Golf legend Annika Sörenstam (in peach-colored shirt with her son Will kneeling in front) paid a visit to the maintenance area to thank the volunteers at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. Photos by Howard Richman
The 10 digits that showed up on her cell were unfamiliar to Georgia Clingerman.
“It was a random number. At first, I thought it was a scam,” Clingerman says.
For whatever reason, this time she chose to answer. She was glad she did. On the other end was Kimberly Gard, territory manager for Syngenta. She contacted Clingerman, an assistant superintendent at Jennings Mill Country Club in Watkinsville, Ga., to
gauge her interest in volunteering for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C.
“I was immediately in,” Clingerman says.
If the 30 female maintenance volunteers working the open this year have their way, their involvement will go from a novelty to a tradition, and a way to draw more women to the industry. Based on feedback, it sounds like they’re making their case.
“I don’t think we could do it without them,” says Pine Needles’ David Fruchte, CGCS, director of grounds.
All of this began in 2021, when the Olympic Club in San Francisco served as the site for the inaugural volunteer trial of 30 women. Women had volunteered at past majors, but not in this quantity. The decision to increase their presence happened on the
watch of Troy Flanagan, director of golf course maintenance.
“We owe so much to him. Special guy. With Covid, he still kept it going,” says Sally Jones, general manager and superintendent at Benson Golf Club in Benson, Minn., who was among the volunteers that were masked while they worked.
Support from Syngenta and Rain Bird has been integral. Golf Channel reporter Kira K. Dixon also profiled the women volunteers, which increased their visibility.
Golf Channel reporter Kira K. Dixon interviewed volunteer Tonya Anderson, superintendent at Old Memorial Golf Club in Tampa, Fla., for a feature on women in maintenance.
A show of support from golfers this week also took things up a notch. Two of them, LPGA Tour champion Gaby Lopez and golf legend Annika Sörenstam, visited the women in the maintenance compound to champion them.
“It’s nice to see a lot of women here. Early mornings, long days. We appreciate you and want you to know,” says Sörenstam, who triumphed at Pine Needles in the 1996 Open and received GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award in 2014.
Sörenstam shared personal stories of working in her younger days on a golf course in Sweden. “I raked a lot of bunkers. Once my Cushman ran out of gas far away from the clubhouse. I had a few mulligans on the course,” Sörenstam said.
Lopez echoed Sörenstam’s sentiments. “To see all of you, women and men working day in and day out. … on behalf of the LPGA and myself I want to say thank you so much for your endless hours, your energy, here so early and leaving so
late. We don’t get to see you much, but I do appreciate it and want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You put so much love in what you do,” Lopez said.
Volunteer Kennedy Ellis is back for her second appearance with the women volunteers.
USGA CEO Mike Whan stopped by maintenance Thursday morning to thank the women for their efforts. He worked on courses as a teen. “Seeing women do things I got to do is heartwarming, uplifting,” Whan says. “You’re letting dreams
Of the 30 women, 15 who participated last year returned in 2022. The other half are first-timers.
“I think it’s fantastic. It’s something women can do and do a good job at,” says freshman volunteer Linda Carrier, who works at Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst. Carrier noted there is one task she particularly enjoys.
“Divots. Oddly satisfying. You can see where it’s bad and where you need to make things look better again.”
Returning volunteer Sun Roesslein feels good about where this is headed.
“Last year was the first rock thrown in the lake. Now it’s a ripple,” says Roesslein, a certified sports field manager and stadium manager at North Area Athletic Complex for Jeffco (Colo.) Schools Athletics. “I’m so glad
I did this. I stepped out of my comfort zone a little bit. I’m a big believer in stepping out of your comfort zone. That’s how you grow.”
Strategy time for, from left, Christi Clay, Georgia Clingerman, Nina Oldenkamp and John Jeffreys, superintendent from nearby and famed Pinehurst No. 2. Photo by Mike Strauss.
The expansion of women volunteers at the Open appears to be making a lasting impact.
Pebble Beach Golf Links superintendent Bubba Wright says he will bring the women to the U.S. Open there in 2023.
Looking at the bigger picture, Sally Jones says, it’s about widening a path for women in this industry that extends past one glorious week every June.
“We want to bring awareness this is a field that can be a career. Showing up in numbers here is a great way for us to be seen,” Jones says, “but I want more of us. More women in the industry so when we come to meetings or events that
we aren’t the minority or that there’s less of a gap.”
Jones says she’s optimistic that the current efforts are headed somewhere big.
“The word’s getting out where people are hearing more about this,” she says. “Kelly Lynch (from Pure Seed and participant in both volunteer opportunities) swears that it is a movement — and we’re right in the middle
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.