For the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, held June 3-6 on the Lake Course at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, director of golf maintenance Troy Flanagan assembled a tournament volunteer corps that included 29 women from across the country. Read all about the initiative in Women in turf shine at 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, and read more about some of the volunteers and other crew members below.
Kayla Kipp needed a pair of safety glasses. It was time to grind reels at The Olympic Club during round two of the U.S. Women’s Open. Staying out of harm’s way on the job is familiar to her.
The only female equipment manager who is a GCSAA member, Kipp previously served in the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant. She joined straight out of high school in 2006 and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Kuwait. In the Afghanistan city of Kandahar, Kipp was aware of the stakes. “I knew it was a hot spot,” she says. Kipp vividly recalls the day she heard the whistle signaling an incoming mortar shell. “I tried to hide under a forklift, tried to find cover,” Kipp says.
Fortunately, the mortar failed to explode. Kipp survived 19 months on foreign soil, and upon her return to the U.S. in 2012, she exited military service and began looking for work. Kipp struck gold at a job fair when she met GCSAA Class A superintendent Jayme Bradley, who at that time oversaw Lodestone Golf Course in McHenry, Md.
Kipp’s upbringing came in handy when Bradley hired her to join the crew. “My dad (Dwight) built engines. He built a house. When I was little, my diapers were all dirty from being in the garage,” says Kipp, who is from Maryland. “I wanted to be like dad. He did cool things.”
In 2014, Kipp was named equipment manager. In fact, she’s in charge of two courses at Wisp Resort: Lodestone Golf Course and Fantasy Valley Golf Course. In both cases, it’s all about the team. “If we don’t help each other, we’re going to struggle collectively, so let’s win together,” says Kipp, a five-year GCSAA member.
Hear more from Kipp and other volunteers at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open about “breaking the grass ceiling”:
As one of 29 female volunteers at last week’s U.S. Women’s Open, Kipp networked and made new friends, yet she wants to bring change to the industry by introducing more women to the equipment manager scene. One thing she wouldn’t change, though, is her job duties. And she’s certainly someone who knows what duty means. “If I don’t do my job in here (the maintenance shop), you’ll see it out there (the golf course),” Kipp says.
Dave and A.J. Hill
For Dave and A.J. Hill, volunteers at last week’s U.S. Women’s Open, the family bonding the experience afforded was a dream come true.
“To be able to be here with your daughter — I cannot even describe it to you,” says Dave, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Lily Lake Golf & RV Resort in Frostproof, Fla., and a seven-year association member. A.J. is a one-year association member and assistant superintendent at Mountain Lake Golf Course in Lake Wales, Fla.
Growing up, A.J. would spend time at the golf course with Dave, and would even cut cups. “I think she liked it because you have to be so precise. It’s part of her makeup. Mine too,” Dave says. Mom to 10-year-old Alexis and 7-year-old Andrew, A.J. works 20 miles from her dad, but the two live less than 2 miles apart, which works out well. When he’s done with his workday, Dave babysits until A.J. gets home from work. “We do their homework, I feed them,” Dave says of spending time with the kids. “When A.J. gets back, we’ll talk about what she did that day.”
Once during their time at The Olympic Club, while A.J. was on No. 15 doing bunker maintenance, Dave rode by as a passenger in a cart on his way to his course duties. “I waved at him as he went by,” A.J. says and smiles. “And as they drove away, I could hear him say, ‘That’s my daughter.’ I’m very happy for him. He’s having a great time.”
Last December, A.J. was the lone woman on the volunteer crew for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston. This year, she’s one of 29. To her father, though, she’s one in a million. “He is really proud of me, and it’s adorable,” A.J. says. “And I’m as proud of him as he is of me.”
On his 60th birthday last week, Gerardo Garcia was surprised with a cake in the hospitality tent for U.S. Women’s Open grounds crew members. He even had a balloon tied to his cart as he went about changing cups. Garcia is an expert at that task, having arrived at The Olympic Club in 1986 and working numerous key events there, including three men’s U.S. Opens (1987, 1998 and 2012), the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur, 2007 U.S. Amateur, 2015 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, and now the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open.
A native of Mexico, Garcia was a truck driver who came to the U.S. in 1982 and was hired by the club four years later. His late uncle, Dimas Garcia, worked there in those days. And what did Garcia do on his first day at work 35 years ago? “Pulled weeds,” he says with a laugh. “At the time, I think I was the youngest on our team.”
He has likely logged the most car mileage. Garcia lives about 45 minutes away in Fremont, Calif., a commute he actually doesn’t dread. “To me, the drive isn’t that long anymore,” he says.
Hosting a major event is a source of pride for Garcia, in part because it spotlights teamwork. “I like to see how our work shows,” Garcia says.
On Mondays, the course is closed to members, and employees are allowed to play. Garcia participates, but he’s still looking for his first hole-in-one. Speaking of firsts, daily COVID-19 temperature checks at the U.S. Women’s Open had Garcia first in line, as the order was determined by age. And Garcia has no plans to give up his place anytime soon. “I don’t even think about retirement,” Garcia says. “I like this place.”
As a recent high school graduate and the youngest female volunteer at the U.S. Women’s Open, 18-year-old Kennedy Ellis isn’t like some of her peers who may be at a crossroads. Ellis has a pretty good idea what her future holds. “I want to be a turfgrass pathology professor. I know research is my route,” Ellis says. “I want to work with students. I want to be a mentor. I want to see them grow.”
A resident of Alpena, Mich., Ellis qualified as a junior and senior for her high school state golf tournament, which is pretty impressive considering she despised the game on her first try. Once she gave golf a second chance, she took to it and would often play 27 holes a day. This fall, she plans to attend Olivet (Mich.) College for environmental studies and chemistry and will play on the golf team. She’s also enrolled in the Penn State University World Campus turfgrass program. Discussing studying Japanese beetle management, Ellis says, “I was on my hands and knees to determine growth type and why there is a color variation. I love to learn.”
The trip to San Francisco was just Ellis’ second time on a plane and the first flight she took by herself. Her tasks at The Olympic Club included fluffing rough, repairing divots and moving turning boards. “I’m willing to do anything,” Ellis says, passing along advice she received that she’s taken to heart: “Never pass up an opportunity.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.