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Three women in the industry share how golf is getting more female-friendly

By |  April 1, 2024 0 Comments

According to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), there are only 69 Class A and Class B members who are female. That number accounts for less than one percent of their total membership. When including assistants the number grows to 162 total female members. Additionally, there are 23 associate members and 133 female student members.

Golfdom reached out to three women in the golf maintenance industry with high-profile jobs, to learn more about them, their path into the industry and how they feel the industry is doing in welcoming women.

Taylor Turner

CEO

Numerator Technologies

Taylor Turner

Taylor Turner

Numerator Technologies is a specialty chemicals manufacturer that serves the global golf market. Based in Sarasota, Fla., the company started with a core of soil surfactants and then expanded to acidification products. The company continues to evolve and plans for new product launches.

Some popular products the company sells include pHAcid, an injectable irrigation and soil water acidifier, Sarge 2.0, a concentrated green pigment, and also Neptune, Revert and LT120 which are available from Nutrien Solutions.

Next month, Taylor Turner will step into the role of CEO. Jim Turner, the company’s founder, will remain with the company, but change his focus to developing new products.

Taylor, Jim’s youngest daughter, had an unusual career path to where she is today.

Turner graduated college in 2008, a difficult time for the U.S. economy, with a degree in English and marketing. She took a position with a family-owned sales distribution company in Florida, selling professional hair care products directly to salons. She grew four different territories in Florida from zero to more than $1 million. Once the territories were large enough, she’d pass them on and start over.

“When you’re selling products that cost, on average, $12 … $1 million in sales is a lot of SKUs,” Turner says.

Turner thought she had found her calling in selling hair care products when her father surprised her. The night before her wedding, Jim asked Taylor if she would consider switching from selling hair care products to selling golf course care products.

“He said, ‘Look, you’re killing it … I could use your thoughts, I could use some change.’ We went back and forth, just like a normal job negotiation,” she says. “I did accept the position, and then someone spilled the beans at my wedding. So I also had to tell my then-boss, at my wedding, that I was leaving. That was a pretty crazy week.”

An industry of support

Turner says from when she started with the company to where she is today, she’s surprised herself with how well it’s gone.

“When I first started, I was absolutely petrified, to be completely honest,” she says. “Coming from an insanely women-dominated industry such as the beauty industry, to an industry where I’ve been told, ‘There’s 12 of us, we’re all men and we’re all friends,’ it was a little frightening.”

Turner says once she was trained and got up to speed with the golf course maintenance industry, she was put at ease. The recent New England Regional Turfgrass Show was another demonstration to her that the industry is women-friendly, she says.

“I had it in my head originally that it might be a problem of me being female. I don’t see it that way at all now,” she says. “I like the social aspect of this industry. I feel like sometimes superintendents feel like they’re on an island. I feel like it’s an industry of support and I feel like if you have something good to say or a good idea, people will listen.”

Turner says she loves her job because she’s a social person. She likes seeing different parts of the country and she loves having sales reps in different cities she can grab a beer with if she gets stuck without a flight home. She adds that it’s an exciting time at Numerator Technologies and she has big goals as the new CEO.

“There’s a reason we’ve been around as a family-owned company for a while,” Turner says. “We’re going to continue development. I want to broaden our product offerings and look into a few things outside the specialty chemical realm. I want to bring in a handful of additional employees to help with launches. And I really want more brand awareness, so people know what we make. The GCSAA (Conference and Trade Show) was a great jumping-off point, and we’re going to continue to be present at regional shows.”

Tiffany Koss

President

Kafka Granite

Tiffany Koss grew up in the family business. She says she doesn’t know much outside of “being a Flintstone.”

Tiffany Koss

Tiffany Koss

“I don’t think my dad ever expected me to be interested in his business,” Koss says. “It was dusty and dirty and grimy and greasy, and as a little girl, I was all about sparkles and tutus. I was always quite creative, and as a teenager, I became interested in marketing. That’s how I started stepping into the company. It’s just evolved from there.”

Kafka Granite delivers natural stone solutions to manufacturers and contractors throughout North America. In the golf industry, the company’s Wax Polymer Golf Course Pathway Material is designed to bring erosion-free and dustless cart paths and walking paths to courses. Kafka Granite also offers Wax Polymer Bunker Sand for out-of-play or driving range bunkers.

Today Koss is part-owner of the family business and will be its next leader when her father, Glenn, decides to step down. In the meantime, she enjoys working alongside her father.

“We have very similar personalities, but completely opposite strengths. He’d rather be in an excavator. We are quite the dynamic duo,” she says.

