We met recently with Liz Green, President of the St. Louis Women’s Golf Association (SLWGA), to learn more about that organization. Here is a bit of their history:
The St. Louis Women’s Golf Association began in 1975 in the mind of its founder, Pam Rothfuss Whalen. With a background of competitive golf in the state of Ohio, Pam realized that the St. Louis metropolitan area lacked a public golf association for the female golfer—and so Pam began her quest to fill that void.
With the help of volunteers from the greater St. Louis area, an open invitational tournament was scheduled and organized. This tournament, held in the fall of 1977, was a huge success and would prove to be the impetus for the formation of the SLWGA.
Pam worked with many of those same tournament volunteers to form an Executive Committee of ten who then developed a constitution and bylaws for the organization and began to beat the bushes and “the rough” across the St. Louis area recruiting women public course golfers to join the SLWGA. They have made steady progress over the years in attracting talented female golfers and, as importantly, attracting public courses in the area that were welcoming hosts for their events.
In recognition of her many contributions to women’s golf in the St. Louis region, Pam Rothfuss Whalen has been named an Honorary Life Member of the SLWGA.
TMGP: Liz, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the various golf associations that touch golfers in the St. Louis area. Turns out I really didn’t know about the SLWGA, and, in fact, had them confused with the Executive Women’s Golf Association. How has the SLWGA evolved in the nearly 40 years since its inception?
LG: The SLWGA began as a “social” and “fun” group that recruited members from many of the women’s leagues playing public courses around town. We wanted to play “real” tournaments—but yet not get too serious. At our core we’re about the social aspect. But we adhere to the USGA Rules of Golf and the general “rules” of golf etiquette. We began conducting seminars for our membership to make them aware of both the rules and the general concepts of golf course etiquette.
Next came our devotion to measuring yardages of our member league courses. We did it the hard way…with a walking wheel. Once we got our yardages we encouraged our courses to modify their scorecards to reflect those measured yardages. We also worked with those courses to properly mark their courses for hazards, out of bounds, and all that is involved in marking a course for play. Also, many of our members got involved in volunteering to do golf course rating in Missouri and some areas of Illinois—and that volunteerism continues today.
So, an overall goal from the beginning was to organize around the somewhat informal women’s public course leagues and get more formal competitions going among those leagues/courses– and at the same time to “elevate” and advance our knowledge and practices concerning rules and etiquette. Some of our members play in Missouri Women’s Golf Association championships and USGA qualifiers. Many of our members are the first to volunteer to work regional and national tournaments held in our area. Examples would be at the LPGA event held for years at Forest Hills CC and the Women’s Amateur Public Links that came to Spencer T. Olin golf course in 1996.
Our members look forward to playing in our events and, in some cases, in Missouri Women’s GA events or other regional competitions. But I think the overall idea is to make new friends and renew old friendships and acquaintances through playing golf.
TMGP: How many members are in the SLWGA? Tell us about your “typical” member—age, skill level?
LG: We average about 225 members a year. Our membership is roughly 60% senior and our skill levels range from the raw beginner to the experienced player with a handicap in the 20-25 range. We work with our new members, beginner or experienced, on the Rules of Golf and golf etiquette.
TMGP: Has membership been pretty stable over the past few years or is there turnover?
LG: Our numbers have remained pretty much the same from year to year. Lately we find more of our members are working so that impacts membership and also activity of those members. Some have left us because of job demands and some simply aren’t able to be as active with us –for the same job-related reasons.
TMGP: How do you recruit, attract new members?
LG: Our Association membership is our primary recruiting tool. “Word of mouth” works the best for us. If we succeed in keeping current members happy and are responsive—they spread the word.
TMGP: Give our readers the big picture of your tournaments/events. How many a year and of what type?
LG: We conduct five “fun” tournaments where we mix our league women from their “home” courses so they meet members from other courses and make new friendships and connections. We also have either a match play or medal play championship every year. And we have five “team” events, one a month, where a member course submits four two-person teams that play four ball format. The team/course with the lowest aggregate stroke count over those five tournaments is the SLWGA Team Champion.
TMGP: I see on your website that you “remind” your members to post their scores. How do you administer your member handicaps?
LG: Our members are responsible for posting their scores but we also have a Handicap Chairperson who oversees this area and deals with any problems over scores not posted, scores out of range, etc.
TMGP: You’ve said you have some members every year who are just taking up the game. How do you integrate them into your group and also help them learn the rules and proper etiquette?
LG: When I starting playing golf I played mostly with men. In order to speed play and make it more fun for me, we really didn’t follow the rules. I was taking group golf lessons at Quail Creek and began playing the course with a friend from my lesson group. We met a member of the Quail Tuesday league and she invited us to join them. I was pretty nervous at the beginning. Would my level of play be worthy? Would I embarrass myself? But the women in that league took us under their wing and helped us by pointing out how to be more aware of other golfers (etiquette) and how to learn and observe the basic rules of the game. Looking back, it was the best way to “learn” the game no matter my skill level. That did improve, but along the way I got more comfortable and knowledgeable in the rules and etiquette that are part of an enjoyable round of golf.
In the SLWGA we use this loose “mentoring” with new members, especially those who are not just new to us but also new to the game. (We still conduct seminars on various topics to help and advance all members.) Over the years I’ve found myself, along with other seasoned Association members, taking on this role of playing with new members to help them learn out on the course. It’s an informal ‘system” that’s worked very well for us in integrating new members.
TMGP: What are your general plans for the SLWGA going forward? What are some issues you’re grappling with?
LG: We’re always looking to increase our membership—but these are hard times for many families. We try to keep our tournament fees as low as possible. We listen to our members and try to introduce new public courses to host an event and new event formats our members want to try. An issue that’s always present on public courses is pace of play. We work to speed up our group’s pace of play in a variety of informal ways. Maybe the most important part of that effort is to make sure we’re all aware of our pace within our member events. Do we have players in one of our foursomes who need a few gentle tips to help them speed up and keep up?
TMGP: How would a prospective new member reading this interview go about joining your Association—or at least finding out more about it?
LG: The first step is to go to our website, www.slwga.org and click on the “membership form” button for our information. Also, current members can call one of our officers and relay the prospective member’s contact information. One of our officers will follow up and connect with this person. And the golf staff at our member league courses know who among their league players are SLWGA members. They can refer or introduce a prospective new member to an SLWGA golfer playing in the league at their course.