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Women who golf are using a sand wedge to break the glass ceiling

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

It was only when Anne Slattery became a member of the senior management team for a major bank that she started thinking seriously about learning to play golf. In her capacity as head of consumer banking and small business services, she found herself attending a lot of meetings with key movers and shakers.

Women Who Golf - Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Savvy businesswomen know golf is more than just fun - it's a great way to meet and network with other professionals.
Women Who Golf - Breaking the Glass Ceiling

With many of the guys keen golfers, it was not coincidental that these meetings were often held at great golf resorts like Lansdowne Resort in Virginia and Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in North Carolina.

When the morning meetings were over, the men headed to the golf course, while Anne, who didn't play the game, was on her own to go shopping, get a spa treatment or do whatever it is women were expected to do in their free time. This, she thought, had to change.

"It's not that I didn't know the game," said Anne. "I'm from a golfing family. Seventy years ago, my father was the Massachusetts amateur champion, as was his sister Mary. I understood what golf was, but I had never really played it much."

Being left behind at the bag drop was no fun. It was, however, incentive enough for Anne to join a local club, start taking lessons and enroll in a three-day golf school.

"I realized golf was a phenomenal way to network and connect," she says. "I was missing out on a terrific opportunity. Now that I can play golf reasonably well, I find golf enormous fun as well as a wonderful way to meet and network with other business professionals."

According to a Barrons Report, an estimated 90 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs play golf.

With women making up 60 percent of today's work force, it is no surprise that more and more ladies are finding time to learn how to play golf. They are realizing what CEOs like Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Donald Trump and Charles Schwab have known all along: 18 holes of match play will teach you more about your opponent than 18 years of dealing with him (or her) across a desk.

If men can use golf to get ahead in their companies, why shouldn't women?

Indeed, they do. High profile women executives like Dawn Hudson, former president of Pepsi-Cola North America, designer Vera Wang and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice play the game.

Joan Chickvary Cavanaugh, former division head at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an active member of the Florida-based Executive Women's Golf Association (EWGA), is also a player. She founded the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program in Fairfield County, Conn., organizes women's only golf clinics and has been writing books directed to professional women who want to play the game.

"Success on the golf course and success in business have a lot in common," says Joan. "In both, you have to know how to focus, prepare well in order to perform well and need to have a positive attitude. You have to learn how to perform under pressure and sudden challenges, and be able to process a lot of information in a short period of time. You also need to be up-to-date and informed about the latest technology. Having a sense of humor helps, too.

"Think about it: No matter how many times the phone has rung in your office, fires you have put out and meetings you have sat through, once you are out on the golf course, you're surrounded by green grass, wild flowers, nature. What better place to spend four or five uninterrupted hours (no cell phones) getting to know someone better and to learn more about what makes them tick? How they think, their values, their sense of integrity or lack of it."

You'll see how they handle challenges. For example, after taking three to get out of a pot bunker, does she (or he) regroup mentally and put that hole behind or grumble or go ballistic with the next "challenge" as the frustrations mount?

The Executive Women's Golf Association

The EWGA, which offers a wide range of organized golf activities to more than 20,000 career-oriented women who share a passion for the game, boasts a surprising 93 percent retention rate after their first joining year. Pam Swensen, EWGA's CEO, believes the convenience of organized play opportunities and networking opportunities - along with a curriculum that assists women who want to learn how to play golf as well as help those who are already playing to improve - are critical factors in this excellent success rate.

With 2.5 million women playing golf, this adds up to a lot of economic clout. For example, EWGA members from the 120 chapters in 39 states alone shell out about $577,000 in annual golf-related spending, according to a study by the PGA of America, which revealed that these members spent on average $3,993 on golf fees, lessons, equipment, and food and beverage in the past 12 months; 63 percent of this membership segment also reported annual spending of $2,212 on golf-related travel.

"We always knew our members were passionate about golf and our association, but we still were impressed by the PGA's finding on the total dollars that our chapters generate for the golf industry," says Swensen. "Through collaboration and savvy marketing, we intend to bring thousands of additional women into the EWGA and the game of golf."

Now that Carol Baumann, public relations director for Cranwell Resort, Spa & Golf Club in Lenox, Mass., is dealing with a lot of resort guests both leisure and corporate, she says she is determined to learn how to play.

"I see it as a wonderful way to get to know people and to be outside. My only experience at the game was playing miniature golf when I was a kid, and I was terrible at that," she said. "A few months ago, I didn't even know what par was. I just remember when I was growing up a lot of people had funny nicknames like bogie and birdie. Now I know what these things mean."

Carol, who is just starting to take lessons from Cranwell's pro, adds, "I see it as relaxing, a way to unwind."

Well, some might debate that point, but I say, "Go for it, Carol."

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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