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Women Make Their Mark

The glass ceiling may not be shattered, but it definitely has been cracked. And the fissure is growing wider. In the last 10 to 15 years, women have moved into management positions in the club and resort business, and all indications are that “boys-only” office suites are‚if not already‚quickly becoming a relic from the past.

Seventeen percent of the 7,000 or so members of the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) are women, but 62 percent of its 1,600- plus student members are female. The organization does not expect those numbers to decline, either, as more and more undergraduate programs offer club management courses. And to top it off, the association has noticed that females seem to migrate to these classes more rapidly than their male peers.

Perhaps one reason for this is that women have taken note of the relative stability of the industry. But also, attitudes have changed since 20 years ago, when 99 percent of club managers were male.Only the most Neanderthal of old-guard holdovers would now dispute that women can have the skills and attributes needed for success in club and resort management. And the membership and catering offices aren’t the only areas of industry “turf ” where female ranks are growing; women are now reaching the pinnacles of their professions in every aspect of the business‚including the golf and grounds departments.

Breaking New Ground

Candice Combs, Golf Course Superintendent at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif., did not intend to break new ground when she fell into the field 29 years ago. But when the U.S. Open comes to Torrey Pines in 2008, Combs will become the first woman “super” to ready a course for a major championship.

After serving two temporary three-month stints as head superintendent at Torrey Pines, Combs only recently learned that her position was permanent. The announcement, which earned her a standing ovation from her primarily male peers, was made in February at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) annual conference in Atlanta. Her performance (and the course’s prime condition) when Torrey Pines hosted the Buick Invitational this past January secured her full-time status.

Combs (see profile) has come a long way since she first moved to California in the late ‘70s, armed with a botany degree from the University of Michigan and a desire to see the world in a warmer climate. She landed a job with the City of San Diego Parks Department, but soon became dissatisfied with the position, which amounted to little more than litter pick-up.

She was then transferred to Balboa Parks, a municipal course in San Diego, where she became head superintendent in 1994. “Within a couple of weeks, I knew that I really liked working at a golf course,” she says. “And from that moment on, I decided to make it my career.”Not even an encounter with a gray-haired gentleman on her first day at Balboa Parks dampened Combs’ enthusiasm. The man “came up to me and said, ‘Women don’t belong on a golf course,’ ” she recalls. “I never hear that any more.”

Michelle Frazier-Feher
Neither does Michelle Frazier-Feher, Golf Course Superintendent at Boston Hills CountryClub, a nine-hole daily fee course in Hudson, Ohio that averages 23,000 to 25,000 18-hole equivalent rounds a year. Her gender has not impeded her 10 year career, Frazier-Feher says, and at the same time she never has expected any special consideration from anyone. “Do your job, and you will earn the respect of those around you,” she advises. “And don’t ever walk in with the idea that you expect, or are owed, anything.”

“If you can’t lift it, you ask for help. And you just move a little quicker on things,” she adds. “I try to have a very strong work ethic and work to the best of my ability every day.”

In general, Frazier-Feher does think women may be able to bring greater attention to detail, and stronger communication skills, to a superintendent’s job. “The physical aspect of it is geared more toward men,” she says. “But this is a field that is not for every man, either.” Long hours, manual labor, and incompatibility with family life discouraged women from pursuing this line of work in the past, she notes‚but increasingly in the era of two-worker families and a serviceoriented economy, those same factors will now also deter many men.

Currently, of the GCSAA’s 16,000 individual members, about 200 head or assistant superintendents are female, and 21 of the 81 female superintendents are certified. But as more and more women are introduced to golf, those numbers are expected to balance out more.

Combs and Frazier-Feher are both Certified Golf Course Superintendents, and Combs says earning her pesticide license helped her move up the ladder. “Over time, I was learning more and more about the whole setup,” she says.

