“Golf has made the world a little smaller,” Kim Gradisek said with a smile.
During a rainy lunch conversation at historic Philadelphia Country Club, the world did, indeed, seem fairly small and quite intertwined. Two women in the golf industry sat at a small booth and watched the water pour onto a premier golf course.
But this connection was not happenstance, luck or chance. Stonewall, a Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) member club, is set to host this year’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, and Gradisek is a member of the tournament supervising committee.
The 56-year-old seasoned golfer from Wayne, Pennsylvania, has a rich history at Stonewall. A self-proclaimed “pioneer woman” of female involvement in golf, Gradisek first joined the Elverson, Pennsylvania, golf club with her husband, Mike, and kids, William, Alyssa and James. Some family genes might have propelled her to begin asking about ladies’ day at Stonewall, as her mother, Jean Kelly, was the chair of women’s golf at her home club.
When Gradisek went to the Stonewall pro shop with her questions, they gave her a sufficient enough answer: Wednesday.
Deal. She showed up the next week, stood on the first tee box and waited for a caravan of golfing women to arrive just to play a round with her. No one showed.
Gradisek decided to take matters into her own hands. She was determined to find other women to play golf with at Stonewall, so she started recruiting the male members’ spouses.
“Give me the directory. I’m going to start emailing the wives,” she said.
“I like putting pieces of puzzles together and making connections, and I’ve always loved to plan a good party. When you can combine all of those things together for a successful golf tournament, it’s a good day.” — Kim Gradisek
Gradisek made connection after connection, pulling together a group of ladies that eventually formed a WGAP team representing Stonewall. Although small — it was just one team while other clubs had three or four teams — this group of women went on to compete in several WGAP team matches, advancing their cup standing from 22nd to 16th.
And so it began. Gradisek paved the way for women’s golf at Stonewall, and a USGA major championship coming to that very course is a pivotal sign of what she’s accomplished. It’s a full-circle moment for Gradisek’s ambassador roles and leadership in the golf world, especially at Stonewall.
“It’s very exhilarating, and I get goosebumps talking about it,” Gradisek said. “In some ways, I can’t fathom that we’ve accomplished this much.”
From the moment the USGA announced that Stonewall would host, preparations began. Gradisek made a trip to Fiddlesticks in Ft. Meyers, Florida, for last year’s championship and was able to witness what a U.S. Women’s Mid-Am looks like. Some history with hosting the 2016 U.S. Mid-Am at Stonewall also contributed to this year’s planning.
“I like putting pieces of puzzles together and making connections, and I’ve always loved to plan a good party,” Gradisek said. “When you can combine all of those things together for a successful golf tournament, it’s a good day.”
As a committee chair member, Gradisek is tasked with responsibilities that, in her words, begin the minute a player steps foot on Stonewall’s grounds. She arranges player parking, hospitality areas, locker rooms, registration and various packets that are given to players from the USGA and the host club. She also coordinates volunteer hospitality and registration.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” she said. “There’s merchandise to be ordered, menus to be planned.”
It’s an involved process, but her personality has prepared her to manage it well.
“It’s kind of combined all of my skills, my education, my passion for golf, my desire to grow the women’s game.”
Gradisek wrangles volunteers everywhere she goes, using communication and marketing tactics to draw in the event’s helpers. She entices volunteers with complimentary rounds of golf if they work at least two shifts.
But, of course, it wasn’t just Gradisek and her superb networking skills that got it all done. She gives credit to the collaboration of her Stonewall team, Kevin Davies and Dick Flannery, as well as fellow committee chairs, general manager Paul Mauer and head golf professional Ryan Lagergren. Zoom meetings every two weeks over the last two years have become the norm for coordinating the national event.
“It was a lot of teamwork amongst the five people on how we saw fit to best showcase our club and the logistics,” Gradisek said. “It’s a very special relationship among the staff there.”
There was one key preparation that had to be made that would really elevate the focus on inspiring female golfers, and Gradisek tackled this task as well. She contacted and secured the keynote speaker for the formal USGA dinner: Carol Semple Thompson.
“She’s the queen of amateur golf in Pennsylvania,” Gradisek said.
Thompson is indeed a queen. She won seven USGA championships: the 1973 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1990 and 1997 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and four straight U.S. Women’s Senior Amateurs from 1999-2002. She is tied for the second-most USGA championships won alongside Ellen Port and Anne Quast Sander. Some pretty big names are on the rest of that list.
After asking around for Thompson’s contact at her home club, Oakmont Country Club, Gradisek found nothing. She resorted back to connections at Stonewall and obtained her address, put pen to paper, wrote a good old-fashioned letter and mailed it.
To Gradisek’s joyful surprise, she got a response from Thompson. They eventually connected with a phone call, introducing themselves and having a “wonderful conversation” about the event, their histories in golf and the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am. The chat ended with an affirmative from Thompson; she was “flattered” that Gradisek thought of her and took the role of keynote speaker at the formal USGA dinner on Sept. 8, the night before the tournament started.
Gradisek hopes the “fireside chat” with her, Thompson and USGA Manager of Championship Communications Joey Geske will spark some fire in the hearts of the competing ladies.
“That was a huge win in my book. I think these girls are going to be so inspired,” Gradisek said.
And that’s just the point, isn’t it? Events like these USGA championships inspire, promote and elevate golf in the area in which the event is hosted. The U.S. Women’s Mid-Am at Stonewall is a huge opportunity for local ladies to gain or break ground in the golf industry.
Whether it’s through the Women’s Program day with USGA supporters Grant Thornton and Duane Morris, or volunteering at the tournament, women are being shown that they can step out of the office and still network while on the golf course. At GAP, the goals are the same. The second GAP Women’s Championship was held this summer at Riverton Country Club, and the Women’s Week programming ran from June 5–11, giving ladies the opportunity to spectate or play in tournaments, all while networking with other women in the golf industry.
By watching these players in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am and by joining forces with GAP’s female initiatives, ladies in the greater Philadelphia area have the chance to learn more about the game of golf: what to wear, how to act, the rules of the game, how to practice and prepare and even how to play.
“I love the fact that this area in particular is a mecca, if you will, and a great breeding ground for women’s golf.” — Kim Gradisek
“Some women are intimidated to even begin playing golf because they don’t know what the etiquette is, what the rules are, or what the dress code is,” Gradisek said. “Feeling welcome and having a little bit of a golf IQ is one of the most hospitable things that I like to foster. [I like to] make women know that they have a place. Give them a ladies’ day.”
From pushing for her own ladies’ day at Stonewall when she first became a member, to promoting ladies’ days with every ambassador and leadership position she gets, Gradisek is committed to providing memorable experiences and hospitality in women’s golf. Especially in the greater Philadelphia area, Gradisek notices the work paying off.
“It’s happening,” she said. “We had the Curtis Cup at Merion last year, the Mid-Am at Stonewall this year and now next year the (U.S.) Women’s Open at Lancaster,” Gradisek said. “I love the fact that this area in particular is a mecca, if you will, and a great breeding ground for women’s golf.”
Marin Dremock is a women’s golfer at Eastern University. She spent the summer of 2023 as a GAP Tournament Operations Intern before preparing for a semester abroad in St. Andrews, Scotland.
© 2023 Global Golf Post LLC
Top: The 18th hole at Stonewall’s North Course, site of the 2023 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. USGA, Fred Vuich
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