And two shall lead the way
VAIL They dont consider themselves pioneers or trailblazers, but its not hard to recognize what theyre doing is unique.At the Vail Golf Club, Alice Plain is the new director of golf operations and Jeanne Sutherland also started this year as the head golf professional. In the very male world of golf management, they are the only Professional Golfers Association members to hold down these positions at the same course in Colorado.Once in a while, Alice and I will hear a bit of chatter, but as with anything, the first female CEOs, maybe the first female president, there will always be a separation based on that, Sutherland said. Once you start working with that person, that goes away very quickly.As is the nature of the sport of golf, the two have gotten to their positions by virtue of their accomplishments. Sutherland coached the Texas A&Ms womens program from 1992-2007, a tenure which included two Big 12 titles in 1998 and 2006, as well as two nods for conference coach of the year. Plain was part of the then-Big 8 champions at Oklahoma State before graduating in 1990, and has worked her way up through the ranks locally, last serving as head pro at Eagle Ranch in 2005-06.But golf does have its glass ceiling, and these two have shattered it.Its been one of those things Ive battled my whole life, Plain said. In grade school, I tried to get on boys soccer team, and they wouldnt let me play. Its kind of one of those things all those little steps Ive taken in my life, being on the mens golf team in college Im so used to the male nature of this sport and business that I feel like its groomed me to be in this position.Crossing pathsNo one in Sutherlands family played golf. She didnt pick up a club until she was 15 at Dubuque Senior High School in Iowa.My math teacher needed athletes, so he recruited me, Sutherland said. I didnt like to run in track, so that seemed like a perfect option. I still dont want to run.That led to playing and graduating from University of Northern Iowa, which did have a girls golf team. Plain, who grew up in Indiana, where there wasnt girls golf, had to go out for her boys high school team. She had the scores to qualify, but not an open-minded , and was excluded from high school golf. Plain started college at Hanover in Indiana, playing Division III golf for the mens team before transferring to Oklahoma State. Her team finished as high as third at the NCAA Tournament during her time in Stillwater, Okla.Sutherland worked as an assistant golf professional at Vail from 1985-1992 before heading to A&M. Her replacement was young pro from Singletree (now Sonnenalp) Plain.She took my spot, but I have really big shoes, Sutherland joked.Plain was there from 1993-1996 and back in 2000 in between those two stints, she tried to make a go of it playing before moving up the ladder at the then-new Eagle Ranch.For Plain, her return to Vail this spring was an chance for a promotion from head pro to director of operations. Meanwhile, Sutherland was looking for a place to settle down after 15 good years in Aggie-Land.New challengesThe Vail Golf Club is a difficult operation. Located at 8,150 feet with stunning views of the Gore Range, Plain and Sutherland, along with second-year superintendent Steve Sarro, have to balance the publics desire to get out to play with maintaining good conditions for the high season.Both draw on their love of the game to meet their new challenges at Vail. Plain takes pride in the joys of the sport, especially her experiences of introducing kids to the game through The First Tee program. Sutherland looks back at the successes her Texas A&M pupils have had not only on the LPGA Tour, but more so in life.I love the challenge of the game, Sutherland said, echoing Plains comments. You cant go to the store and buy a good game. You have to work at it. I like being outdoors. I like working with people 1-on-1.Plain admits her new role as the courses director is a challenge, but one she welcomes, given all the roadblocks placed in her path previously.Theres definitely some added pressure to succeed, but maybe thats personal pressure, she said.I think the biggest challenge is trying to bring the Vail Golf Club back to a positive light and making it a talked-about place where everyone wants to be. Its had a little bit of a negative aura the last few years. Im very passionate about Vail and the Vail Golf Club. I want the Vail Golf Club to succeed.Both acknowledge the prejudice with which some men might approach taking golf lesson from a woman, though Sutherlands busy appointment book may disagree with that notion. But as Sutherland says, Bottom line is that if you want to improve in golf, you have to improve your score. If you teach somebodys wife enough, eventually the husband will want to catch up. Ive dealt with it my entire career. Its always been a male business. I dont ever let it worry me or bother me. If I did, Id be so caught up in the wrong stuff.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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