Impressive as her résumé reads, Tara Joy-Connelly doesn’t get caught up in talking about past achievements — mostly because she’s excited to discuss future endeavors.
She does subscribe to that rich mantra about golf being a game for life, but it’s the second half of the book that currently sparks her fancy.
“My vision is for a national women’s mid-am golf network, much like the men have,” Joy-Connelly said.
There is a long way to go, of course, but she and many of her peers have circled the first initiative: “We have to improve the retention rate (keeping women playing after college), because it’s less than when I was in college.”
Different time, to be sure, because when she graduated from the University of Miami in 1995 (she was Tara Joy back then), the Duxbury, Massachusetts, native was very much part of an amateur scene with plenty of playing opportunities — and her peers were taking advantage.
When she won consecutive New England Women’s Amateur titles in 1995-1996, the lure was too strong to reject, so she gave the pro game a try. “But it lasted just one year,” she said. “There just wasn’t a real strong developmental tour, and I didn’t like that.”
Having gone through a reinstatement process that was longer than it is now, Joy returned to the amateur ranks and has never looked back.
When she married J.P. Connelly, who in 2003 became head golf professional at Cohasset Golf Club in the next town over from where his wife was raised, Joy-Connelly had a firm foundation for her golf. It didn’t take her long to establish herself as the premier women’s amateur in Massachusetts, either. She won the 2003 Mass Golf Women’s State Amateur and ran off nine consecutive Women’s Player of the Year honors. Along the way, she got involved with purchasing the pro shop merchandise at Cohasset, a talent that would remain her profession.
“We don’t retain the women competitors as much as the men do, but we’re focused on that issue. We need to come together.” — Tara Joy-Connelly
What helped kick her golf to another level, however, were winters in Florida and then a full-time move to be with her husband, who in 2015 became head professional at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Florida. Working for Summit Golf Brands, Joy-Connelly found a conducive work environment around which she could play a tournament schedule — and oh, how the successes piled up.
“My game got consistently better, thanks to the year-round opportunities,” Joy-Connelly said.
In Florida, she twice won the Women’s International Four-Ball, and 2015 was a banner season — triumphs in the Women’s Mid-Am, the Women’s Stroke-Play Championship and in winning the Women’s Amateur Player of Year.
With her game at a new level, Joy-Connelly at age 38 qualified for the first of seven U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs. Between 2011 and 2021 her appearances in that national championship included five trips to the round of 16 and one visit to the semifinals.
“Those championships bring together a great group of players,” she said. “But it’s when you look at the big picture, you realize there’s a void.”
Filling that void is a goal that Joy-Connelly and a host of her peers are determined to accomplish. They are pushing for more participation, hoping that the number of women who played golf actively as juniors and into college will increase.
“We don’t retain the women competitors as much as the men do, but we’re focused on that issue,” she said. “We need to come together.”
Introduced to the folks behind the Amateur Golf Alliance, Joy-Connelly is now one of four female members of its board of directors (Robin Burke, Susan West and Marissa Mar are the others). She is encouraged by what movements have been made.
The annual Women’s Amateur Championship was held in May at the Northriver Yacht Club in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with nearly 80 competitors. The championship was held the previous year in Houston, and Joy-Connelly is a huge fan of rotating the event.
She and her peers are thrilled that the first Women’s Concession Cup (six mid-ams and six seniors in an international team match) will be held next year. It’s another step toward a time “when we have a series of regional tournaments every year,” said Joy-Connelly.
To increase participation and keep young women golfers in a competitive frame of mind, she concedes that there is strong sentiment to lower the mid-am age to 23. “We can’t lose the opportunity to keep young women playing,” she said. “We don’t want to see them walk away.”
If Joy-Connelly is hoping to serve as a role model, she’s doing a splendid job of it. At 50, her competitive fire still burns, as shown by her win earlier this year in the New England Senior Women’s Amateur. Mind you, that was one of the few competitive tournaments she had played in some time because she sat out 2022 after having surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff suffered in a freak golf cart accident.
“It was probably the longest time I’ve been away from golf forever,” said Joy-Connelly, who was inducted into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame in 2021.
Of course, her competitive events in this first year as a 50-year-old might not be as plentiful as she would like. That’s because Joy-Connelly has made a career switch too, leaving the sales world to become director of membership and loyalty at The Bay Club at Mattapoisett, located in Plymouth County on Buzzards Bay, 50 miles south of Boston.
For Joy-Connelly, it was another perfect move at the perfect time. With her husband having been hired in 2022 as head golf professional at The Kittansett Club in Marion, the town right next to Mattapoisett, they have a home in the area — and it sure beats the commuting she was doing from Florida to Massachusetts.
“It was a good opportunity, and we’ll take it from there,” said Joy-Connelly, who as usual isn’t looking behind her.
She’s far too excited about the here and now — and all that lies ahead.
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