Brianne Kenny disliked golf while growing up near Cleveland, Ohio. With a passion, in fact. She thought it was a sport for rich, stuffy people, and would express her loathing online, often getting into digital fights with friends over the topic. She assumed golf courses were irresponsible with resources like water and chemicals — anathema to someone who earned an undergraduate degree in forestry, fisheries and wildlife science from Ohio State.
But in 2016, to help pay for a master’s degree in biology at Miami University in Ohio, she took a job as a restaurant server at Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. During a new employee orientation, she set foot on a golf course for the first time and saw birds, wildlife, thriving natural habitats and a team devoted to enhancing the natural environment. It was a life-changing moment for Kenny, who started spending time with the club’s agronomy staff before going on to share her biology expertise in roles at Troon-managed facilities in Oregon and Wyoming.
Those experiences and her educational background led to the creation of a new position in 2019: manager of environmental science for Troon, based at the company’s headquarters in Scottsdale.
“As Troon was growing, all of our attention had been on golf course agronomy and science,” said Jeff Spangler, Troon’s senior vice president of science and agronomy. “But we realized there was an area missing, which was environmental science, golf course sustainability and a better understanding of all things compliance and risk management. We interviewed Bri and learned that she is always the smartest person in the room when it comes to her subject matter. We realized instantly this is a great fit for us and the golf industry. No one else really had a role like this. She was willing to take it and has run with it in a big, big way.”
She credits fellow team members with backing her in a cooperative manner.
“When people first heard about my position, they were just kind of thinking I would come in and tell them everything they were doing wrong,” Kenny said. “Now they’re coming to me with ideas and questions, so it’s helping me in learning how my position can support them better. That could mean getting more involved in legislation in a state or learning more about pond management or creating solutions for wash pad minimum standards.”
Every day is different for the 33-year-old who is on the road for two weeks each month visiting Troon-managed facilities.
She has raked bunkers on the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii during the Sentry Tournament of Champions; led bird-watching walks for members at some of Troon’s private clubs; and collected greens data at the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort in Napa, California. Recently, Kenny visited a Troon-managed property in Florida to tend to one issue and ended up helping in the rescue of an injured bird. She also deals with environmental compliance, water usage issues, risk management, governmental affairs, regulatory submissions and project development. And she serves as a role model for other women, a demographic that represents a distinct minority in the industry, especially on agronomy staffs.
“I now feel like I can finally start giving back to others rather than having to need the help,” she said. “That’s something I really enjoy. I also want our female superintendents at Troon to feel like they can come to me if they’re looking for a new job or have questions. It’s different to have a woman to go to for that.”
“The learning never ends. It’s exactly the type of job I need. If I’m not learning, I just get bored and sad. The more people I meet in the industry and the more I learn, the more fun I have. There’s always something new going on.” — Brianne Kenny
Kenny says one of the coolest parts of her job is learning how her female colleagues found their occupations.
“Some grew up on golf courses where their fathers were superintendents,” she said. “Others are more like me where this was never on their radar and they just happened to take a part-time job at a course. I don’t think there is a common story among all of us, but if there is, maybe it’s that they didn’t know this was a possibility and they stumbled upon it. I think that’s why a lot of us put ourselves out there to show that there is a path so other women can see that sooner.”
The lingering perception that the golf industry is a men-only world depends on where you are, according to Kenny.
“As a whole I don’t think it is, because most of us have male mentors helping and supporting us,” she said. “But one of the things we do bond about is that we all have stories of guys trying to push us out and telling us we shouldn’t be here. Maybe it comes from the culture at individual facilities, but in general I feel like that stereotype is fading.”
One event that accelerated that process was the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, where Troy Flanagan, director of golf maintenance, brought in female volunteers from other facilities around the country to help prep and maintain the club’s Lake Course for the national championship.
Kenny was one of 30 women who participated.
“I think it was probably the best thing to happen to women in the industry because we were out on the course together,” she said. “You’re out there doing your jobs (hers included managing turning boards for green mowers) and seeing each other in that environment. The bonds that were made there, especially compared to the kind you can make in a conference setting, helped everyone get so much closer and so much stronger. A lot of opportunities have stemmed from that single event. I feel like it catapulted the Women in Turf group (an unofficial organization of women in the industry) in a way that didn’t happen before.”
What’s next for Kenny? She’ll continue to focus on addressing the three main criticisms she hears about golf: land use, water use and chemical use.
“I’ve been pretty involved in the first two, but now I need to take some time to dig into the chemical side and understand that better, especially when it comes to legislation and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” she said. “The learning never ends. It’s exactly the type of job I need. If I’m not learning, I just get bored and sad. The more people I meet in the industry and the more I learn, the more fun I have. There’s always something new going on.”
She has impressed colleagues by, among other qualities, being adaptable.
“The best part about Bri is that she didn’t have a prejudiced idea on where this job could go,” Spangler said. “Maybe that started with her previous negative perception about golf. She has crafted something that had been lacking in the industry and is now a great area of growth for women and men.”
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