Kammy Maxfeldt
Home on the Range

Kammy Maxfeldt, Head Golf Professional at the exclusive Birchwood Country Club in Westport, Conn., for the last four years, is another woman in club management who can attest that a lot has changed quickly both for her gender, and her profession. When she was planning her career fifteen years ago, Maxfeldt says, she would not have believed that one day she would be working in metropolitan New York’s competitive golf market. But today the Holdrege, Neb., native, who attended the University of Oklahoma on a golf scholarship (see profile), feels as much at home as a club professional as she did as a competitive player.

“The only awkward year I’ve had was my very first, and the only person who made it that way was myself,” admits Maxfeldt, who began her career as a golf pro 12 years ago at Salem Golf Club in North Salem, N.Y. After her first year on the job, she says, “I think I definitely got bolder in my personality. I just had to be a decision-maker.”

At that time, Maxfeldt was one of three female head pros in the Northeast. Currently, about 70 women teach golf as head or teaching pros at clubs within an hour of New York City, she says, and that growth seems to have leveled off.

Maxfeldt gives much credit for her success to her knowledgeable, gender-balanced staff. She also recommends that female pros focus on building up their resumes, instead of chasing the almighty dollar, at the beginning of their careers.

Robyn Justin, Head Golf Professional at Abita Springs Golf & Country Club in Abita Springs, La., says she’s always received full support from not only her co-workers at the semi-private club, but also the golfers that she instructs. One of a handful of female golf pros in the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of America Gulf States Section (which covers Louisiana and Mississippi), Justin‚who played her college golf at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La.‚says she teaches according to a person’s athletic ability rather than gender. “I had one guy say, ‘You treat me just like my wife does,’” she says with a laugh. “Or people say, ‘Oh, you teach lessons to men, too?’To which I just say, ‘Of course.’ ”

Justin, like Maxfeldt, reports that patrons generally heed her advice about equipment purchases or their golf games. And she also finds that being a female in a male-dominated field has some advantages. “Being one of the few in the area, everybody knows me,” she says. But at the end of the day, she advises women to keep their skills up and to cast aside any doubts that might keep them from pursuing their dream jobs.

A Place in the Kitchen

Sheilah O’Leary
Noting that few women hold executive chef positions at clubs and resorts, and that female food and beverage directors tend to gravitate toward the hotel management industry, Sheilah O’Leary, Food & Beverage Director and Executive Chef at Anglebrook Country Club in Lincolndale, N.Y., thinks there is still something of a “boys club” nature to the culinary side of the club world.

But that’s “not a bad thing,” adds O’Leary, a New York City restaurant chef before moving to clubs (see profile at right). “It just means that women haven’t looked at this as a career,” she says.

Many of the 160 members at Anglebrook, which is owned by a Japanese conglomerate, are from Japan, and all but one or two of them are men. “It’s kind of mind-blowing for them to see a woman in any type of managerial position,” says O’Leary, who, in her second year at the club, is Anglebrook’s only female department head.

While the food industry is not necessarily more favorable toward men, she says, some clubs might adopt male-oriented attitudes to accommodate members. “They’d rather have a man cooking that big, burly steak‚somehow [they think] that will make it taste better,” she says.

But she believes women can bring a more personal approach to the job. O’Leary makes an effort to get to know the members and even tries to find out if they have food allergies. For her, it’s all in a day’s work.

Patricia Calder

Learning Experience

Former high school teacher Patricia Calder, who has been the General Manager of the Thornblade Club in Greer, S.C., since 2001, landed in the business by accident 24 years ago. “I went to an employment agency and said, ‘Find me something different; I don’t want to teach,’ ” she recalls.

Calder (see profile) had several job offers in various fields, but she accepted an assistant manager’s position at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond, Va., for a simple reason: “They paid the employment fee,” she says, laughing.

She hasn’t looked back since. “You get into it, and you don’t want any other way of life,” she says. Calder believes that attitudes toward women in business and management positions have changed in the last 10 to 15 years‚but she agrees that there is still room for progress.

