Emily Palmer’s golf administration career started on a whim. Two decades later, she has become one of the most invaluable voices at the United States Golf Association where she currently serves as the organization’s chief member service officer.
Palmer, born and raised just south of Seattle in Auburn, Washington, came from the definition of a golf family. Her parents, Jim and Jennifer von Doehren, were longtime school teachers who regularly volunteered at the Washington Junior Golf Association for many years. Palmer spent her summers competing in junior golf alongside her younger brother Brendan, and the two would go on to play Division-I college golf in the early 2000’s — Palmer at Northern Arizona University and Brendan at Loyola Marymount.
“Golf is sort of woven into the fabric of our family,” Palmer told GGPWomen.
Brendan dreamed of getting a job with the PGA Tour, and he would eventually do just that in 2015. He is the Vice President, Tournament & Membership Affairs – Korn Kerry Tour and founder of the PGA Tour University program that offers college golf stars access to the professional game.
Palmer wasn’t sure if she was meant to work in the golf industry. After going to school in the small-town environment of Flagstaff, Arizona, she knew it was time to move to a bigger city — and she also knew that competitive golf was not in her future.
On that aforementioned whim, Palmer applied for a USGA P.J. Boatwright Internship with the Southern California Golf Association in Los Angeles. She had a business degree and she loved golf, so maybe that combination could be worth something. It was an idea of a plan at best.
“It was a year-long internship, so I figured what do I have to lose, I’ll move to L.A.,” Palmer said in recounting her decision. “I didn’t know anybody in L.A., but I’ll move there, I’ll give it a go and try my hand at golf administration. It was a little bit of a marriage of the business side of things with golf. But boy, I didn’t really believe that there was a career there.”
It was a gut decision based on curiosity. Palmer had experienced what it was like to be a competitor showing up for a tournament, but there was a lingering wonder about what went into the administration side of running a tournament.
“You show up for the event, but you don’t really understand the level of detail and preparation that goes into the planning and the execution of that event,” Palmer said. “You’ve got your tee time, you’re handed your scorecard and everything else. And so being on the other side was kind of getting an education in all that prep, the administration, all of the framework that’s required on the competitive side just to administer those events. That was something that I didn’t really take the time to notice before.”
Palmer has now gone light years beyond just noticing it. About halfway through that first internship, where she began to understand the complexities of how a state golf association is operated, Palmer was offered a full-time job with the SCGA.
That turned into nine years of work for the association where she went on to be their director of club services, counseling the board and executive staff, administering the club delegate program, handling amateur status inquiries, organizing SCGA member outings and managing the member advantage program. From 2007-2011, she also served as managing director of the International Association of Golf Administrators where she represented more than 100 state, regional and national golf associations, the IAGA board of directors and other golf industry leaders.
And with the noticeable work she did during that time, Palmer received a call from the USGA in 2012 with an offer for even more responsibility. They were looking for somebody to lead their regional affairs team, which is the network that manages the USGA’s relationships with state and regional golf associations. Palmer moved across the country to New Jersey and got started on vital work that has impacted millions of golfers across the country.
“State golf associations are really advocating for the game, for their clubs in their region. And so that kind of local advocacy is an important thing for a recreational golfer.” — Emily Palmer
The role involved overseeing the USGA’s relationship with state and regional golf associations that administer USGA core services locally, such as the management of handicapping, course ratings, rules of golf, USGA qualifiers and amateur status. A key part of that was working to create more effective and efficient golf associations scattered around the U.S. They were once numerous, with unnecessarily divided resources, and struggled with efficiently serving golfers in the best way possible.
Some associations were just for men, some were just for women. Some worked with private facilities only, some only worked with public facilities. There needed to be a better system in place to make the associations easier to understand.
And when the new Allied Golf Associations were formed in 2018, Palmer was at the heart of providing those AGA’s with guidance and resources.
“My original position here at the USGA was to lead our regional affairs team and help facilitate a healthy working dynamic between the USGA and those state golf associations,” Palmer said. “At the time, there were three times the number of those state and regional associations. So we’ve made some strides to create some more consistency.
“State golf associations are really advocating for the game, for their clubs in their region. And so that kind of local advocacy is an important thing for a recreational golfer. I think talking about the value of the game and the merits of it is something that the AGA is a bit of a mouthpiece for. We look to them to help us deliver that message to their community.”
After six years in that role, Palmer moved into a USGA chief of staff position where she worked closely with then-CEO Mike Davis, the association’s leadership team and executive committee.
“That really afforded me the chance to gain a better insight and understanding of the rest of the organization,” Palmer said. “I had a lot of knowledge for other parts of our business, but I didn’t have the exposure to parts like the U.S. Open, the Green Section, some of our more corporate, philanthropic departments, the museum… so as chief of staff, that really was eye opening and really helpful to me to see the other components that make up our operation.”
“It has far surpassed any kind of dream that I had for myself.” — Emily Palmer
Having spent four years in that role, Palmer was then asked by incoming CEO Mike Whan to take on a newly formed role as the chief member services officer. She now has an executive leadership role in regional affairs — back to her roots where she first started with the USGA — as well as a leading position in the Green Section, which includes all the association’s sustainability efforts. Palmer also oversees USGA committee member volunteers, such as rules officials.
It’s a dream — one that Palmer didn’t expect.
“Coming here as an intern, literally coming to our headquarters for the USGA Boatwright orientation as an intern, thinking that I’d ever worked here was never in my wildest dreams,” Palmer said. “So it’s been just very rewarding and exciting and challenging. All those kinds of things that you hope for in a job.
“It has far surpassed any kind of dream that I had for myself.”
There has been an emergence of women playing a larger role within the USGA. Six of the 15 USGA executive committee members are women. Palmer has been working with Susan Pikitch, the chief financial officer, to resurrect a program called Women’s Connect, an internal women’s community and leadership development effort. It’s all about fostering support, friendship and career development among women on staff.
“Having females in some very visible roles, both on the volunteer side and on the staff side has been effective and has been noticed. And I think that’s something that we’re very proud of,” she said.
That is a fitting contribution. On its own, Palmer’s career can be an inspiration to women hoping to work in the golf industry. With fostering mentorship and empowering other women, it can be even more.
That whim — it led to something unimaginable and special.
© 2023 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?