Matt Smiley, executive director of the Virginia State Golf Association, fills up one hand quickly when he begins ticking off the ways in which women’s golf in Virginia is thriving. The evidence is everywhere, from expanded women’s programming to increased female membership to a significant women’s presence on the association’s board of directors.
On the inside, things look differently, too. The VSGA dates to 1904 with a separate, largely tournament-focused women’s sub-division coming online in 1950.
In 2015, the two integrated into one full-service association.
One thing absolutely has to do with the other and, as Smiley notes, “This story is not unique.”
During the past decade, more state golf associations serving men have joined forces with those serving women. Combined resources can mean increased offerings for both men and women. In many cases, mergers also amplify female voices.
Some state associations consolidated naturally as it made sense to do so. But beginning in 2016, separate men’s and women’s associations in many states and regions joined forces under the USGA’s Allied Golf Association model. Nationwide, 58 Allied Golf Associations — each of which serves all golfers, male and female, public and private — now exist to deliver the USGA’s core services, including rules, handicapping and course rating.
Virginia’s merger predated the AGA structure and effectively streamlined an association that had previously been running two entities side by side with separate bank accounts, separate boards and separate meetings. It opened up full membership dollars for both men’s and women’s events.
Anne Greever, who in 2022 became the first female board president in VSGA history, said the biggest effect for women is the ability to participate fully in the association’s governance.
“We have a seat at the table,” Greever said. “We know what the issues are, we can express our opinions and many issues are not women’s issues or men’s issues, they’re general golf business issues.”
Greever imagines young golfers coming into a governance role under the old structure would have been startled and disappointed at the setup. At 32 years old, board member Lauren Greenlief, a six-time VSGA women’s golfer of the year who won the 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, is a good example of that upcoming generation of leaders. The VSGA will partner with the Middle Atlantic Section of The PGA of America to host its first Women’s Open in June — Greever credits Greenlief as being a driving force behind the new event.
Post-merger, Greever also sees the VSGA’s scope of services as broadening to a wider constituency of golfers.
“Women have — while we’re not the origin of that by any means and we’re not the sole supporters — we certainly have been a big impetus to increase the scope of the VSGA’s outreach,” she said. “And I think that has made us a broader, more welcoming organization.”
Stacy Dennis, executive director of the Texas Golf Association, also recognizes that serving women golfers has helped the TGA better serve all golfers by expanding its focus.
“Just acknowledge and embrace the fact that to serve women golfers, you have to serve a bunch of kinds of women golfers,” Dennis said when asked what an association must get right to serve its female members. “That’s also not exclusive to women, by the way. Programming that begins and ends with championship golf is going to be incomplete.”
“Just try to keep everything simple and in line and I think it’s just a recipe for success.” – Jeff Magaditsch, executive director of the Florida State Golf Association
After the TGA and Women’s Texas Golf Association merged in 2014, women gained a statewide stroke-play championship, one-day weekend events and player development programs — things the WTGA wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to do alone, she said.
Dennis approached the merger as a member of the WTGA’s board of directors before joining the TGA staff in 2015 as the managing director of membership programs and the TGA foundation. She was hired as the TGA’s executive director at the end of 2018. In 2020, Leslie Henry became the TGA’s first female board president, putting Texas in the unique position of having two leading female voices in golf.
In Florida, a 2012 merger between the Florida Golf Association and the Florida Women’s Golf Association created a single entity that approaches every event on the schedule through an equal lens.
“Just try to keep everything simple and in line and I think it’s just a recipe for success,” FSGA executive director Jeff Magaditsch said.
Equal can mean providing the same tee gifts at the state men’s and women’s amateurs or even moving the men’s and women’s versions of the same event to similar spots on the calendar so both can be played at a high-quality venue.
Championship offerings have made a leap in Florida, particularly in the popular one-day format. Women are included in every FSGA one-day offering, and that’s in addition to women-specific one-days (which are four-ball and scramble formats) and a casual, weekday-evening series called The Link-Up based in Tampa, where the FSGA is headquartered.
In Florida, women’s events fill up fast. It’s the same story in South Carolina, and that’s one way WSCGA executive director Clarissa Childs charts growth in her state. Membership is another.
“Obviously we can see in handicap growth, the number of GHIN handicaps that are throughout the state,” she said. “That’s a good tell in how much women’s golf has grown in South Carolina.”
Handicaps are a good barometer for participation, but they also function as a major source of revenue for state associations. Because the USGA authorizes only Allied Golf Associations to administer them, women’s associations like the WCSGA must collaborate with an AGA for that service.
The WSCGA is united with the South Carolina Golf Association and the Carolina Golf Association – an AGA – through the Golf Association Services of the Carolinas (GASC). The three associations, who share members, all contribute a percentage of dues collected to fund the GASC department and then revenue share. The GASC was created in 2012 to help streamline the billing process for member clubs and give members a central point for handicapping questions. It later grew to include Golf Genius services.
The WSCGA schedule features nearly 50 tournaments spanning many formats, including a Women’s Open. The association is unique in its grassroots State Rep Program, which relies on reps at member clubs to secure venues and help sort out every detail, from volunteers to lunch menus.
In a small association, Childs wears an exceptional number of hats, doing everything from on-site rules seminars to tournament setup to corporate deals to writing press releases. A merger would increase resources, and while Childs said it has been discussed in the Carolinas, identity and the ability to focus solely on female golfers remain big pros of independence.
“They’re important, they don’t get lost in any shuffle,” she said. “They’re never second at any tournament, it’s just all about the women and I think they like that.”
In Colorado, identity was equally important to women’s golfers. Juliet Miner, president of the Colorado Women’s Golf Association board of directors in the months leading up to a 2018 merger with the Colorado Golf Association, remembers it took a pages-long integration agreement, endless communication and months of meetings to get it right.
“We said, ‘what do we want to preserve?’” Miner said from the perspective of CWGA members. “We want to preserve our history and our mission, and we wanted to participate.”
Integrating the CGA and CWGA was akin to uniting two great families. Each had recently celebrated its centennial (the CGA in 2015 and the CWGA in 2016). The two were working together — sharing office space as well as ownership of CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, Colorado — but remained distinctly separate.
CGA executive director Ed Mate called the marriage metaphor apropos, right down to the preceding courtship. Both associations had broached the subject of integrating before the AGA model nudged it along.
“The CWGA was definitely one of the most respected, most established and well-run women’s associations in the country,” he said, “so when the sort of mandate came down from the USGA that they were going to be consolidating the number of Allied Golf Associations, we had to make a decision independently of one another, and that’s ultimately what led to elevated conversations.”
The two associations folded their entire boards together, with the CGA bringing 30 members to the table and the CWGA bringing 17. Over time, and through natural attrition, the board shrunk to its current 29 members, with 15 men and 14 women.
Miner and then-CGA board president Joe McCleary were co-presidents of the integrated CGA in 2018. Janeen Guzowski became the first solo woman president in 2019 with the idea that men and women will alternate in the role going forward.
“Everything we did just seemed to perpetuate better and better,” Miner said of the integrated CGA.
For example, proceeds from an annual auction benefiting junior golf skyrocketed with men involved. And beginning in 2021, the men’s and women’s match-play championships have been played concurrently at top-tier venues like The Broadmoor, Colorado Golf Club and Columbine Country Club.
But perhaps nothing demonstrates commitment to a unified organization better than a redesigned logo. The CGA’s thoughtful rebranding includes twin mountain peaks, symbolic of the two associations, encased in a circle to represent inclusivity.
A monumental logo for a monumental concept.
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