By Bob Denney
PGA of America
Not long after she had retired from a life on tour, Jane Blalock awakened one morning to ask a question of women who passed on participating in a corporate golf outing.
“So, why aren’t you playing?” Blalock asked.
“Well, we’re not good enough,” was one woman’s response.
That was all the motivation Blalock needed to turn that dynamic upside down. She convinced companies, beginning with Mazda in 1990, to sponsor golf clinics for women. The momentum continued, and 29 years later, Blalock’s initiative evolved into a key component in growing the game.
Last February, the PGA of America partnered with Blalock to launch PGA Golf Clinics for Women. One of 12 clinics this year was hosted Monday by Westmoreland Country Club, attracting 120 businesswomen throughout Chicagoland. They spent the day guided by a 10-member team of PGA and LPGA instructors representing seven states.
“I wanted to create a program to introduce women to the game and make them more comfortable,” said Blalock, a dual PGA/LPGA Professional who may be 72, but is as far away from the word “retirement” as one can imagine.
From the beginning, recruiting women golfers was not Blalock’s primary challenge. The barrier was awakening corporate America to the value of the woman golfer in a business environment.
“We dug a niche. We are not a golf school. It’s about making the game more accessible to women,” said Blalock. “By sticking to our guns and maintaining our identity, we were able to talk to companies that found it great for their human resources. We were providing their top women with enhanced leadership and relationship development skills.”
This year, PGA Golf Clinics for Women anticipates attracting 1,500 participants. Since its inception in 1990, Blalock’s clinic series has engaged more than 40,000 women golfers.
PGA Vice President Suzy Whaley, a PGA Master Professional and former LPGA Tour Member, is a longtime friend of Blalock. Whaley was the guest speaker at Westmoreland Country Club and later joined the team to provide tips to a segment of the student golfers.
“Jane and I go back many years,” said Whaley. “Her expertise in not only in golf but in business has elevated these clinics to a level where women all over the country have learned to play the game or sharpen their game. The PGA is obviously working to get more women playing golf, and this is a perfect partnership for us to be able to do that.”
As Blalock works to recruit more instructors, Whaley said that is a win-win for PGA Members.
“The more women we can get out to role model and showcase the fact that we are PGA Professionals and we’re interested in welcoming women to the game. This goes for our male PGA Professionals, too. For example, I learned the game through a male PGA Professional. Ideally, we want all PGA Members to have access to women who are looking to learn the game of golf.”
LPGA Teaching Professional Betsy Smith of Huntington Beach, California, is a 20-year member of Blalock’s instructor staff. “PGA Golf Clinics for Women is tremendous for all skill levels, for networking and with businesswomen,” said Smith, who began her career as a schoolteacher.
“What Jane started 28 years ago is phenomenal – opening the door for women to realize their potential both in business and on the golf course.”
Smith said the benefits are almost immediate. “It teaches women that it’s OK to entertain clients on the golf course, she said. “They don’t have to be a skilled golfer as long as they know the Rules; have a bit of course management; learn how to entertain a client and the dos and don’ts to enjoy their day. Once they are invited into a corporate event, they are no longer intimidated.”
Has corporate America awakened to what women can bring to business through golf?
“Yes,” said Smith. “And, it’s happening for women in general.”
For Blalock, a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, there is a sense of pride when reflecting upon her remarkable playing career. She owns the professional record for most consecutive made cuts (299), men or women.
She also won the most LPGA Tour events (27) without winning a major championship. Her triumph in the 1972 Dinah Shore Colgate Winner’s Circle Championship was not recognized at the time as a major. The Championship was granted “major status” 11 years later, and is known today as the ANA Inspiration.
There are more than 40,000 women who believe Blalock’s legacy outside the gallery ropes is her major.
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