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The New Fountain of Youth Part II: LPGA-USGA Girls Golf

By: Nancy Berkley


At the new CME Group Titleholders tournament at the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Fla., in two weeks, Lexi Thompson and other young LPGA Tour players will not be the only new girls working for the LPGA. As of May 2011, Kiernan Schindler, a former LPGA Tour player with a strong marketing background, became the new director of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program.

With a 10-year-old daughter in the program herself, Schindler knows what girls like. Not surprisingly, when you look at the new Girls Golf website (www.lpga.com/girlsgolf) you will see Kiernan's skills already at work: a brand-new tag line for Girls Golf: "Changing Lives One Swing at a Time."

The LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program was founded in 1989 by grants from both the LPGA and USGA charitable foundations. But until now and, in my opinion, the program never developed its place in the landscape of junior golf programs, especially programs for girls. (Throughout this article, I will often shorten the program name to just "Girls Golf" but it is important to remember that the program remains jointly funded by the LPGA Foundation and the USGA Foundation, both of which are 501(c)(3) charitable organizations.)

Girls Golf offers programs for girls of all skill levels from ages 7 to 17. Last year, about 7,000 girls participated in programs at about 225 sites all over the United States. If you go to the website, you will see a map with program locations and an easy way to find out if there is one in your area. Some of the Girls Golf programs are held side-by-side with First Tee.

A word to parents who wisely monitor their children's access to the internet and Facebook: You can easily share this article with them. And, for a great newsletter written just for girls, click the "Girls Golf" tab at the top of the LPGA.com website. In the middle of the Girls Golf home page opposite the U.S. map, click on "Read the Girls Golf Newsletter." Your daughter, granddaughter, niece or any young girl you know will love it.

Since there is so much new about the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program, I decided to interview Kiernan about her background, how she ended up at the LPGA and her vision for the program. And, here it is. An interview with Kiernan Schindler, the new Director of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program.

Nancy Berkley: Kiernan, I know you are a great golfer yourself. Why did you start playing golf?

Kiernan Schindler: I started playing because for some reason that I can't even remember now, I was "grounded." My father told me that the only way I could leave the house was if I joined the golf team. I guess I had shown an interest in the game by then. I started seeing more success on the team. I was hooked and played every day until I caught and surpassed the level of my more experienced teammates.

NB: You attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina and played on the college team and then made it to the LPGA Tour. What made you decide that you didn't want to remain a Tour player after all?

KS: First, I wasn't a star on the tour - I struggled. And I didn't like the idea that I would be traveling so much. I think some people are not cut out for the life of a tour player - always moving around. I loved having a stable home base and developing friendships.

NB: With all that work to become a tour player, do you look back now as a wife and mother of two children ages 10 and seven, and think that maybe it was a waste of your time in high school or college?

Kiernan Schindler,
Director of LPGA-Girls Golf

KS: Absolutely not! The experience I had competing at the highest level allows me to be who I am today. I am able to handle tough situations, pressure and be a confident person who does not shy away from challenges.

NB: And after the tour, you went into marketing. Tell us a little more about that and how it relates to your new position as director of Girls Golf?

KS: I started my marketing career working at PowerBar - a popular nutrition bar. It was one of the most interesting experiences for someone coming off the tour with relatively no business experience. I was heavily involved in marketing a product that went from $10 million to $100 million in revenue with just a few products. I had millions of dollars to spend on acquiring athletes to promote PowerBar in the golf community. It was a great match of my marketing and golf skills. And then, I got married, moved to the East coast, and here I am at the LPGA heading up Girls Golf - another great fit - marketing and golf.

NB: Let's talk about the Girls Golf program. Are the instructors all LPGA teaching professionals? If not, how do you find instructors that are good at teaching golf to girls?

KS: Instructors have to be either LPGA- or PGA-certified. However, we have site directors that come from Executive Women's Golf Association (EWGA), Girls Scouts of America, parks and recreation (departments), and local community members. We have a very strong initiative right now to recruit more LPGA instructor-members to run our programs in key markets, and this number will grow significantly in 2012.

NB: Have you established a standard curriculum for all your sites.

KS: Every site director is now working off of our five goals. We call them the "Five E's": We Empower our girls to feel they can accomplish their goals; We Enrich their lives by teaching them a game they can play and enjoy with friends for a lifetime; We Engage the girls to become involved and make a difference in their communities; We Exercise their minds & bodies and help them realize their potential; We Energize them with our vitality and enthusiasm by sharing our love for the game.

NB: This is really important. We talked about making the Girls Golf programs affordable. How much does it cost to participate in a Girls Golf program?

KS: It costs $10 to register and join Girls Golf. Once registered, girls receive a hat, backpack, ball mark, rules and communications from the LPGA. At the local level - where the programs take place, there is variation among the costs for each session. The range is from no cost at all to $20 per session to attend the sessions and learn how to play the game.

NB: But running the program and providing the instruction must cost more. How is that funded?

KS: Some of the programs at the local level receive subsidies and additional funding from the LPGA Foundation. That's what we call our "Grant Program." This helps not only new sites, but those that are in the growth mode and are needing some support to improve their infrastructure, pay more professionals, utilize equipment to improve the experience or as a scholarship for girls that otherwise would not be able to participate. We are always there as a resource when sites are looking for local fund raising ideas that can help them to support their program and make it available and more affordable for the girls.