Kafka Granite employs 85 people and is growing. The company serves others outside of golf as well — their crushed aggregate is used in landscape projects, parks and manufacturing. The company also operates a trucking division and a recycling division.

Boots on the ground

Golf is the fastest growing segment for the company, giving quotes for their product to courses daily. Though Koss isn’t an avid golfer herself, she says that segment is one of her favorites to work in, for two reasons.

“The people have just been so fantastic. Everybody I’ve crossed paths with, I’ve learned so much from them,” Koss says. “And I love the camaraderie in the industry that people are so willing to share information and so eager to learn as well.

“The other thing that I think is so great is (superintendents) are well-educated people, but they’re still boots-on-the-ground,” Koss says. “You can talk on all levels. When I’m working (in other industries) there are often layers of engineers, architects, contractors and the maintenance department … it can turn into a little bit of a game of telephone.”

There is another thing that is different about golf from the other industries Koss works in. In mining and construction, she is frequently the only woman in the room. Golf is similar, but she says it’s getting better.

“In golf, there are not a lot of women involved, but I’ve seen, just in my short time in the industry, a huge progression as far as more women getting into turf and also on the supplier end,” she says. “That’s been really cool to see. I think it’s progressed quicker than some of the other industries that I’ve been a part of.”

She advises other women getting into the golf industry to just remember, they do belong.

“There is a reason why women should have a place at that table … because we bring something different,” she says. “Our minds, in general, often work differently than men. We have inherently different strengths — different attention to detail and communication skills that are valuable. Lean into your strengths.”

This year’s GCSAA Conference and Trade Show was a recent highlight of Koss’ job, she says, because the company had such a positive response from attendees. Kafka Granite was tucked in the corner of the trade show, so expectations for the show were low. But the crowd to see her and her team was large and constant. As an added bonus, she brought more of her team than normal, and they got to experience the positive response as well.

Koss says she values the people she works with as the best part of her job, but adds that it’s exciting to see her product beautify landscapes and help others.

“Ultimately, I’m bringing stone that’s millions of years old, something that’s been there forever, and transforming it into a usable product and that helps others save time and money,” she says. “What’s most exciting about my job is seeing all the cool places my product ends up and all the ways that I’m able to help other people with my product.”

Stephanie Schwenke

Turf Market Manager

Syngenta

This month marks 20 years that Stephanie Schwenke has worked at Syngenta. For the first half of her time there, she worked on the crop protection side of the business. For the last 10, she has focused on golf.

Stephanie Schwenke

Stephanie Schwenke

Schwenke works with the Syngenta sales team to help promote the company’s products, and she also works to promote the industry’s initiatives on behalf of Syngenta, working with associations like the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the World Golf Foundation, the Sports Field Managers Association (SFMA), Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE), the National Golf Course Owners Association (NCGOA), Turfgrass Producers International (TPI) and more.

“Syngenta is a chemical manufacturer, but we’re also your industry advocate,” Schwenke says. “We work to support and promote the profession of golf and the health and growth of the golf market space.”

Schwenke says it was an interesting, and fun, twist to her career when she changed from working within the agriculture industry over to golf.

“Golf course superintendents and the golf industry have changed a lot over the years — and diversified,” she says. “Superintendents are some of the most fun professional customers I’ve had the opportunity to work with. They are obviously very agronomic, but they are quite business-savvy at the same time. They really want positive advocacy in the golf space, whether it’s at the golf course or taking place in Washington, D.C. Working with superintendents has become my passion.”

Making a difference

The 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles was a special moment for Schwenke. She recalls being corralled in a waiting area with 20 other women, waiting for play to finish so they could get to work on the golf course.

“As a female in the industry, as well as in the agriculture industry, it’s quite often that I may be the only female present at a particular event,” she says. “It was very welcoming and rewarding to see how things are changing. To be a part of that group at the U.S. Women’s Open, I’ll never forget that moment.”

Seeing more women in the industry has been a welcome change for Schwenke. Still, she says there are a lot of times when she’s the only woman in the room. She advises women who find themselves in a similar situation not to be intimidated.

“Be present in the moment,” she says. “We don’t all have to look the same to make a difference. Let your voice be heard. Engage with people and do what you can to make things different for the next generation.”

Schwenke says when she took the golf job over a decade ago, she looked at it as a way to see another side of Syngenta. Now she sees the job is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I get to interact with a lot of different customers. Some of the courses that I have the opportunity to travel to are some of the most beautiful destinations that we get to step foot on and that’s just part of the job,” Schwenke says. “My roots and passion were in agriculture, but, this is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 18-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.


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