The Course of Women’s Golf

Featured Sliders / Lifestyle / Stories / July 10, 2016

It’s the second Monday evening of the women’s golf clinic at Turkey Creek Golf Center and owner Danny Baumgartner and Connor McHenry, a former State Amateur, are demonstrating the art of chipping.

“The key is to let the club do the work,” said Baumgartner, discussing the use of the pitching wedge, 7 iron or sand wedge to improve their short game.

“Did he say sandwich?” asks Sherrie Koechling Burnett.

“No, sand wedge,” said her friend, Maridee Edwards.

This is the 16th year Turkey Creek has held the popular ladies’ golf clinics, which are held four evenings (per clinic) during the months of May, June, August and September at a cost of $65. Usually Rob Wilson, the assistant pro at Old Kinderhook at the Lake of the Ozarks, is instructing the ladies.

“They love his British accent,” Baumgartner said.

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Turkey Creek Golf Center owner Danny Baumgartner and Connor McHenry instructing Christie Baumhoer, Kim Morff, Sherrie Koechling, Marilue Hemmel, Maridee Edwards, Janet Miller and Teresa Cook

Women come to the clinic with varying experience levels. Edwards, an attorney, and Koechling Burnett, an accountant, are taking up golf for the first time while Kim Morff from Russellville has played before.

“I like to play golf because it’s a great stress reliever and it’s also fun,” said Morff, who works in the banking business.

Her chips are consistently close to the hole and her swing with the driver connects too.

THWACK! The glorious sound of a well-struck shot, one that takes flight and goes the distance. Even if it’s only one out of 20 attempted swings for many golfers, it’s that sound, that contact that keeps them coming back for more of the confounding but often rewarding game.

Golf is hard, frustrating and down right exasperating, especially for those competitive types, who can throw curses or clubs around in equal measure. Not me, you say. Play a round and you may be surprised to find yourself wrapping a club around the nearest tree. Even the pro’s game can leave them on the back nine — did anyone see top golfer Jordan Spieth’s blow out at the Master’s this year?

Watching pro golf on television, the sport seems stuffy, stuck-up and time consuming. Playing 18 holes eats up four hours and there’s costs to join a country club or play a course and for the equipment and clothes. Being out on the golf course though is fun and down-to-earth, literally. Wheeling around in a cart, socializing with friends in the outdoors surrounded by lush greens, trees and water is an escape into another world. Even a high score can’t diminish those pluses.

Although it’s been more than 10 years since Tiger Woods won the Masters with that amazing clutch chip to birdie and cinch the victory, he singlehandedly galvanized the game and made it athletic and sexy for the young. According to CBS News in 2005, the year of the “Tiger”, there were an estimated 30 million players, an all-time high. Today Wood’s golf has declined and the sport. In 2015, the numbers were down to a bit more than 24 million, with just five percent of golfers under the age of 30.

The No. 1 golfer on the LPGA, Lydia Ko, is 19, and the No. 2, Brooke Henderson, who won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, is 18. Six of the top 20 players in the world are under the age of 21, with only four in their 30s.

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Kim Morff practicing at the Women’s Clinic at Turkey Creek.

“We do see a lot of young ladies under 30, but our largest segment is retired women,” said Chris Nelson, the pro at Meadow Lake Acres Country Club in New Bloomfield. “We encourage all ages of women and men to take up golf. It’s a great sport to pick up and one that you can play for a lifetime and also spend time with family and friends.”

Meadow Lake Acres hosts a Nine and Dine event for pairs that runs through September, and there are also guest nights where members can bring friends. Between the months of May and into October, the Jefferson City Country Club, JCCC, hosts several events for women – Ladies Day, where they can play as individuals or in team scrambles and Nine on Wine, where nine holes of golf is followed by wine and dinner.

“Women are still the minority on the golf course but more women continue to play,” said Kevin Dunn, the head pro at JCCC for the past four years who teaches a ladies clinic on Wednesday mornings and has offered individual instruction to beginners as well as more experienced players.

“The way for most PGA Pros to grow rounds at their course is to make golf a family activity and create more leagues for women,” he said.

Cathy Carter, the head women’s golf coach at Lincoln University for the past five years, participates in the women’s events and plays in local tournaments. She practically grew up at JCCC, but didn’t take up golf until the age of 17.

“I was a lifeguard and I played tennis but my parents and my brother played golf,” she said. “Mom would take me out and let me play with her and her friends and they were encouraging. When I hit a good shot, the challenge to do it again motivated me to keep playing.”

During her senior year at Jefferson City High School, she played tennis and volleyball and was a walk-on for the women’s tennis team at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she also played Intramural tennis and other sports. She went on to receive her bachelors of science degree in Dental Hygiene/Hygienist from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry, and then worked for her father, Harold, a dentist in Jefferson City.

