Securing the Future of the Game for Women - Why LPGA-USGA Girls Golf is Making a Difference
For Women To Grow Up Loving And Playing The Game Of Golf, They Have To Get Involved At A Young Age. And That's Where LPGA-USGA Girls' Golf Is Making A Difference
by Karen Moraghan
“Simple, successful and fun is the formula for engaging girls in golf, for what we hope will be a lifetime,” said Dr. Betsy Clark, Vice President of Professional Development for the Ladies Professional Golf Association. “To fuel the pipeline for the future of girls and women’s golf you have to start by giving as many girls as possible the opportunity to learn and play the game.”
Just as growing the game of golf for women starts at the grassroots level, making programs available for girls to learn the game of golf means engaging them at a young age. This is no small feat given the myriad of athletic and social activities available to girls today. Yet, through sound programs, the future of the game can be secured.
There are competitive golf programs for more advanced junior girl golfers, such as Michelle Wie, the teenage phenomenon who shot a 66 at the 2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship for the lowest 18-hole round score of the weekend among both professionals and amateurs. But, there is nothing of the magnitude and scope of LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, which was created specifically for girls to learn to play the game in a supportive, positive and fun learning environment. This is the only national initiative of its kind just for girls and serves as a developmental junior golf program providing the opportunity for girls to achieve success, progress in golf and learn life skills inherent in the game of golf, such as patience, respect, perseverance and honesty.
Through an organized partnership between the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), the world’s longest-running women’s professional sports association, and the United States Golf Association (USGA), the national governing body of golf, the effects of this program are starting to be felt. Today, more than 3000 girls, ages 7-17, participate in LPGA-USGA Girls Golf programs at over 120 sites around the United States. Not surprisingly, it’s also a family affair - last year 535 sisters participated at 75 (more than half) LPGA-USGA Girls Golf sites nationwide, including threesomes and foursomes and 23 sets of twins!
To increase the number of girls involved, the program has expanded to include other civic, golf and youth-oriented organizations, including Girl Scouts of the USA and Hook a Kid on Golf.
LPGA-USGA Girls Golf provides a valuable package of benefits for young girls, including membership in the USGA and complimentary access to select USGA and LPGA events. In addition, over 40 LPGA Tour players volunteer their time to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf programs in their local communities, with Jen Hanna, Terry-Jo Myers, Dottie Pepper and Nancy Lopez serving as national spokeswomen for LPGA-USGA Girls Golf and Patti Berg serving as its “Distinguished Champion.”
LPGA-USGA Girls Golf is also unique by virtue of the strong and committed local champions of the program - its site directors. Five former LPGA Tour players, including Suzy Whaley, the first woman to qualify for a PGA Championship, USGA national champions, moms, dads, golf lovers and Executive Women’s Golf Association (EWGA) members have all embraced the program.
“For young girls, golf can be a valuable tool in developing their personalities and self esteem,” said Shelly French, an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf site director and EWGA member in Seattle. “After experiencing the positive and life changing effects golf has had on my life, I felt compelled to provide these same opportunities to the girls in my community. Watching them grow into grounded and self assured young women keeps me coming back year after year.” She added, “Getting a hug when you run into them unexpectedly at Safeway is a pretty good motivation, too!”
Three past USGA national champions who are giving back to the game and securing its future are Mary Lou Dill Crocker, 1967 Women’s Amateur Champion, a site director in Texas; Kay Cornelius Jeanquartier, 1981 Girls Junior Champion, directs the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Future Stars program in Arizona; and Dana Lofland Dormann, 1985 Girls Junior Champion, leads the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program in Northern California, near San Francisco. Crocker and Dormann are also former LPGA Tour players.
Amy Lillibridge, director of marketing for Heron Glen Golf Club in Flemington, N.J., went to college on a caddie scholarship and grew up playing the game in Ohio. Now 25 years old, she formed and is closely nurturing an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program in North Central New Jersey.
“It is very important to develop relationships with the girls and learn about their interests and lives,” Lillibridge observes. “It is also important to provide as much one-on-one attention as you possibly can in order to do this.”
