9 Women Changing the Face of Golf – Part 1
Being a woman in a male-dominated sport is not easy. Our hats off to the women who are dedicated to the sport they love and making a positive impact on the game for all of us. This is the first in a two-part series looking at several women making a difference.
Jann Leeming – To attract more women, juniors and families to courses, Jann Leeming and her husband Arthur D. Little have dedicated countless hours to advocating for different tee placements. At their own course, Province Lake Golf Club in Parsonsfield, Maine, Leeming, and Little tweaked their forward tees and initiated special programs, tripling the number of women’s rounds sold and improving their bottom line.
In Leeming’s book. Discrimination in golf Course Design: Most Courses Are Just Too Long For You, she wrote, “Most women have no idea that their hard earned money is being spent on courses designed primarily for players, generally men, with swing speeds in excess of 90 mph.”
Currently, Leeming, Little, and sports researcher Jon Last are collaborating on a new “how-to” guide for golf facilities to become more women-friendly, and launched GolfWithWomen.com, a website for course operators to explore ways to enhance revenue from women and families.
Dawn Mercer – As director of instruction at the Golf Academy at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Fla., Mercer is always looking for ways to encourage participation from golf’s next generation and grow the game among niche groups. At Innisbrook, those 18 and under play free on Sundays after 2pm and there are a number of special golf clinics, camps and tournaments.
“At the end of the day, golf should not have gender,” Mercer said. “There should not be a lady’s club and a man’s club because there are short guys that need the softer flex, shorter club… and there are tall women that need a longer club.”
As added incentive for more female juniors to pick up the sport, Mercer pointed out that girls have a better chance of getting a golf scholarship than boys. “Girls scoring in the 80s to 110 range at 5,800 yards have a good shot while boys need scores of 72 to 76 from 7,000 to 7,200 yards to get on the teams of the same schools.”
Abby Spector – Seven-time Maine amateur champion and the 2001 New England Women’s Amateur Champion, Abby Spector attended The University of North Carolina on a full golf scholarship. While heading toward a pro career at the age of 22 and just weeks before she was to try out for the LPGA Tour, Spector was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect.
Her condition may have ended her LPGA path, but not her determination to stay in the game. In 2006, Spector become a PGA teaching professional and was hired to direct the junior program at Val Halla Golf Course in Cumberland. During the winter, she worked as assistant pro at the Pete Dye-designed Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande, Fla.
She has since become the first female to be inducted into the Maine Golf Hall of Fame, the first Head Golf Professional at Sugarloaf Golf Club in Carrabassett, Maine, and now the Director of Instruction at Dunegrass Golf Club in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
Hope Kelley – Head Professional at The Ranch Golf Club in Southwick, Mass., and a member of the PGA since 1995, Hope Kelley was the first female Head Golf Professional in the history of the Connecticut Section PGA and Massachusetts Women’s Open Champion.
With more than 20 years of experience in the golf business, Kelley has served on the PGA President’s Council on Growing the Game and the Connecticut Section Player Development Team. For the Connecticut Section PGA, she was nominated Golf Teacher of the Year and named Merchandiser of the Year for Public Golf Courses, touted for programs like The Ranch’s “Nine and Dine” event for women.
Marjorie “Tiny” Leach – A legend in her hometown of Austin, Texas, 84-year-old Marjorie Leach continues to work tirelessly on behalf of the Texas Women’s Amateur Golf Association (TWAGA) and has been the organization’s State Tournament Director since 1977. Although promoting women in golf is one of her biggest passions, Leach has worn many hats over the years, including cattle rancher, horse trainer, rodeo rider, champion golfer, leather tooler and landowner.
After a family friend encouraged her to take up golf in her 20s, Leach would practice to the point that her hands were worn out. In her thick Texan drawl Leach said, “people would ask me, ‘you ever gonna play or just practice?’ Well, I didn’t want to go out on the course and embarrass myself or anyone who knows me.” Instead, she went on to win the Austin Women’s City Championship three times in a row and in 1966 she took home the TWAGA State Championship.
Although she rubbed elbows with golf greats like Babe Zaharias and Tom Kite, one of “Tiny’s” proudest accomplishments in golf was founding the Texas Women’s Open Amateur tournament, a classic, match-play event open to all non-professional women golfers in the state.
When asked why women aren’t playing more today, she gave two reasons, “Time and difficulty in learning.” She suggests, “Don’t let your friend or husband try to teach you. Go get a teaching pro who can start you out right. And get distance out of your mind. Just go up to where you can hit it far enough so you can reach the green on your second shot.”