LeeAnn Lewis has a unique perspective on the turf industry. An accomplished player, she has qualified for 19 USGA championships and has also competed internationally.
Lewis is now in her second year as president of Southward Ho Country Club, an A.W. Tillinghast design located in Bay Shore, New York, on Long Island. Prior to last year she spent a decade as the club’s greens chair. Lewis has deep and abiding respect for the men and women who earn their living maintaining golf courses.
“I think early on (as a player) I looked at the scenery and playability,” she tells Rick Woelfel on the latest episode of the Wonderful Women of Golf podcast. “But I did not look at any of the turf issues or what you would call superintendent issues until I got involved at my club as greens chair. Like everybody else, you just show up and think the course is magically in good shape. (Southward Ho superintendent) Jim Stewart educated me significantly.”
Lewis praises Stewart for taking time to teach her some of the nuances of his profession. “I would ask Jim, now that I look back on it, very naïve questions,” she recalls. “‘Jim, why do we do this?’ And he was very patient and he explained it to me. So, the fact he would be patient with me and explain it went a long way. He understood that the better educated I was, I don’t want to say the easier his job would be, but he knew I was his advocate.”
And so Lewis has been in the years since, as she shouldered the responsibility of educating her members about the superintendent’s role and responsibilities.
“I think that’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve faced as a greens chair and as president,” she says. “We send out e-mails and news blasts, and the superintendent writes very detailed articles that are archived on our website. I don’t know if people read them, or people don’t want to read them, or people don’t care, but every year, the same handful of people will ask, ‘Why do we aerate?’ We get the superintendent to write an extremely detailed report about why we aerate and then the next year (we hear), ‘Why do we aerate again?’”
Lewis believes her support for her superintendent allows him to “do his job without feeling the pushback. I always thought of myself as a buffer between the superintendent and the membership … and trying to explain to the membership, ‘Fixing your pitch marks is going to make a difference. Raking the bunkers makes a difference.’ So, it’s a never-ending effort to communicate with the membership.”
Lewis has also dealt with the often contentious debates that surround renovation and restoration efforts.
“Probably around 2012 we had a gentleman, Phil Young, come to our club who was a Tillinghast historian,” she says. “One thing led to another and we decided — and myself as greens chair — to do a restoration plan. So, Joel Weiman, a golf course architect, and Phil Young worked together.
“It took us about four years to come up with a document that outlined future projects, or what the course should look like. Say, if somebody wanted to redo the bunkers, this is what they should do. If somebody wanted to redo the greens, if somebody wanted to put in a tree or take out a tree, this is a guideline. It’s not a guarantee that future boards will use it, but we’re hoping it’s there.”
The reader can surmise where this narrative is headed.
“When I went into the boardroom to try to get this approved,” Lewis says, “I would have people raise their hands and say, ‘Well, I think the tree on six needs to stay there.’ And I’d say, ‘I appreciate your opinion, but I would like to go with Mr. Tillinghast’s version of the golf course.’ It’s a lot easier to go back to the architect or go back to a little more detail and keep it away from personal opinions or personal agendas. I find that, as president, the hardest thing to manage is personal agendas and just keeping it about the full membership.”