At Pine Needles, a distinctive grounds crew is prepping the U.S. Women's Open course
There’s a movement going on behind the scenes at Pine Needles. Actually, it’s in plain sight, but it’s happening so early in the morning and late in the evening that you’ve probably missed it: The grounds crew at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open includes 35 women, the most ever for a major championship.
To say greenkeeping is a male-dominated area in golf is putting it lightly. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America found that only 2 percent of superintendent positions are filled by women. Troy Flanagan, the Director of Maintenance at The Olympic Club, had the idea that when the U.S. Women’s Open came to his course in 2021, women should be preparing that golf course. To help women in the business grow their networks and gain new experiences, the USGA partnered with The Olympic Club and Syngenta (an agricultural science and technology provider) to get female volunteers for the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open. All told, 29 women joined the team at Olympic.
Some of the women there had been working on grounds crews for years. Others, like Sun Roesslein, work in other types of turf industries. Roesslein is from the sports field world. She’s a Sports Stadium Manager in Colorado and is the president-elect of the Sports Field Management Association. The volunteers did everything from raking bunkers to cutting cups.
“We kind of felt like we had something to prove. Like, ‘Hey, we can do a fantastic job, too,’” Roesslein said.
When the U.S. Women’s Open arrived at Pine Needles in 2022, an even larger crew of females assembled to work on the course: 20 new women joined 15 carryovers from Olympic.
Roesslein (on the mower) enjoyed her experience so much working as a volunteer at the U.S. Women's Open at Olympic Club in 2021 that she returned for more duty at Pine Needles.
The volunteers work a morning shift, then go to classes during the day—from diversity and inclusion to women in leadership—and then work another on-course shift in the evening. They are long days, but Roesslein said the comradery of the crew and the importance of the work makes it easy to be motivated.
“It was energizing,” Roesslein said. “There was this underlying buzz all week, like, How cool is this?”
When the opportunity arose to join the crew again at Pine Needles, Roesslein didn’t hesitate.
“Last year was groundbreaking, history making. It was life changing for me. It was pretty inspirational to be around that many women who came from all different parts of the industry, to be able to talk and connect and problem-solve and network,” Roesslein said.
Early in the week, Annika Sorenstam made a point of visiting the greenkeeping staff working at Pine Needles after hearing about the number of women working the championship.
The team's efforts have become known—and appreciated—among players in field. Early in the week, three-time U.S. Women's Open winner Annika Sorenstam made a point of visting the maintenance faciility at Pine Needles to thank the crew for what it's doing.
For Roesslein and the otehrs, it’s about more than preparing a championship golf course: It’s about learning and showing other women that there are career opportunities they may not have considered.
“We wanted to prove that we can do the work and do it at a championship level and produce fantastic results,” Roesslein said. “And it’s about getting the word out: It’s such a great career to be in. So many people just don’t know about it.”