A certified trailblazer

Kayla Kipp, the world’s first (and still only) female Certified Turf Equipment Manager, feels honored to pave the way for others.


Kevin Sunderman and Kayla Kipp
GCSAA vice president (and soon-to-be COO) Kevin Sunderman poses with Kayla Kipp during a visit to GCSAA headquarters in Lawrence, Kan. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sunderman

Not long after Kayla Kipp, CTEM, learned she had earned the right to put those four capital letters after her name courtesy of GCSAA’s Certified Turf Equipment Manager program, her cellphone rang.

A quick glance at the display — unknown number — didn’t discourage her from answering.

“I answer all numbers,” says Kipp, equipment manager at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., and a seven-year GCSAA member. “I answer all weird numbers. You never know who might be calling.”

Good thing she picked up. On the other end was Maggie Hardy Knox, the billionaire owner and president of both Nemacolin Resort and 84 Lumber. The boss just wanted to congratulate Kipp on her certification.

“It was, like, a 15-minute conversation,” Kipp says. “She said, ‘I don’t think we’ve met yet.’ She was very happy, being a female, that I was motivated to do that, that I was on that journey. My director called to tell her, and she said, ‘Give me her number. I want to call her.’ Obviously, it’s a female-owned business. She wants to start some female initiatives in the company, and she said, ‘You’d be great to be a part of that.’ Honestly, I don’t remember much of the phone call. It was surreal. It meant a lot to me.”

Apparently, it meant a little something to Knox, too, that Nemacolin’s EM of about seven months had become one of just 15 to achieve EM certification — and the first woman.

“This is monumental, and we are proud to have her motivation, determination and spirit on the associate team at Nemacolin,” Knox said in a release. “She’s a shining example to all that nothing is impossible, and she is an encouragement to other women who are determined to achieve success in any business or industry.”

It’s no secret that the golf maintenance industry is dominated by folks with a Y chromosome. Roughly 2% of GCSAA’s nearly 19,000 members are female, and the vast majority of that tiny percentage are superintendents, assistants or educator members.

“I did the numbers. There are four of us (female GCSAA EM members),” Kipp says. “Four out of 19,000 — that percentage is 0.021. It’s super tiny. Without GCSAA connecting us, we wouldn’t know each other. We’d feel like we’re on an island, one of a kind. I feel like one of a kind is kind of cool, but it’s also lonely. It’s a lot easier to reach out to somebody you know, somebody you connected with at some event or while volunteering at a tournament. Without GCSAA, we’d probably be a lot more miserable in life.”

Because she’s a member of GCSAA’s Equipment Manager and Women’s task groups, Kipp felt compelled to, first, complete the Equipment Management Certificate Program (EMCP, the two levels of which are prerequisites for CTEM) and, then, the Certified Turf Equipment Manager program.

“GCSAA’s really pushy,” Kipp says with a laugh. “No, I don’t want to say, ‘pushy.’ They’re very motivating, very encouraging. I wanted to do it for myself. I love being excellent in everything I do. That’s part of my military service. I’d like to get certified in welding. I mean, I can weld, but if I went to get my welding certification, they’d probably laugh at me. I want to be the best at everything, and CTEM is a way to show I know what I’m doing in this industry. It’s the epitome for me in this industry. And being a part of the Equipment Manager task group, being visible in Women in Turf, I want people to say, ‘She’s a certified turf equipment manager. She knows what she’s doing.’ I’m confident, and I want other people to have confidence in me.”

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force who spent six years in service and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Kuwait, Kipp had spent 10 years at Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md. She was EM over Wisp Resort’s two courses since 2014 before she joined Nemacolin early this year.

“I wouldn’t suggest anyone walk into a new place and, six months later, try to attest (for CTEM),” she says, laughing, “especially a place that didn’t have an equipment list and that didn’t track hours for things like scheduled maintenance. That was week one: Let’s get all these things where they should be.”

Kayla Kipp and Brandi Merrick
Kipp and eight-year GCSAA member Brandi Merrick hitting the links in North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Kayla Kipp

Kipp says she was up front with Chris Anderson, Nemacolin’s GCSAA Class A director of agronomy and 16-year member, before and early in her employment about her desire to get her certification.

“I gave him a list of things we’d have to address,” Kipp says. “The bones here were good, but we had to get things like some secondary containment — money items. A lot of courses don’t want to put money into safety and environment. There was a lot of cleaning and organizing, a lot of years of accumulated things.”

Kipp says she recalls it was on her fourth day at Nemacolin that she approached Anderson with a wish list.

“I said, ‘I want to do some shop-improvement stuff. It’s going to cost some money,’” Kipp says. “He said, ‘We have a budget meeting coming up. We’ll ask.’ They gave us the money to spend and said, ‘Get what you need. If you need something else, we’ll ask and see what we can do.’ That was on Day 4. Up front, they showed a big investment in me. Then I had to put in the work.”

Though the $7,000 windfall wasn’t huge by Nemacolin standards, it spoke volumes to Kipp.

“Oh my goodness, I can’t say enough about how great it is to be at a quality place,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without the team — Steve (Moffat, Nemacolin’s veteran chief mechanic) and Chris and all the superintendents. Everybody’s been super supportive. They’d ask what I needed. There were times I’d say, ‘I just need two hours to sit on a computer where you don’t need anything.’ They were all great, and there’s no way I could have done it as quickly as I did without their help.”

Anderson says Kipp made her presence felt immediately at Nemacolin.

“Since Kayla joined our team,” he said, “she has devoted her time and talent to bring new life to our maintenance facility and program. She has fast-tracked her way to CTEM and brought our playing surfaces to the next level by working with the team.”

Because she benefitted from Anderson’s support through the certification process, Kipp hopes to return the favor when he pursues Certified Golf Course Superintendent status.

“I think he feels a little challenged himself: ‘My equipment manager got certified. Now it’s time to get my certification,’” Kipp says. “I told him I’d push him to do that. I’d love to see him go after that and be able to help him back. It’s motivating to see people around you succeed. If I have to be the first one to succeed, at whatever it is, and others follow, that’s great. Nobody gets left behind.”

That holds true especially, she says, for women wanting to progress — or even just get a start — in the golf course maintenance industry.

“Somebody’s gotta do it,” Kipp says of blazing trails. “I’m a pretty talkative person, but I know a lot of folks aren’t. If it has to be me, I’ll take the reins. I’d love for somebody else to show me up. I’ll send a challenge to the rest of the world: This is what I’m doing. I don’t dislike any of it. Sometimes it gets to be a little much. With two task groups and volunteering for events and everything else, it’s been a lot, but it all pays me back 10 times over.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor