I met Natalie through Instagram and after spending some time talking over the phone, we realized we have a lot of similarities. We both got into the industry when we were 20 and have interests playing at a higher level. While our paths into the golf industry differed, we both ended up doing what we love: teaching golf. Although Natalie wanted nothing to do with golf when she was first introduced, she has a passion for teaching and coming up with ways to make golf exciting. Her out of the box thinking has led her to where she is today, and the only way from here is up!
Here is her story:
What is your current position in the golf industry?
Currently, I work for the First Tee of Phoenix. The First Tee is a junior golf organization, typically for kids between the ages of five and 18, and we promote golf through life skills, our nine core values and our healthy habits. I'm a site coordinator. I currently coach at two different locations in the Phoenix area, as well as look over the National School Program for the First Tee. It's currently not happening right now, because you know, there's not a lot of schools that are going in. But typically, we would help train teachers like PE teachers, or any teachers that are interested that want to coach golf as a PE credit for school. I help them get ready for that and help them train for it.
How did you get into golf and eventually the golf industry?
I started playing golf when I was 13. My parents didn't play sports when they were younger, so they didn't really think I had to. Before freshman year, I wanted to be a part of something because I had a lot of friends that played soccer and softball and all those things. I was talking to my dad and he didn't play golf, but he had friends that played golf, and he said, "Let's just try it."
I was not for it. I did not want to start. I just thought it was for boys. It just wasn't as popular for girls. And that's even just a couple years ago. When I started, my first class was actually a First Tee class. It took about six months for me to actually like, really fall in love with it. I was playing and I started meeting friends and I made it on my high school team. So, the start of my love for golf was really meeting other people and playing tournaments and just getting out there.
And then, let's see, I started volunteering at my home course. I was volunteering for about two years. And then, my junior year of high school they were like, "Want to just become an assistant coach?" It wasn't anything official. I was there all the time and they were like, "Let's just help you out." So, I became an assistant coach for the First Tee.
And then after graduating high school, I didn't really see myself going to a four year. I just honestly didn't really care for school. It wasn't really for me. I kind of wanted to do some schooling that I knew I was going to love and knew that I was actually interested in, so I attended the Golf Academy of America, which is no longer a thing. They closed down I believe, two years ago, which is super unfortunate. But I was able to get in after high school and I went to the San Diego location. It's an 18-month program and you get your associate's degree through Golf Course Management, and I specialized in coaching. And while I was on there, I also worked for the Southern California PGA and I worked for the golf and schools programs.
After San Diego, an opportunity opened up in Northern California to start the First Tee program at a golf course. So, I then did that for four years at Emerald Lakes in Elk Grove, California. I started it from the bottom up and I ended up getting my recognized coach certification. I was working for The First Tee as well with LPGA USGA girls golf as a site coordinator, as well as coaching US Kids Golf. I was doing basically everything golf. I absolutely loved it in Northern California, but I wanted to switch it up, which is why I'm in Arizona. It's kind of where golf is, so I just wanted to be a part of that. I moved here about six months ago.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part is seeing myself in the kids that I coach. I love when I get a kid that is kind of being forced into golf in a way because it just helps me as a coach to make it the most enjoyable thing that they're going to be doing. I do everything that I can to at least have them enjoy it. If they happen to learn something at the end of the day, that's icing on the cake. But it's so rewarding when at the end of that nine weeks, and they're like, "Wait, I actually really liked this, and I had fun, and I'm looking forward to the next session." So, to just trigger that excitement and help introduce golf in a totally different way for these kids is rewarding to me.
What have been your biggest challenges?
I think the biggest challenge was, of course, being a girl. I feel like, you know, I hate even saying that, and that it's even a thing, but it's true. And even going to coaches' trainings and also being so young. I mean, I'm 24. I started as an assistant when I was 20. So, I got a lot of dirty looks starting up at my last course, and they were a little hesitant about everything. It took a couple months to get everyone warmed up to me.
It was just the challenge of being accepted as a coach or having people really realize what I'm doing. Because yeah, I ride around in a cart with pool noodles and hula hoops and all the most random things and people were just so weirded out by it, but I love breaking the barrier. And I love making my games super creative and super fun. So once they actually see the kids that are enjoying it, then it's even better. So, I think the challenge was just being so young and just also being a girl and I hate even saying proving myself, but proving that yeah, I am fully capable of doing this.
It's definitely gotten better throughout the years. And I don't know if that's just because I've been able to meet more people and they actually have an understanding of me or if it actually is getting better in general within the golf world. But those have been the biggest challenges.
What are your future aspirations in the industry?
I would love to compete in long drive. I actually just was talking to another gal that works out here who I ended up meeting up with and she does long drive. I've always been interested in it, but it's always super intimidating. But I've always wanted to do it, so long drive is definitely in the books. And definitely coming up with my own academy. I feel like that's really common for a lot of coaches. But it's really cool, because the best way that I've learned is from other coaches and other programs, so I'd love to come up with my own. My own clinic, my own academy, whatever that looks like, but I just want to be so outside of the box. So it's kind of seeing what everyone else is doing and taking that next step. I also want to get my LPGA card as well. So, that's in the books. I was going to start that last year, but COVID kind of messed things up with tournaments and stuff like that. But yeah, long drive, academy, and LPGA.
How do you think the golf industry benefits from having women in leadership positions?
I think it's amazing. I think it's a domino effect. The more our students see a woman as a leader is amazing. I think it only motivates them more. It's funny because it was almost the opposite for me growing up because all I had were male golf coaches. So, all through high school and all through my big time tournaments, that's all I knew. But I also had a coach growing up, her name was Kelli Corlett, and she was the First Tee program coordinator in Sacramento. And having her as a coach absolutely motivated me to do what I'm doing. It was her motivating me, but it was also the fact that my first golf coach was a male coach, and I thought, "How cool would it be if a woman did this...if I did this?"
But I just feel like we're more creative and know how to have a good time out there. And all people see is PGA Tour or all you see if you look up YouTube videos of golf instructors, it's always this male coach that's doing this YouTube video of how to hold the club. So, I just think that the more we see it, the more motivation we'll have to just do it. I want to break the barrier of it being intimidating for a woman to go on the golf course. I think it's ridiculous. But the more that we see it, the more that we want to do it.
How do you think we can get more women working in the industry?
I think a lot of it starts with being more welcoming at courses. Whether it's more clinics or reaching out to college teams or high school teams. Kids are, especially these days, already thinking about their career when they're so young. You hear the common question of, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" So, I think it's just a matter of having it be more welcoming. And whatever that looks like for your course, whether that looks like a women's league that goes out or women's apparel or little things like that. But just making it a point that when they go to the golf course, they see it, and they know about it, and it's a thing. If we feel welcome, then we're definitely going to start looking into careers in that industry.
What advice or words of inspiration would you give young women just starting out their career in the golf industry?
It's so simple and I hate to pull off Nike, but just do it. You know what I mean? When I was 20 and I was just starting out, I was so nervous to do some things. I was nervous to go to some prestigious golf courses or I was nervous to promote my ideas. Even with my golf Instagram, I go so back and forth like, "Should I do it? No, I just don't have the time," or little things like that. But it's simply just doing it.
If you have an idea, roll with it. Trust yourself, whether you're trying to play in that tournament or whether you're just trying to play on the golf course for the first time. That's the cool thing about golf is that you don't necessarily need someone else to play the game. It's taken me a while to book a tee time as a single player and not worry about having to bring someone but you'll meet other people doing that. So, I think just getting out there and doing it is key. I know that sounds really simple. But for some, it's tough. Know that you are fully capable of doing it on your own and you will meet people along the way.
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