During the summer of 2019, my own golf course had the opportunity to host the New England PGA Professional Championship where I first saw Sara Dickson play. I saw a blonde lefty line up on the first tee and everyone at our course thought she was me. Immediately, I knew I had to talk to her, especially after hearing nothing but compliments from various professionals at the event. I am honored and privileged to say I had the opportunity to interview Sara and write this blog about her. She brings in a unique perspective to the golf industry and shares fantastic advice for other women in the industry.
Here is her story:
What is your current position in the golf industry?
I have been the first Assistant at The Country Club for two years.
When did you first get introduced to golf?
So, my parents do not play golf. Really no one in my immediate family had played golf and randomly, my neighbors were actually selling a set of left-handed golf clubs at a yard sale. Golf is not very popular where I grew up. I didn't even have a collared shirt at the time. But the clubs didn't sell and they said, 'Sara, you can have these clubs, we know you're left-handed because you break our windows playing basketball. So, here you go, you can have these clubs.' I was probably 11 and they sat in the garage for, you know, a year or two.
And then, I think my grandfather said to my parents, 'You should really get Sara some lessons.' And my parents had no idea how to schedule a golf lesson or where to go for a golf lesson. So, they signed me up for this public junior camp, and it would meet like every Thursday, and it was kind of the 'inner-city camp.' I didn't like golf at all. I played a lot of other sports because I have a twin brother and I was always doing whatever he was doing. Also, golf was not easy. Whereas basketball was pretty easy and came naturally to me and soccer was pretty easy too, but golf wasn't. I didn't like it, I felt completely intimidated. I couldn't even tee the ball up.
I would tell my parents, like every week, why I shouldn't go to this class. And finally, on the fourth week of this class, I was starting to hit, I guess, what were some pretty good shots. And the teacher pulled me aside and said, "Hey Sara, if you want to work here and pick the range, we'll let you practice for free." I was 13 at the time and I said, "Well, do you pay more than babysitting?" I really didn't like babysitting at all. And they were like, "What do you make babysitting?" I didn't know what I made babysitting, maybe 5 dollars an hour. They offered to pay me something like 5 dollars and 5 cents.
That was all the convincing that Sara needed. She said goodbye to babysitting and started working at a course called Firefly in Seekonk, Massachusetts at the age of 13. Although she was able to escape babysitting, picking the range was not the easiest job in the world.
I actually ended up literally hand-picking a range. The cart never worked and I obviously didn't have a driver's license. And the range that I was picking barely had grass. It was all kinds of stones and pebbles. So you literally had to take your hand and actually hand-pick the balls in between these little stones.
Although it was hard, Sara worked at Firefly all through middle and high school. Not only did she get to make a bit of money, she also got to do something that was completely different than anything she had done before.
It was the best thing ever because I'm a twin and it was nice, as I said, to do something different than my twin brother. So, I would go to Firefly and hang out all day. I had no idea what I was doing, but I would hit balls and then I would pick the range at night. I ended up very organically starting to watch the teachers give lessons. Then, I started to take lessons. And then, they encouraged me to play my first tournament. All of a sudden, I'm 18 years old, and I'm teaching ladies clinics at this place. So, that was my introduction into both golf and the business virtually at the same time.
But the reason why I actually got into the business was when I was in high school. I was being recruited by Brown for golf and possibly basketball and long story short, my mom works there. I had the grades to get in and my college counselors were like, "Okay, things are looking really good." And the day came where I was going to find out if I get in or not, and I got completely rejected.
I hadn't applied anywhere else because everybody thought I'd get in, and it was the best thing that ever happened because then I went to Methodist. They had also been recruiting me for golf. And it was great because I got out of Rhode Island where I grew up and I did some great internships such as Newport Country Club in 2006 when they had the Women's Open and Pinehurst in 2008 when we had the U.S. Amateur.
And that's literally how it happened. It was a fortuitous thing of my neighbor selling golf clubs and then me getting rejected by Brown. And here we are.
Describe your journey through the golf industry to where you are now.
For the past 11 years, I have worked seasonally. I have primarily held kind of like all-encompassing assistant jobs. Traditionally, I've been in charge of the women's events. And you know, as the First Assistant, you're in charge of all the scheduling and staffing and overseeing the shop and all the events. But I also love teaching as well. And I had one job where it was primarily teaching, and I actually didn't like it as much as I thought. So, it kind of taught me that I do like the variety of things and that I give a lot better lessons when I'm not giving eight in a row. #Relatable
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
Hands down, I would say it has to do with the people that you're around. Let's say you're giving a lesson and someone's getting better at golf, but they're also becoming a happier person. I had someone tell me one time that I saved their marriage, which is a little bit intense. But golf plays such a big role in people's lives. And when they're doing well in that activity, it can affect outside of golf things as well.
