Going back to her days of competing on the boys high school golf team, Kelly Lynch is accustomed to being the only woman in the room in a man's world. It is a role that Lynch has played throughout her career as a golf pro, golf coach and in the seed industry, and she's fine with that.
"I've earned my seat at the table, and I've never taken it lightly," Lynch said. "I knew I was a trailblazer, and it was a privilege to be there.
"In my younger days, I was the token female, and I learned a lot. It was a privilege to be at the table and learn how to be heard in a room of men. It came through years of learning to advocate, communicate and building bridges."
Today, Lynch, a regional manager with Pure Seed in Oregon, is passionate about helping other women in the golf industry find their seat at the table, too.
A PGA professional and former men's and women's golf coach at Eastern Washington and Gonzaga universities, Lynch learned early on that golf was a male-dominated industry. What she found on the green side of the industry even surprised her.
"The PGA had few females. When I came to the turf side, there are no females," Lynch said.
"Women are rare, and they are on islands most of the time. I want to engage them, empower them and encourage them."
And Lynch is not alone.
Several years of initiatives that include events like Syngenta's Ladies Leading Turf and Bayer's Women in Golf, have helped women in the turf business build networking connections and have provided an avenue to career-development education designed specifically for women. They also have helped lay the foundation for promoting careers in turf to more women, but the $64,000 question is "what's next?"
One answer is to expand the circle to include more decision makers.
"We have to evolve to that next level," said former USGA Green Section director Kim Erusha (above right).
"That is where we need to get to; multiple groups of people in one room. Those discussions need to be in a broaders sense of how do you work with each other."
A likely starting point for that next-level cooperation is at the professional association level, something the golf industry has plenty of.
"It becomes a matter of who do we hire? Who do we promote?" said Renee Geyer, West Golf Course superintendent at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. "Those are the people who have to take it to the next level. These companies, like Bayer and Syngenta, that's kick-started this movement; now, it is up to local associations, state associations and clubs to get involved from a business perspective."
Before that is likely to happen, many women acknowledge there are other barriers to overcome, namely proving they belong.
"To me, this isn't really a gender issue. Not only as a woman, but I think everyone has to show your value to your employer," said former USGA Green Section director Kim Erusha. "Are there times I have been pushed aside because of my gender? Yes, but you have to be persistent in pursuit of your goals.
"Life is not all rainbows and ponies. Part of this comes down to crap just happens. I can deal with any challenges out there, but they are there unfortunately, and it is discouraging. But that's part of life and you just have to figure out how to work through it.
"You have to be the driver of your own future."
Still, there is the impression that women often have to work harder to prove themselves in a man's world. Whether men accept that or view it as urban legend, it's true, and women know it. And although they don't agree that they should have to do more to prove their worth in the industry, it is a burden they embrace, partly because they can and partly because they know it makes them better.
Life is not all rainbows and ponies. Part of this comes down to crap just happens. I can deal with any challenges out there, but they are there unfortunately, and it is discouraging. But that's part of life and you just have to figure out how to work through it. . . . You have to be the driver of your own future.
"What we all realize is that we all made it in a male-dominated world," Lynch said.
"People say that women have to work twice as hard as men, and I did that. That doesn't make it right. We have a problem, and we have work to do. People have to understand that we have to address these things. This is a symptom of a broken cultural system."
Lynch makes a great point.
Golf is widely recognized as a game propped up by men. That is especially true in turf. The game struggles to attract women and minority players. The turf industry faces the same struggles at its highest levels.
Whether it is equal pay, equal opportunity or equal respect, there will be no wholesale changes for women industry wide until that culture changes.
"To me, industry associations need to be aware and continue to weave that philosophy into the day-to-day messaging. It can't just be here is the special event of the day, and then move on," Erusha said. "We have to get to a point where that is normal procedure. It has to be part of our day-to-day fabric of what we do."
She gives as much as she receives from her new network of colleagues.
"I never thought I would get to walk into a room with 49 other women," she said. "It's incredible. I said 'they get me, this is my tribe, these are my people."
Like Erusha, she said working to prove yourself is more about being a professional than being a female professional.
"We have to continue to do what we have been doing, which is quality work," Geyer said. "Women have as much of a place in this business as men."
Until that culture undergoes a sea change, Initiating change will require doing more and relying on others to help educate an industry. And for those who do not want to help move the industry forward?
"I have had to realign myself with people who get it, because it is not my job to fight that battle alone," Lynch said.
"We have to educate those who can hear, and if they can't hear, you move on to someone who can, so we find a place where we get to do that."