As someone who comes from a family of golfers -- my mother has even made three holes in one -- I should have developed an early affinity for golf. Yet the closest I've come to playing a round was in the arcade game Golden Tee. Then I moved to Chicago and bought a condo next to a public course on Lake Michigan. Watching golfers whack their drives and try to will their putts into the cup, I had two thoughts: "That looks like fun," and, "Where do I begin?"
A logical place was at one of the LPGA Golf Clinics for Women run by JBC Golf, a Cambridge (Mass.) golf-event marketing company founded by former pro golfer Jane Blalock. These one-day sessions aim to demystify golf for women from the business world. Women have long since realized what men have always known -- that you can forge important business bonds on the course -- but for beginners the game can be intimidating. These clinics teach the basics in a nonthreatening way. "You don't have to be a great player as long as you know the etiquette, know how to move the game along," says Melanie Bedrosian, a coordinator for JBC Golf (jbcgolf.com).
JBC charges $275 per person for a day at one of 15 clinics around the country. It's not the only game out there. The Executive Women's Golf Assn., with 115 chapters in 39 states and two in Canada, offers classes as well (ewga.com). A recent seminar in Portland, Ore., for example, focused on the rules of golf. Private companies such as New York's GolfingWomen (golfingwomen.com) and Tempe (Ariz.)-based Golf For Cause (golfforcause.com) organize women-only events for companies and business schools. Part of GolfingWomen's agenda is to teach women how to get invited to golf outings. One tip, says Executive Vice-President Adrienne Wax, is to keep golf paraphernalia in your office to spark conversation with colleagues and let them know you're interested in playing.
My clinic took place at the White Eagle Golf Club in suburban Naperville, Ill. The 140 or so women were divided into about 20 groups of four skill levels: never played, beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I happily embraced my "never played" status and joined the other four women in my group, including a patent lawyer, a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, and two women in the alcoholic beverage industry.
Our instructor, Emily Barkoozis, a former competitive swimmer who became a golf pro seven years ago, was friendly and frank. Like most of the LPGA teaching pros in the program, the 31-year-old Barkoozis works at a local club. Throughout the day she shared her personal golf stories. She recalled the time she was matched up with two men who quietly complained about being paired up with a woman. She shut them up by knocking the ball straight down the fairway.
We spent the first part of the day on the fundamentals: putting, chipping, and driving. Starting out on the putting green, I quickly realized I didn't need quite so much power to sink a shot. From there we moved on to other parts of the short game. We learned about the proper stance and club selection, which depends on where the ball lies (in deep grass or a sand trap, say) and its distance from the hole.
I was most humbled at the driving range. Here our instructor spent time with each of us, correcting our individual problems. Although I knew the right way to hold the club, I flubbed my way through a number of shots. It turns out I have a nasty habit of overswinging -- that is, bringing the club too far back on the backswing. I also tend to hit the ball with the front edge, or toe, of the club, sending it off to the right rather than straight down the fairway. To fix the problem, my pro told me I needed to hit the ball in the center, or sweet spot, of the club face.
After a short demonstration by Blalock and a buffet lunch, we hit the course to play a scramble. In this format, each player takes a shot, then the group decides which ball landed in the best position and takes the next shot from that spot. This took away the pressure of having to make a good shot every time we swung. Of course, it was usually our instructor's shot that won out.
During our two hours on the course, we also got a handle on the etiquette, from who putts first on the green to the importance of keeping quiet during someone's shots. Our pro emphasized pace of play -- the idea that you should keep the game moving. We talked about the conventions of conducting business on the course. Some say it's verboten to talk shop while playing, and that business should wait until cocktails at the 19th hole. Others argue you should take your cues from your fellow players. If your client wants to talk about a deal, by all means talk.
After slogging through almost nine holes, we headed to the clubhouse for drinks. It gave everyone a chance to unwind, meet other career women from the area, and exchange business cards.
Admittedly, one daylong session does not a real golfer make. But I've vowed to get to the driving range at least once a week and take more lessons. By the end of the summer, 18 holes, here I come.
By Adrienne Carter