So, it's definitely the people side of the business. But then, it's also just the mentoring. Even though I'm not technically a head pro yet, there's been a lot of interns and assistants that I've worked with that might have been younger, and together we were kind of navigating like, 'Okay, what's your next step? What does your resume look like? What are you doing today to get better for tomorrow?' And I think when you look at the business long term, if you're not intrinsically motivated to appreciate the people around you and seeing them succeed as well, whether its members or staff, it's probably going to be a pretty limiting business.
But if you are appreciative of the members and the staff and seeing their success, then I think, you know, the world is your oyster; you're just going to keep on enjoying what you do.
We're in the people business. Yes, we run tournaments, we hand out scorecards, we teach lessons, we buy merchandise. At the end of the day, it's like golf is the avenue of what we're doing, but we're in the people business.
What's the biggest challenge you face in the industry?
Maybe I'm kind of an oddball when it comes to this, but I think because I grew up in the business, I'm never very surprised or aggravated when things happen that might surprise or aggravate other people. I don't know why, maybe it's just my personality. But a challenge, especially in the Northeast, is that in the summertime, the sun stays out pretty late at night. I think the challenge that every golf pro faces is, 'What can I get done during the daylight of the day and what can I save to do at night? And then how do I also balance that with life?' I would say that's the biggest challenge and that's going to be something that really hits home in the next five to ten years with, especially younger assistants. I really do think our industry is in for a little change because we have to mimic other industries where there's a little bit more work-life balance.
How do you think the golf industry benefits from having women in leadership positions?
I try very hard to not coin myself as "the woman golf pro." I just try really hard to be a golf pro. So, to answer that from a really broad perspective, I would say that the clubs would benefit from anyone in a leadership position who is approachable and genuinely cares about all different niches and demographics of the membership.
There's probably an entire niche at most clubs of men who might be getting older who don't feel as comfortable playing golf anymore, who have lost some distance and need some technique assistance to help them enjoy the game again. At the end of the day, whether a pro is a man or a woman, the most important factors are approachability and genuine interest in every single demographic of the membership.
I just try to do things that would be great for any golf pro to do.
I also agree that the idea of being coined as the "female golf pro" is not something I want to necessarily promote. This is actually where the name "Golfhers" came from. It acknowledges that yes, we are female, but at the end of the day, we are just golfers like everyone else and we should be admired for our skill and passion, not defined solely by our gender.
How do you think we can get more women working in the golf industry?
That is the million dollar question. And that's what I've thought a lot about. Like, how come there are so many interested guys, and not as many interested women when it comes to being a club pro? First, I think it's healthy to look at the industry with a little bit broader lens than just a green grass facility. If you look at people who work for Golf Digest and golf.com and some of the big manufacturers, there are a lot of women in very good, high-up roles in those companies. So, I think our viewpoint has been a little bit skewed in the fact that yes, there are less women technically going into green grass facilities and therefore needing a PGA education and background, but women are in the business for sure.
When it comes to the actual green grass club pro, I think there's a very interesting element that happens here. So, any junior golfer who's a girl who plays to a high level, that girl is going to be the one who sticks with golf. And if you're really good at it, you're probably going to play Division I golf. And if you're really good at that, you're probably going to try to play professionally after school. So, of the people that I know who have done that, when it's time to step aside from that, and now it's time to "get a real job," I think those people, because golf has been their entire life, they navigate to something completely different. And I don't think they want to go into a club pro world where they know they've competed to a certain level and now they're not going to do that, whereas, there's so many guys who played golf as kids and loved it but weren't going to play professionally. Those same guys are like, "That's what I'll do, I'll be a club pro."
So, in order to get women club pros, we need women junior golfers, and we need a lot more of them who maybe aren't the best ever and who aren't going to go on to play professionally. We've already seen a huge growth in the PGA Junior League in the last seven years. It's gone from like 30 teams nationwide to, I don't even know how many they have, but we had two alone at The Country Club. I think that even though in the first layers of peeling back the onion, it may seem that the PGA is not recruiting enough women into these golf management programs, they're doing a massive effort at the junior golf level, which I think is brilliant."
What are your future aspirations in the golf industry?
For the past five years, I've been very focused on making sure I have the experience, the education, and the background to be a strong candidate for head pro jobs. And I have been applying to them for a few years and I've gotten really close at some, and I am just keeping on that track of finding the place that makes the most sense location-wise and with the culture of the club. That's my my first and immediate goal.