Shari Rudd, a school principal from Duluth, Minn., is a site director in her “spare” time. “I have always been a staunch supporter of girl's sports. I have seen the increasingly important benefits of exercise, good health, and opportunities grow in our country for young women. When I was growing up, previous to Title IX enactment, there were no ‘equal opportunities’ for girls to play on teams like the boys had access to on a regular basis. So I choose to lend my support to introducing young girls to a game that I love – golf, and to the girls who have not always had the opportunity to play any sport.”
To Rudd it has become increasingly apparent that much business has and will be conducted on the golf course. “Women need to be able to feel confident to participate just as some men do now. More and more women are required to be versatile in the office, in the home, and out on the golf course. It is an advantage to be able to participate in all realms of the business community,” Rudd remarked.
Knowing how important a good role model or mentor is in engaging girls in the game of golf might be one of the reasons these women have chosen to be involved.
As well as many EWGA members serving as role models and mentors for programs around the country, EWGA members Barbara Shaw (Alabama), Joan Cavanaugh (Connecticut), Molly Schafer (Iowa) and French (Seattle) lead sites in their respective states.
“I was never offered the opportunity as a youngster to play golf, and having found the joy of the game later in life, I want this opportunity for as many young girls as I can reach in my community,” said Cavanaugh, site director of the program in Fairfield, Conn.
The United States Golf Association, through its “For the Good of the Game” initiative, awarded Baltimore County Public Schools a grant of $24,800 to establish a girls-only golf program in the spring. This is the first time an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf has been implemented in a school system. Girls on public high school teams will receive equipment, instruction and access to the county's three municipal golf courses at Longview, Rocky Point and Diamond Ridge. Participating teams will eventually have the opportunity to compete against each other interscholastically.
"The important thing is to get the girls to learn the game and get out on the course," said Jill Masterman, Supervisor for the Baltimore County Office of Athletics. With 100 girls from seven schools involved already, Masterman stressed the program is still in the developmental stages. "The last question we want to hear is 'What did you shoot?' It's about fun and socializing. We want to minimize the scores," said Masterman, who hopes to have other schools join the program in the future.
"Our desire is by the fall of 2004 we hope to have a huge influx of girls to sustain a girl’s golf team in the fall," said Masterman.
Coaches and educators
Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, internationally renowned coaches and educators, have built Coaching for the Future, an educational training company developed to shift the golf learning and experience model and provide comprehensive and integrated golf and coaching education. In their 20 years they have noted interesting differences between girls and boys, other than the obvious.
“Girls like to be with and learn with their friends,” said Marriott. “Girls and boys have opposite ways of thinking. If you ask a boy to run up a hill, he will do it. If you ask a girl to run up a hill, she’ll ask why.”
When Nilsson transitioned from playing golf to teaching golf, she began asking her students a lot of questions, such as “Why do you play?” and “What would make it better?” She started really listening to and learning from the players.
Girls like to be involved in planning their activities. For instructors, it is essential to listen, help nurture their self-esteem and tell them what they are doing well.
“After observing a girl’s performance, I verbally list and describe all of the ‘good’ things that she did; the things that she could do ‘better’; and explain ‘how’ she can continue to improve,” Nilsson explained. “If a girl’s intention is to learn to hold the club properly, pay attention to her goal on that day.”
Elena Melchert, a petroleum engineer and mom, is the site director for LPGA-USGA Girls Golf of Northern Virginia. “Girls are usually surprised at how easy it is to learn the game (with a good teacher!) and how far the ball will go will very little physical effort or strength.” She noticed that the “first time a girl makes solid contact with the ball and watches it sail, she's hooked! This is not unlike most adults. I've also noticed that girls who are not especially ‘athletic’ seem to enjoy and be successful at golf. It seems to appeal to all types of girls.”
Whether it’s the goal to compete at the highest levels, like Michelle Wie, or to play on a high school golf team, or simply to be outdoors and have fun with friends, girls are gaining more than just an athletic skill. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf is setting a priority for the promotion of golf among young girls. This program is providing a healthy environment that gives girls from all walks of life the opportunity to play golf together and at the same time preparing them to meet a challenging world with confidence.
If you’d like to know more about LPGA-USGA Girls Golf or the formation of a program in a specific geographic area, contact LPGA headquarters at (386)274-6200 or via the Internet at www.lpga.com.