Encore performance: Women volunteers write another chapter at U.S. Open

Six turfgrass professionals who first connected at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open are back at it as part of the crew at The Country Club this week.


U.S. Open women volunteers
Jessica Lenihan, Madison Rudsinski, Maureen Kahiu, Lorabeth Catterson, Joy Negen and Sheree Scarborough are volunteering together again this year at the U.S. Open at The Country Club. Photo by Scott Hollister

Jessica Lenihan has had a front-row seat to the women-in-turf movement — well, at least the organized version — from the very beginning.

An assistant member of GCSAA who now works for Green Valley Turf in Platteville, Colo., Lenihan was in the room for the very first Ladies Leading Turf event at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show back in 2018. She’s served as a volunteer at seven different professional golf events, including the last two U.S. Women’s Opens. If there’s been a significant step forward in the recognition of women working on the golf course, the nine-year GCSAA member has been there to see it.

But even she sometimes marvels at the progress that has been made, at the fact that at an event the scope of this week’s U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., there are six women serving as volunteers on the maintenance team.

“It’s been pretty incredible,” Lenihan says. “The first Ladies Leading Turf event, no one really knew what to expect, but it really resonated with women in this business and with industry partners. Then to be able to participate at events like this, the Women’s Opens ... pretty overwhelming.”

Lenihan was the only one of the six on-hand in Brookline to also volunteer at Pine Needles earlier this month, but all six — Lenihan, Lorabeth Catterson, Madison Rudsinski, Joy Negen, Maureen Kahiu and Sheree Scarborough — are connected by their volunteer experience at the 2021 Women’s Open at The Olympic Club. The friendships formed there hold firm, and each note the strong network of like-minded colleagues formed through that experience, and those they’ll have this week just outside of Boston.

“(On Sunday) when I first arrived, I was the only women sitting at a table with all men, and it just felt good when I saw some of the others walk through the door,” says Kahiu, a research assistant at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “Seeing how we all have come together and formed these bonds and done good work is very rewarding.”

Much like Kahiu, Scarborough doesn’t work on a golf course on a day-to-day basis — she’s the president and founder of Silico Turf. But in addition to deepening the connections with her fellow women in turf, experiences like this week’s also provide some practical benefits.

“I might not work on a golf course every day, but I do want to have a better understanding and respect for what superintendent do and the challenges they face,” Scarborough says. “Being here helps me appreciate that and think about how we bring products to the market that help them with that. You can’t beat being in the trenches with people that you enjoy being around. I feel very lucky.”

Kahiu sees similar benefits to her work on the research side of the industry. “Coming to events like this puts into perspective the research that you’re doing and how it gets applied on the ground,” says Kahiu. “It helps me visualize how to make sure the work I do can progress and have practical applications for superintendents.”

Unlike Scarborough and Kahiu, Negen, Rudsinski and Catterson all work on golf courses full-time and each have their own, unique expectations for their week here. Catterson, the assistant director of agronomy at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles who formerly worked at Los Angeles Country Club—next year’s U.S. Open host—could be forgiven for doing a little scouting work this week for an event she’ll likely attend in the future. But she says her time at The Country Club is all about her.

“I’m excited the Open is coming to my town and to a facility where I used to work, but this is all about reconnecting with people I’ve met before, meeting new people and just expanding my knowledge of the business and my network,” she says.

Negen is the assistant superintendent at Cimarron Hills Golf and Country Club in Georgetown, Texas, who originally married into the turf management business. Volunteering has given her an avenue to form her own connections to what has become her life’s work.

“I wanted to see the differences between what I experienced at a Women’s Open and what it’s like at a men’s Open,” says the four-year GCSAA member. “It’s been opportunities like these that have drawn me into the business even more and made me want to do more things like this. It’s learning, networking, seeing the different ways things are done that you take away from these.”

As an assistant-in-training at Arizona’s Paradise Valley Country Club, Rudsinski also has her eyes and ears open this week for new experiences and learning opportunities, especially because her academic background is in horticulture, not turf.

“I’ve always been interested in seeing how far my degree can take me and how I can add on to it,” Rudsinski says. “I don’t have a background in turf, so experiences like this are invaluable from both education and networking standpoints.

Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief