chapter, the first woman to take that mantle. She says a run for Arkansas GCSAA president could be on the horizon. Moving up to that position would mark another first for women in the state.

“I don’t really look at these things like that,” Jones says. “I just try to focus on it as a progression and something that I really want to do, something I know I’d be good at.”

Jones offers advice to young women who have golf industry aspirations as she did.

“Above all else, believe in yourself,” she says. “Get to know your local GCSAA chapter. Show people you want to put in the work. Find outreach programs. Go to meetings. Just stay involved and never stop.”

 

Sally Jones (Photo: Sally Jones)

Sally Jones (Photo: Sally Jones)

Sally Jones

General Manager/Superintendent, Benson Golf Club, Benson, Minn.

At the age of 15, Sally Jones spent much of her time playing and exploring golf courses in her area. When she started picking the range at one of those courses for fun, she knew her career path.

Jones attended Penn State University in the Turfgrass Science program. After graduation, she returned to Minnesota and became the second assistant at Dellwood Hills CC for one season before becoming the superintendent at Benson GC.

Her advice to other young women who want to pursue a career in turf is to do the opposite of what she did when she first started. “I did get intimidated by going to events and being the only female,” she says. “There’s a lot of small talk and conversation outside of work that was difficult. There are a lot of topics that I just didn’t connect with. I was never mistreated, but the struggles I have gone through have also made me who I am.”

Jones is the only woman on her grounds crew, but she emphasizes her crew respects her all the same.

“I just feel like the personalities that we have gathered here will work well together,” she says. “All of them have an invested interest in the game of golf.”

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