She continued to play golf and in 1982, she and her then boyfriend were set to attend the Golf Digest School in Boca Raton, Florida. When they broke up, she decided to take her mother. Carter and her mother Paula, went and received instruction by some big names, including Davis Love Jr., father of pro golfer Davis Love III, and Peter Kostis, then one of the head instructors who has served as a golf analyst for CBS for two decades. For three years, Carter lived in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and worked at the Pro Shop at the PGA National Golf Club, where she also interacted with many golf pros like Jack Grout who coached the legendary Jack Nicklaus.

“It was awesome. I learned a lot about my golf swing and just being around people that were well known in golf, learning from the best was great,” she said.

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Hanna Berendzen, currently on the Lincoln Women’s Golf team, Coach Cathy Carter and Kaitlyn Schwartz on the course at the Jefferson City Country Club.

While playing in a Women’s Western tournament, she met Ellen Port, one of the leading women golfers in the St. Louis area. She became only the second woman to capture both the Mid-Amateur and the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, and is a four-time U.S. women’s Mid-Amateur Champion. She represented the U.S. in two U.S. Curtis Cups and coached the U.S. team in the 2014 competition. The Senior Player of the Year through the Missouri Women’s Golf Association, she’s now the head women’s golf coach at Washington University in St. Louis.

Like Port, Carter is focused on teaching the next generation. While fitness has become more important and there have been major changes in equipment, the fundamentals of golf haven’t changed that much.

“I enjoy practice, watching them hit a ball, helping them get out of trouble and understanding their thinking process,” Carter said. “I like to see young women that really love the game of golf, that like to play in competitions.”

That describes Kaitlyn Schwartz, one of the top golfers that’s ever played for Carter.

“Kaitlyn is a good ball striker and she would ask my advice and trusted that I knew how to help her and she would make the adjustments,” said Carter.

Like many golfers, Schwartz grew up playing with her father.

“I’ve been playing since I was 7,” said Schwartz. “My dad bought my sisters and I all a first set of clubs but I was the only one to go on to play golf. I was always athletic and competitive.”

A graduate of Fatima High School, she played basketball, softball and golf. Since there was no women’s golf team, she played on the boy’s team.

“I played from the boy’s tees and some girls would see that as intimidating but it helped me because at college you’re playing more yardage,” she said.

During her summers she played softball on the weekends and golf during the week and was a member of Gateway PGA Junior Golf Program. Although offered a softball scholarship, golf offered more college money.

“Being a student and an athlete is hectic and it’s a must to keep your grades up for your scholarship. Most players want to get a good education but don’t want to put in the time necessary to be really good and definitely not to try and go pro,” she said.

“I’d be lying if I said playing professionally wasn’t a dream of mine, but the reality is that there are other factors in my life,” Schwartz said. “My father became ill a few years ago and I’m the only daughter who lives close by and I want to help out. I’ve got roots here.”

Schwartz, who earned her associate degree in drafting, two bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering technology and mathematics, and her masters in applied math, has no regrets.

“I love golf and I’ve been around it all my life. I can tell you almost every course I have ever played and still picture a particular hole and how I played it,” she said.

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Cathy Carter and Hanna Berendzen

“Golf is hole by hole and it’s only you. It’s a good way to see how you are as an individual in handling pressure and success or failure,” she said.“It can be relaxing but it’s also unpredictable and stressful. You can have a good day and the next day is a complete 180 and that can be stressful.”

Even though she’s been playing golf for 35 years, Carter has watched her once single-digit handicap fall and her game decline.

“Yesterday my mom and I played together and I scored 46 on the first nine but then all of a sudden something clicked and I scored a lot better on the second nine,” Carter said. “If you hit a couple of bad shots it’s easy to get that negative thing going but you have to learn how to not beat yourself up, to make the best swing and trust in your ability. A lot of success in golf is definitely between the ears.”

Like most long-time golfers, she knows that golf is a fickle game but no matter how many bogies or birdies, the romance is still blooming and she hopes to be like her parents who still play golf in their mid 80s.

While Carter is trying to pass on her love and appreciation for the game, she has found recruitment challenging. “I find coaching very rewarding but I’ve found golf scholarships harder to give out; it’s definitely the most under utilized sport,” she said.

The LPGA and Missouri Women’s Golf Association, MWGA, and other busineses are reaching out to young women to offer clinics and other opportunities for them to take up the game.

During the KPMG sponsored golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, a Women’s Leadership Summit was held along with a Future Leader’s Program, featuring speakers like Condoleeza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, and Annika Sorenstam, one of the most successful pro women’s golfers in history. The goal was to empower the future generation of women golfers to achieve success in the sport and in their careers.

“A lot of girls want to concentrate on their studies and get their education and I understand that but playing golf is a skill that can benefit them their entire life, both socially and in business,” Carter said.

“I’ve gotten to play golf in some of the most beautiful places and met some amazing people,” she said. “Golf is such a big part of me and who I am. I definitely identify with being a golfer.”

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by Shelley Gabert | photos by Kris Wilson and Julie Smith

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