"Don’t be scared to ask for what you want." -Carissa Shaw (Simmons), Griffin Golf

Carissa has worked as an Assistant Golf Professional for seven years and has now found her passion as a full-time teacher with Griffin Golf in Washington. Carissa is a natural leader, exudes energy, and doesn’t let any type of challenge stand in her way. She has forged her own path to success and her conviction to pursue her passion is more than inspiring.

Here is her story:

Describe your journey in the golf industry.

I played at the University of Montana. My senior year was not my best season mentally, physically, and emotionally; it was a tough environment. Once I graduated, I honestly didn't feel like playing golf ever again. Ironically, that summer, l ended up going to work at the golf course. That is what I did every summer before that, and I wasn't sure what else I wanted to do. After that summer I moved home to Boise, Idaho and accepted a position as a marketing coordinator at a construction engineering firm. I started that job in September and worked there for six months. The pay was good, the people were incredible, but I didn’t love the “job.”

During my time in this role, I reached out to the Head Golf Professional at the local country club. He had a woman golf professional on staff a few years back and I wanted to know more. We had lunch one day and I just asked him, "Can women be golf pros?" It sounds like a silly question, but I really didn’t know. I had never seen a female golf professional before. He assured me women can be golf professionals and are a tremendous asset to the business. This got my wheels turning. Should I be a golf professional?

A couple of months passed when he reached out to me, asking me to lunch. He notified me they had a position open as an Assistant Golf Professional and wanted to know if I would be interested. At this point, I was six months into my desk job. I took some time and I remember thinking that I can always go back to a desk. I took the position as Assistant Golf Professional at Crane Creek Country Club under one of the best PGA Professionals in the business and have been in the industry ever since. I am so grateful he convinced me that a career in golf was possible for women. I worked there for two and a half years before choosing to spread my wings and move to Seattle.

How did you end up teaching at Griffin Golf after working as an Assistant Golf Professional?

In 2017, I was working at a private club as an Assistant Golf Professional and I had my hand in everything from tournaments, women's clinics, junior clinics, merchandising, you name it. That June, just as the season was revving up, our Head Golf Professional decided to quit. I was presented with the opportunity to fill the void and act as Interim Head Golf Professional and get the organization through the season. I accepted and looked forward to the challenge.

Unfortunately, in July, our other Assistant Professional decided to quit due to the high stress and pressure of being away from home. That left me and the Director of Golf/GM trying to take care of 400 people in the middle of the season where the chaos and list of events never stops.

We did it. We made it through the season working sun up to sun down to provide the best possible experience for our membership, regardless of the lack of staff. That September is when the season caught up with me. I believe I was incredibly rundown and because I functioned at such a high level for as long as I could, my body finally shut down.

Carissa was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves. It paralyzed her and she was hospitalized under full-time care, but she walked out of the hospital after 77 days of treatment. In the video below, Carissa talks about her experience.

Before Carissa got sick, she was making plans for what her role was going to be at the golf course for the next season. After performing the role of head pro, she knew she did not want to go back to being an assistant. She knew she wanted to be engaged with the membership and be able to teach, so she took on the role of Director of Member Engagement. With another person hired into the role of Director of Golf Operations, the two would share the responsibilities of a Head Golf Professional, in theory. However, the role ended up not being exactly what Carissa had hoped it would be. But she put her head down, did her work, and got through the next season. Once fall approached, she reevaluated her options and the picture became clearer.

For the first time in my career, I had a line in the sand where I knew what I wanted to do. And until that moment, I didn't honestly know for the last six years. I never knew what I really wanted. Do I want to be a head pro? Do I want to teach full time? How do I want to spend my time?

Carissa now knew she wanted to pursue her passion of teaching. However, she faced difficulties when it came to implementing the type of career she wanted with her facility.

I had to decide, do I just accept this position that's not really my dream job? Or do I say bye to this really incredible facility with really incredible people to take a huge risk and start doing it my own way, how I really want to do it? About a week went by or so and [my boss] asks, "Have you decided what you want to do?" And I said, “I want to go work for the Griffins.”

