Web series highlights women in turf

'Breaking the Turfgrass Ceiling' follows female volunteers at the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Women's Opens.


Women volunteers at the U.S. Women's Open
2022 U.S. Women's Open volunteers Christi Clay, Georgia Clingerman, Nina Oldenkamp talk strategy with John Jeffreys, superintendent at Pinehurst No. 2, during tournament setup at Pine Needles. Photo by Mike Strauss.

Sheila Schroeder, Ph.D., remembers Aug. 30, 2021. A moment in time that profoundly impacts your life, after all, is hard to forget. That day, Schroeder was deciding whether to attend the KPMG Women’s Golf Clinic on that late-August occasion at TPC Colorado in Berthoud.

“Should I go or should I not? I really wanted to see the course,” Schroeder says. “I decided to go.” She had no idea at the time that her decision to attend would be so meaningful for so many, including herself.

“That changed my life,” Schroeder says. Now she has the footage to prove it. 

Schroeder produced the 14-part “Breaking the Turfgrass Ceiling” documentary web series that debuted Feb. 10, and will release new episodes each Friday. The behind-the-scenes episodes, ranging from three to 12 minutes long, shine a light on women grounds maintenance volunteers at the U.S. Women’s Opens at The Olympic Club in San Francisco in 2021 and at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., in 2022.

Perhaps it was meant to be that Schroeder, a professor at University of Denver’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, was paired to participate in the instruction stations with golf course architect Kari Haug at the KPMG event two years ago. Haug, a two-year GCSAA Affiliate member, had volunteered at The Olympic Club. When she learned that Schroeder was also a filmmaker, Haug took note. 

“I thought, ‘That’s interesting.’ She said one of her career goals is combining her two passions — filmmaking and golf,” Haug says.

The wheels began rapidly turning. Haug contacted Kimberly Gard, territory manager at Syngenta, who was instrumental in connecting with The Olympic Club director of golf course maintenance Troy Flanagan, a 29-year GCSAA member, to launch the 30-women volunteer program at the U.S. Women’s Open. Before she knew it, Schroeder was in the mix. She was at Pine Needles last summer with her assistant Leif Soederberg, a recent University of Denver graduate, and they were embedded with the volunteers at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Sheila Schroeder
Sheila Schroeder presenting her web series "Breaking the Turfgrass Ceiling" at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando, Fla.Photo by Howard Richman

Schroeder and Soederberg carried simple tools for their work to document the volunteers who were in action under the guidance of David Fruchte, CGCS, director of grounds and 38-year association member.

“We shot everything on our phones. I had an iPhone 12. So did Leif. You have a film making studio in your pocket. You can shoot with it, edit with it,” says Schroeder.

To ensure the inaugural volunteer event was included, Schroeder visited The Olympic Club to interview Flanagan on video for the series. “Overall, we logged 70 hours of footage and began last July 2022,” Schroeder says. “We logged for two months and started editing in September.”

Schroeder formed an editorial board to view her work during production. They are GCSAA Class A superintendent Renee Geyer, a 16-year GCSAA member at Canterwood Golf & Country Club in Gig Harbor, Wash.; Nina Oldenkamp, a one-year association member and field expert at Odeys Field Experts in Omaha, Neb.; and Jill Seymour, CGCS, and a 13-year GCSAA member at Charleston Springs Golf Course-South in Millstone, N.J.

“That collaboration with them was the only way to do it,” Schroeder says. “As a filmmaker, I want to represent it fair, just, and honor them.”

Schroeder says she supports equity, inclusion and empowering women, and this series was a vehicle to showcase it. “It was an absolute pleasure to do something industry-specific and important to the industry,” she says.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.