Her greatest frustration is the unequal pay scale between females and their male counterparts; she says she makes 20 percent less than a man in a general manager’s position. In addition, club members who see her on the premises sometimes assume she oversees the food and beverage operations or runs the clubhouse. “It’s a little awkward every now and then,” Calder admits. “Some people maybe assume that [women] don’t know as much about business as men do.”

However, she knew she had reached a pinnacle of her profession after she resigned from the general manager’s position at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.) 11 years ago. “When I left, they truly wanted to hire [another] woman,” she recalls. This attitude was decidedly different from the one that greeted her when she took the reins in 1991, she adds. Many of the members at that traditional club were retired military men, she says, and were not receptive to her presence in the top job. “They simply weren’t used to a woman in business management,” she adds.

The transition was much smoother at the 17-year-old Thornblade Club, where the membership readily accepted her. “Sometimes you have to prove yourself,” she says. “I know that if I can get in the job, I can do that.”

Answering frequently to a different Board of Directors‚ and a new club president‚keeps Calder on her toes. “Your boss changes every year or two,” she notes. “So you kind of have to change your management style depending on who your boss is, and that can be a bit of a challenge.”

Women now hold three of the eight top management positions at Thornblade Club, says Calder, who feels that females entering the club and resort business today are less inclined to experience workplace problems because of their gender. “I think now they just hear things about women having a harder time than a man,” she notes.
Kathy and Clyde Scott

The Best Kind of Buy-In

One sure way for a woman to move into a top spot in the club and resort field is to buy her own property.Kathy Scott, and her husband, Clyde, purchased their semi-private club, Eagle Pines Golf Club in Mooresville, Ind., from another married couple seven years ago. “We had always wanted to own our own business,” says Scott. “My husband and I have always been golfers.”

The patrons at their club, which includes an 18-hole golf course, practice area, chipping and putting green, pro shop and concessions area, readily accepted her. But the transition has not been without its challenges. Sometimes people only want to deal with her husband, Scott notes, and men and women have tried to take advantage of her because of her gender.

They seldom attempt it more than once, though. Customers, who occasionally include members of foursomes who try to pay for only three players, also find that taking advantage of her teenage employees is an even bigger mistake.

“I’ve been known to run to the first tee and confront them,” Scott confesses. “I guess I have a reputation‚ ‘She’ll come get you.’

A Job Well Done

In the end, believes Katie Hood, Club Administrator at Cochecho Country Club in Dover, N.H., it’s skills, not gender, that will account for success in the club and resort field. “I feel I’m a good business person, so I don’t look at it as a male female role,” she says. “I’ve never felt that being a female was an obstacle.”

Hood, a 25-year golf industry veteran, came to Cochecho a year ago. Initially hired to be an administrator, her duties quickly grew beyond the scope of her title. Right now, no one at the club holds the general manager title, but she has taken on those duties.While some of the members, staff or directors may have doubted her abilities initially, she says, they quickly found she “knew a little bit about the business.”
Silvia Lalinde

Silvia Lalinde, Director of Marketing and Membership at Dataw Island Club, in Beaufort, S.C., agrees that women can hold their own in the field. “I think anyone can do the position, as long as they have the right personality,” she says.

Lalinde, who has held her position for six months, says half of the department heads at Dataw Island are female. She has had no difficulties with the members or the predominantly male Board of Directors. “They put in their two cents, and we’ll put in our two cents, and it works,” she says.

Lalinde’s duties include enticing prospective members to join the club by introducing them to existing members, Board members and the club staff. She also helps members iron out any problems such as billing questions that they might encounter. “Take care of it immediately to their satisfaction, and you’ve made a friend for life,” she says.

Having previously worked in sales for an environmental company and in membership for the Dataw Island Chamber of Commerce, Lalinde says that club-related experience was not a prerequisite for her job. Now that she’s in it, though, she highly recommends the field. “It’s a lot of fun,” she says. “It’s so dynamic, and there’s so much going on.” C&RB

To comment about this story, suggest topics you’d like to see covered in future issues of C&RB, or just ask a question, contact editor@clubandresortbusiness.com editor@clubandresortbusiness.com

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