Not only is Jennifer Torres unusual in being a female golf course superintendent in an overly male industry, but chances are she stands alone as having pursued her current career after a post-high school stint in the US Army and GI Bill-funded enrollment in the Rutgers Professional Golf Turf Management certificate program... while also a 30-something mother of three at the time.
It was hardly a passion for golf or turf management that led Torres to her position as superintendent at Makefield Highlands Golf Club, an 18-hole daily fee facility -- owned by Lower Makefield Township and managed by Spirit Golf -- in Yardley, PA, just a stone's throw from the Delaware River made famous by Washington's Crossing during the Revolutionary War. She grew up on a small dairy farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, didn't have any family members in the business as many do, and never played golf until she started working on a golf course at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
"My husband and I relocated to New Jersey in 2000, and brought our kids here," she recalled. "One of our neighbors (Dan Mears) was an assistant superintendent at Fountain Green Golf Course on Fort Dix. One day I jokingly just asked him if they had any positions available, and he said absolutely. That's where it all began. I started working as an equipment operator and loved it."
Mears and the superintendent, John Huda, took Torres under their wing and quickly noticed her passion for the turf industry.
"John mentioned to me that Rutgers University is not far up the road here, and they offer a great program. Would you be interested? That was how I got hooked," Torres said.
While at Rutgers in 2005/6, Torres got her first introduction into the male-lopsided golf turf industry. "I was the only female in the class, and one of the oldest in the class as well," she recalled. "The other kids in the class kind of looked up to me as a mother role, which was kind of nice."
Not exactly new...
Being a female in a male-dominated industry was not entirely foreign to Torres.
"Most of the jobs I've had in my life were very male dominated, starting with the Army. After that I was a cable TV and internet technician, climbing poles and stuff like that. So the fact that there weren't many women involved in golf course maintenance didn't discourage me at all. My mom told me as a kid that being a woman may help you get a job, but doing that job to the best of your ability will let you keep that job," she said.
My mom told me as a kid that being a woman may help you get a job, but doing that job to the best of your ability will let you keep that job..."
From Fountain Green, Torres took an assistant position at Indian Spring Country Club in Marlton, New Jersey, working for Billy Casper Golf, first under superintendent Mark Peterson and then Jeremy Hreben. Her position was eliminated in 2011 for cost cutting reasons, leading to another twist of fate.
"When I lost my job, my oldest daughter was having my first grandchild, so I stayed home with them for a couple months," Torres said. "Ironically, Mark Peterson had moved on to Spirit Golf as the superintendent at Makefield Highlands across the river in PA, and hired me in 2012 as his assistant. So it all worked out."
Peterson was later promoted from superintendent to regional agronomist for Spirit Golf, and Torres moved up to the superintendent position in 2016.
Torres was recently elected to the board of GCSANJ and is involved with GCSAA's Grassroots Ambassadors Program working with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and Best Management Practices (BMP) Grants Task Group. She credits Cece Peabody, executive director of the New Jersey Turfgrass Association (and until last year, GCSANJ), with giving her a push in that direction.
"Cece gave me that kick in the pants and said, 'You know, you can do this. Go represent and get involved.' Thanks to her, I'm out there now."
Even in those roles on the local and national association levels, Torres said she has always felt welcome.
"I've never felt like I didn't belong here. Even when I have been surrounded by leaders from the national board level, they've always welcomed me with open arms," she said. "Case in point was a message I received from Rafael Barajas, the current president of GCSAA, wishing me luck in the GCSANJ election. And when my son and I were down in Washington for National Golf Day, he came up to us, introduced himself and encouraged my son about the business. You don't see that in a lot of other industries."
I've never felt like I didn't belong here..."
Mentors? Torres credits just about all of the superintendents for whom she has worked with helping her piece together the necessary skills to be a successful superintendent.
"Dan Mears and John Huda took me under their wings at Fountain Green and really got me started in the turf business. Mark Peterson has been a phenomenal mentor, teaching me the hands-on things on the golf course, while Jeremy Hreben helped me with the administrative side of things, budgets and such. All important pieces of the management puzzle."
Municipal/daily fee has its benefits
Torres credits her (albeit inadvertent) career path in public/municipal golf as providing more freedom than working at more demanding private clubs might have afforded her.
"Working in public golf has allowed me the freedom to be a mom as well as a golf course superintendent," she said. "Sometimes it is a struggle when your kids have activities, games and stuff like that, but I have been fortunate to work with people who understood and would say, okay, just come in early, or as long as your work is done, go ahead and by all means be a mom too. It's a balancing act more than an obstacle. You just have to communicate and consider the needs on both sides."
Regardless of career path, Torres notes that "women have to work harder and make their resume better to stand out among the number of men who are out there. But if you have a passion for career in turf, definitely take the chance, jump on board and follow your dreams. Get involved, ask questions and don't be afraid. There are going to be a lot of downs, but the rewards far outweigh any setbacks along the way."