NB: So, let's say you are a girl or the parent of a girl who is looking for a local Girls Golf program, how would you find one?

KB: Our website has a listing of all of our sites, but don't let that stop you if there is nothing listed in your area. Contact a local professional and see if they can help to teach the program, then either you or anyone in the community can find the girls, get the girls applications in and off you go!! The website details the three-step program to set up a site.

Of course, behind the scenes, I work with a terrific team. Nancy Henderson, LPGA Senior Vice President and Director of the Teaching and Club Professional division, is also the head of LPGA Foundation which funds and supports Girls Golf. Nancy is integral to the program and has a special love for this part of her job. Sherry Greene is Programs Director for Girls Golf and is the go-to person on day-to-day operations of the program. Our third key player is Rana Haakenson, Program Coordinator. Rana handles the majority of our scholarships, grants and database management. If anyone has a question about how to start a program or run a program or fund a Girls Golf site, we have a team of experts that can deal with any question or problem. And I can't forget to mention our Commissioner Mike Whan. He is always there for us.

NB: I know that over the last year the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program has been the recipient of some very special donations. R.R. Donnelly, a Fortune 500 Company, together with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, inaugurated the Founders Cup tournament to officially honor the small group of devoted women golfers who founded the LPGA in 1950. Would you tell us about that and what it has meant to the growth of Girls Golf?

KS: The R.R. Donnelly Company really stepped up with a $500,000 donation in 2011 and additionally has committed the same amount for 2012. This money has gone directly back into the Grant Program to support our local sites. We have seen a 15% growth in sites since the March donation. Additionally, we will be sponsoring 10 clinics at LPGA Tour sites in 2012 where we will invite all local junior programs to interact with our LPGA Tour players and, where possible, our local site directors for Girls Golf. Our Girls Golf events at LPGA tournaments are a huge part of our program and we know that this is something that brings the girls to our events.

NB: For the first time, there is going to be a Girls Golf national tournament: the first inaugural LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Team Championship & Academy at the Kiawah Island Club in Kiawah Island, S.C., in June of 2012. In that tournament, participants will be competing for the Bell-McIntire Trophy, which will honor former USGA President Judy Bell and two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion Barbara McIntire, two pioneers for junior golf and, in particular, girls' golf. For all the girls and parents reading this, will you have to be a really good golfer to participate in the Kiawah event?

KS: No is the answer! We will have all levels there and many flights - that is tournaments within the tournament based on skill levels. Girls who are just starting out will not have to compete with the girls who are at a higher skill levels. Additionally, it is really going to be an experience the girls who participate will never forget. Kiawah Island Club is a phenomenal setting, the girls will not want to leave as we will take care of them from start to finish and make sure they leave more knowledgeable about golf and why it is something that really enhances their lives. There will be more information coming out soon about the tournament and it will be on our website.

NB: One of the sponsors of Girls Golf is the Girl Scouts. Can girls earn badges in golf if they belong to a Girls Scouts program? Do they have to do that at a special course with a special instructor?

KS: The badge available through the Girl Scouts in relation to Girls Golf is a "try it" badge. I actually ended up hosting a program at my local club this year and we had 30 girls earn a "try it" badge. They loved it and several have decided to pursue lessons and join the local Girls Golf program.

NB: I began this article talking about the final tournament of the season: the CME Group Titleholders tournament coming up November 17-20 at the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando. I know from attending LPGA tournaments, that admission is "free" for children under the age of 17 if they are accompanied by a ticketed adult. But, at some tournaments they have junior clinics and some cute giveaways. What are your plans for Girls Golf at the Titleholders?

KS: So glad you asked that! One of the programs that I am proudest of in my new role is working on the programs for girls at our LPGA tournaments. At the Titleholders, there will be programs for girls all day long from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. We are calling it the LPGA Junior Golf EXTRAVAGANZA! (And, by the way, boys are welcome, too.)

Here are some highlights: We have a special "Where is Lexi?" scavenger hunt that will go on all day with clues around the course. [Lexi Thompson, age 16, is the youngest player in the CME Group Titleholders tournament.] From 10:45 until noon, we have a special video golf swing analysis set up for girls to see their swing just the way the pros do. And at the end of the day, from 3 to 4 p.m., we will have an LPGA Tour Ice Cream Social set up in the CME Group Expo area. All of the events are free! See http://www.lpga.com/content/JuniorGolfExtravaganzaSchedule.pdf.

NB: Okay, Kiernan, here's my last question. And, it's a big one. Share your vision with us about what Girls Golf will look like five years from now.

KS: I have the vision: Girls Golf will be a recognized program - with more girls and more sites all across the country. It will have a very flexible structure. It will be affordable and accessible. Whether you are able to participate in one event or 20 events, you will still be a member and feel connected to a community of girls that share a love for the game of golf. The training will be superior and all the equipment will be donated and cutting edge. The experience will be life changing!

NB: Go for it, Kiernan! And, I want to help. This holiday season, I am going to make a donation to the LPGA Foundation, and I will put a little message on my holiday cards about the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program.

Making a donation is easy to do right from the Girls Golf home page on the LPGA.com website. See https://www.lpgaonline.com/Donations/. [Donations are accepted in all amounts.] I think it's time for all women golfers to get on board with your vision, Kiernan, and make sure that another and even greater generation of women golfers is coming up behind us.

For the first part of this series, visit http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/the_new_fountain_of_youth_part_1_the_lpga_tour.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications. She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.