Not your traditional volunteer program

The Olympic Club celebrating women in turf as part of the 76th U.S. Women’s Open.

The Olympic Club in San Francisco is hosting the 76th U.S. Women's Open.
The Olympic Club
The upcoming U.S. Women’s Open Championship, which is scheduled for the week of May 31-June 6 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, will be played amidst an assortment of historical overtones.
 
It marks the 75th anniversary of the most prestigious event in women’s golf. It will be the first women’s professional event contested at the historic Olympic Club, which has hosted 10 USGA national championships, including five U.S. Opens.
 
And it will also be an occasion for women in the turf industry to come together in support of the game they love and the industry that is their passion.
 
Troy Flanagan, the club’s director of golf maintenance, is planning to supplement a staff of 43 with 50 outside volunteers, about 25 to 28 of whom will be women.
 
Flanagan, who has been at The Olympic Club since 2014, began contemplating the idea of a more female volunteer corps around five years ago, after the club was officially designated as the host of this year’s Women’s Open.
 
“I just started thinking, ‘What a great thing to do,’” Flanagan says. “We have the Women’s Open, it’s our first women’s professional golf championship at The Olympic Club we’ve had so many great (championship events) over the years. It’s the first women’s event we’ve done.
 
“‘Why wouldn’t we want to do something like this?’ And not just make it a volunteer experience, but make it another kind of educational/networking event. Being able to volunteer, and help out, but then during the day, do other things as a group.”
 
When the pandemic hit last year, the concept had to be shelved until the USGA assured Flanagan that outside volunteers would be permitted on site during the championship. With that assurance, Flanagan reached out to Kimberly Gard, a territory manager for Syngenta, with whom he has an existing professional relationship. Gard started making phone calls and in relatively short order Flanagan had all the volunteers he needed and more. His list includes 31 women, 28 from the United States and three from Canada who, as of this writing, will unlikely be able to make the trip to San Francisco because of COVID-19 restrictions. 
 
The respondents included a high school student who is looking to make a career in the turf industry. “She sent a nice letter to Kimberly saying how much it would mean to her to come and be a part of this,” Flanagan says. “Something like that is just super cool.”
 
Flanagan is envisioning a week that will see the volunteers not only assisting with the tournament but also taking advantage of educational and networking opportunities.
 
“The whole thought was they would volunteer in the morning,” Flanagan says. “Each late morning or afternoon it could be one of three things. It could just be a fun day, go out and watch golf relax. It could be a networking day, a day where they all get together and they have speakers. or a day where they get together and have a roundtable.”
 
Flanagan has drawn up a list of potential speakers for the event that includes several members of his club, including two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, former LPGA Tour player and now television commentator Kay Cockerill; Marissa Mar, the club’s green chair; and 2012 U.S. Curtis Cup captain and veteran amateur competitor Dr. Pat Cornett.
 
Shannon Rouillard the USGA’s senior director for the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Women’s Open, will be on site during championship week. Flanagan is hoping to add her to a list of potential speakers as well. Rain Bird will join Syngenta as a sponsor of the program. 
 
Flanagan has a lot on his plate between now and the Women’s Open. But he’s passionate about an event that he hopes that will encourage and inspire women who are currently involved in the turf industry and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
 
“The more we can reach to women in the industry, all these different means of getting the word out, that’s what’s huge,” he says. “It’s going to be great for the women that come out, but (also) for everybody else to see that ‘Hey, this is happening, this is becoming more prominent.’ Why wouldn’t I want to do it?”
 
Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer, frequent Golf Course Industry, and host of the Wonderful Women of Golf and Women’s Golf Report podcasts.
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