SOUTHERN PINES, NORTH CAROLINA | It was a moment that Kelly Lynch never thought she would see in her lifetime: a roomful of female professionals in the golf and turfgrass industry – especially at one of the most elite clubs in the country.
There she was – with more than 30 years of her own experience – in front of the room at The Olympic Club in California. As a regional manager for Pure Seed, Lynch knew almost every face after building up a network of women who work in the golf course maintenance and turfgrass industry.
“I raise my hand, and I’m like, ‘So essentially is this the moment that we just broke the grass ceiling?’
“Everyone was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is it. This is history in the making.’”
The group of 30 volunteers before her had come from across the country to create an all-female maintenance crew to assist the regular crew for the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open. It was an idea modeled into reality by Lynch and Troy Flanagan, the director of golf maintenance at Olympic Club.
The “grass ceiling society” reunited this year at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club for this year’s Women’s Open. Women from across the country – and from across town – have stepped away from their regular golf course jobs this week to help a Pine Needles crew that numbers less than 15 full-time workers.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s pretty gratifying. It’s time away, but it’s the camaraderie that you get to build with like-minded people that makes it worth it,” said Tracey Cattelino, a maintenance worker on Pinehurst No. 6.
“I’d love to see it grow. I know there’s other women that would enjoy this field. I just would love to see girls out here getting dirty with us and keeping up with the boys.” – Tracey Cattelino
In the field of golf course maintenance, it is still a man’s world. Women make up just 2 percent of the workforce.
“I’d love to see it grow. I know there’s other women that would enjoy this field,” Cattelino said. “I just would love to see girls out here getting dirty with us and keeping up with the boys.”
Her efforts to help the growth brought Andrea Salzman to the area. Salzman, a student at the University of Minnesota studying turf management, is working this summer as an intern at Pinehurst and worked with Cattelino last year at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
“Coming out here and meeting all these women who are superintendents, everybody just wants to help each other out,” Salzman said. “It’s a lot less intimidating in this turf world because everybody just supports each other. We are here to make friends and talk about grass.”
Housing and transportation for the workers to come out was covered by Rain Bird and Syngenta. The volunteers are staying at the villas on the Mid Pines property, where the 30-plus workers leave shortly after 3:30 a.m. to meet with the rest of the workers at the Pine Needles maintenance shop. The crews head out to their jobs shortly after 4 a.m. to finish up course work before 7.
Breakfast is followed by professional development sessions for the superintendents and other turfgrass professionals to expand their knowledge of the profession.
“All of us are very passionate about not only our jobs, but being here and being with each other,” Kimberly Guard, a representative from Syngenta, said.
The week comes with guaranteed lack of sleep for the volunteers, given the early reporting times, but then there are the evenings, spent late into the night, of shared time telling stories from the course and about their lives.
“It’s really fun, but it’s a little tough on getting sleep though. It would almost be like if you went somewhere with 30 of your best friends,” Guard said.
A sisterhood blooms from the camaraderie and adds fire for Lynch’s passion for growing that 2 percent.
“We have some really tenured people in that room. We also have some really young women in this room, and it’s our responsibility to build a bridge for them,” Lynch said. “I will spend the rest of my career doing everything I can to get them a seat at the table.”
“You wouldn’t think that the pros would ask to come talk to us. It just seems like some of the jobs get overlooked in a sense. It’s really cool that someone so high up is appreciative of the ones that make the course what it is.” – Ashley Kendall
Golf course maintenance is a thankless job at times, but Monday provided appreciation from a familiar face of women’s golf: Annika Sörenstam. The three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion stopped by to meet the history-making grounds crew.
“You wouldn’t think that the pros would ask to come talk to us,” said Ashley Kendall, who works at TPC Piper Glen in Charlotte. “It just seems like some of the jobs get overlooked in a sense. It’s really cool that someone so high up is appreciative of the ones that make the course what it is.”
The female volunteers bring a number of talents beyond just course management. One member is a graphic designer who created a skin-worthy image: grass growing through a glass ceiling.
“We’re all getting the tattoos,” Lynch said. “I’m one of the few that’s not tatted up, but that will be my first tattoo.”
Jonathan Bym is sports editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: Timothy Hale Photography
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