A Game for Life
The LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program teaches young women lifelong skills both on and off the green.
By Vicki Hogue-Davies
In 1989, Sandy LaBauve, a highly esteemed Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) instructor and mother of two daughters, began holding girls-only golf clinics. She intended to introduce more young women to the sport and instill an enduring passion for it. While LaBauve was successful in stirring enthusiasm among the participants, that led to a new dilemma.
“We had all these girls excited about playing golf, but there was no feeder program for them to go into after the clinics ended,” she says. “We decided to create an ongoing, year-round program, so that girls who fell in love with the game and wanted to keep playing had a program they could go to. I had some wonderful LPGA teachers who stepped up to the plate and helped with it and were very dedicated to growing the game for girls.”
The result was Girls Golf. Today, the nonprofit is 50,000-members strong and has introduced more than 300,000 young women, ages 6 to 17, to the sport. The organization began in Phoenix, and now has more than 300 branches throughout the country. LaBauve is the national ambassador for the program, which is run in partnership with the LPGA and the United States Golf Association (USGA).
Instructors include LPGA teaching professionals and certified coaches from The First Tee, a nonprofit youth development organization, but the lessons go beyond chipping and putting. Girls Golf seeks to empower, enrich, engage, energize and exercise both the bodies and minds of its participants. These “five E’s” are an integral part of its mission to build important life skills along with strong sports skills. Off the course, social activities help the girls develop relationships with their peers, and they are also given opportunities to mentor and therefore gain leadership abilities.
Another draw for many participants is Girls Golf’s focus on fun. LaBauve says that when she decided to start the program, girls’ golf instruction was typically considered preparation for participating in tournaments. “I think a lot of girls who were being exposed to it were not prepared for the competition,” LaBauve says. “I took the approach that golf is much more than that. It is a game you can play for fun and for competition. It is your own game. I felt like we needed to create programs that allowed girls to decide how golf could fit into their lives, and if it was portrayed that way, more girls would play. I think that is the ticket of keeping people playing golf—just make it fun and they will want to keep doing it.”
“I took the approach that golf is … a game you can play for fun and for competition. It is your own game. I felt like we needed to create programs that allowed girls to decide how golf could fit into their lives,
and if it was portrayed that way, more girls would play.” —Sandy LaBauve
It was the opportunity to have fun doing something she loved, and to play with peers, that attracted now-professional golfer Brittany Lincicome to Girls Golf in the late 1990s. “Before the program, I was only playing with family or boys,” she says. “So it allowed me to have a social interaction with girls, but I think it can also help girls learn manners, etiquette and even allows them to mature. It is a great way for girls to increase their confidence, and with that increased confidence, avoid some of the pitfalls of being teenagers.” Now she is an LPGA tour ambassador for the program, which includes acting as a spokesperson and instructor.
Whether the participants go on to play professionally, like Lincicome, or casually, Girls Golf continues to encourage young women to develop a love for the game that they can carry into adulthood. “Certainly the LPGA will benefit, but most of the girls will be the members of country clubs and people playing daily golf at resorts,” LaBauve says. “I think the girls program is helping to grow women’s golf and women’s golf is seeing some great changes as we see the numbers increase.”
Supporting Women’s Golf
Salamander Hotels & Resorts founder Sheila Johnson works to create more parity in golf. “As a golf resort owner and operator, it’s critical to my businesses that the game continues to grow,” she says. “However, it’s also important that young girls have another sport in which to aspire to greatness, and that businesswomen are exposed to the game, as so many transactions are discussed and conducted on the course.” Innisbrook Resort, part of the Salamander Golf Collection, has hosted the LPGA Legends Tour and the annual Valspar Championship Presented by BB&T, which features an Executive Women’s Day. Johnson also serves on the United States Golf Association Executive Committee, a role that she says gives her a platform to help influence other gender-based initiatives.
(Top photo courtesy of LPGA USGA Girls Golf of Phoenix)