Fast forward, I leave the private club in January and over the course of the next year, I was able to teach golf in schools, coach for PLU women’s golf team, teach at two public golf courses (Allenmore, High Cedars), one private facility (Fircrest) and be able to teach at our indoor studio in Sumner. I was living out my dream of being a woman golf professional teaching golf in as many places as possible!

Carissa got several job offers from different courses but was not interested in working at another course like she did before. Carissa was basically an independent contractor that would go to different courses to teach both individually and through clinics. Before long, she found that her vision was becoming a reality as more and more courses reached out to her to offer her the ability to come teach or run clinics at their facilities.

How do you think we can get more women working in the golf industry?

For me, it was either this [job] or I was out of the business. I decided that I'm going to try to do it my own way or I'm done because how everybody else is doing it doesn't fit my lifestyle. When I have children someday, I want to be at their soccer games, go to their school programs, and be able to cook dinner for my family. After my illness, I truly understood how much those moments mean to me and how much I was tired of missing out. My goal was to try and create a job for myself, and potentially other women, that is desirable and still gives them the flexibility to have a career but also not miss out on their family's lives.

Carissa would love to see the business grow to where they can hire more interns, create career paths for them, and then have a job lined up for them at a course running player development schools, just as one example among many possibilities.

Not only are we helping facilities, creating golfers, and creating welcoming environments for these women and children, but also hopefully someday, building enough demand that we can create new positions in golf. We hope to build opportunities for golf professionals (especially women) to have a desirable career that allows them to do what they love, but also the flexibility to take a guilt-free vacation and be present more often for their friends and families.

How do you think the golf industry benefits from having women in leadership positions?

Like we've discussed, there's not a lot of women in the golf industry and we didn't see women golf professionals growing up. It is important for girls and young women to simply see us doing it, so they know it is possible. I was someone very versed in the world of golf, and I didn’t even know if I could be a woman golf professional. I believe girls need role models too, and hopefully we can be that for them.

I remember giving a junior clinic and was asked to hit a drive. I stepped up, ripped it, and the male golf professional said, “Oh yeah! She hits it like a boy, doesn't she?!" He meant it as a compliment, as in, I hit it far. But that comment didn’t sit well with me. I remember thinking, girls can't have speed? Girls can't have power? Girls can't be strong? I turned to the group and said “No, no, no! I didn’t hit it like a boy...I hit it like a girrrrrrl!” There's that perception that girls or women can't hit it far or they're not as good. I think it's important for girls to see, especially at a young age, that they can hit it far and they can be just as good as the boy counterparts in their class. They need to see it to know it’s possible to be great at golf, and that we all started just like they did.

Do you have any advice for women starting their careers in the golf industry?

Work hard, be respectful, be brave, and play in everything!

First, I think it is important when you start in the industry that you have a strong work ethic. Be the go getter and always follow through. You will work long hours but it is so important to spend this time learning everything you can in the business from teaching and coaching, to tournament organization, merchandising, management techniques, and customer service. When you get into the business I encourage you to try your hand at all of it, and start to figure out what you are good at and what you really enjoy.

Second, be respectful. Unfortunately, there will be times in your career where you will be challenged or disrespected because you are a female. This is when you need to be brave. Be brave enough to take the high road. Or, be brave enough to stand up for yourself. Know your worth not as a woman, but as a golf professional. Don’t be scared to ask for what you want, or more importantly what you deserve.

And lastly, play in everything. Not because you are going to win, but because it is a part of the culture and important for you to build relationships with your peers. There is no better way to do that than on the putting green of a pro-am, or crowded around a table after a tournament. It is important you get to know those around you in your industry and use those relationships and mentorships to help fuel your future and assist you in becoming a better golf professional.

Thank you so much, Carissa, for sharing your story! I am so happy we were able to meet in person last month before I left Seattle. Whenever I hear the quote, "Though she be but little, she is fierce," I think of Carissa. Her kick@$$ energy is contagious and I am so excited to follow her journey as she pursues her goals in the golf industry.

You can follow Carissa on Instagram, @cariscross, and remember to follow @golf.hers on Instagram and Facebook too.

Subscribe below!