On a recent afternoon at Talking Stick Golf Club, the course was peppered with golfers.
Among them were Lorel Hayward, 17, her sister, Kendall Hayward, 15, and Brooke McGlasson, 13.
Not only were they the youngest golfers on the course, but they also were three of the only female golfers.
While nationally and locally female golfers are on the rise, there’s still work to be done, said Cori Matheson, director of the LPGA USGA Girls Golf of Phoenix – a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide girl-friendly environments for juniors to learn the game of golf.
“There’s probably 100 people out there on the range, and on the putting green, I think I saw two women. One was leaving and one was the lesson and then us,” Matheson said.
Matheson grew up playing golf in Scottsdale and took over the local Girls Golf program in December 2013.
Lorel, Kendall and Brooke are all members of Girls Golf of Phoenix, just one of more than 415 communities across the country that are part of the LPGA USGA Girls Golf junior golf program.
Golfing isn’t the only common thread in the three young female golfers’ lives, either: They’re all determined to prove that golf is no longer a boy’s game.
“When I was in elementary school, people viewed golf differently than they do now, especially for females,” said Lorel, a senior at Highland High, who recently finished in the top 10 of the girls D-1 state championship.
“Now, they see the opportunities it’s brought me and everything I’ve been able to accomplish through golf,” Lorel said. “Now they think it’s cool.”
Junior golf increased in participation by 600,000 from 2011 to 2015, according to a study by the Sports Industry Association. It was the largest jump in total volume compared to other youth sports, including soccer, basketball, football and baseball.
According to the National Golf Foundation’s 2018 Golf Industry Report, women comprise 24 percent of all golfers, an increase of more than 13 percent over the past five years. In 2016, 34 percent of the 2.5 million new golfers were female.
And of the 2.9 million junior golfers ages 6-17 in 2016, 33 percent were female – up from 17 percent in 1995.
As Matheson puts it, “We’re in a girl world right now.”
“Golf has changed. It’s athletic, it’s feminine, it’s fun,” she said. “That’s why I loved Girls Golf. It took something that was traditionally a man’s world and turned it into something that was more fun for a girl.”
Matheson, who hosts more than 40 events each year through Girls Golf of Phoenix, has seen this increase in young female golfers firsthand in Scottsdale and throughout the Valley.
“I do see golf on an upswing. I see opportunity on an upswing,” Matheson said. “In the last five to 10 years, we’re seeing more inclusion.”
Girls Golf of Phoenix has host facilities throughout the Valley, and its home base in Scottsdale is Grayhawk Golf Club.
In 2018, Matheson had 230 members in Girls Golf of Phoenix. In total, LPGA USGA Girls Golf has more than 70,000 members, prompting her to note, “Our golf world used to be less than 10 percent female and now it looks a little bit more 50-50.”
The members of Girls Golf of Phoenix are young, too; the average age is 10.
Brooke started golfing when she was just 4. Her father and grandfather both played and introduced her to the sport.
Attending the LPGA Bank of Hope Founders Cup also spurred Brooke’s excitement for the sport. She was 7 the first time she attended the annual, four-day event established to honor the 13 original founders of the LPGA.
“I remember just being really excited because I saw all the girls were wearing pink and I was really little when I first started going,” Brooke said.
This year, the ninth annual Bank of Hope Founders Cup will return to Phoenix. It’ll be held at the Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa March 18-24 and will be televised live on The Golf Channel all four days.
To date, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program has received almost $3 million from tournament proceeds.
What makes this year’s Founder Cup so special is it marks the LPGA USGA Girls Golf’s 30-year anniversary. It was founded in Phoenix in 1989 by Sandy LaBauve, an LPGA teaching professional.
“Because it’s here, our Phoenix girls are the ones who get to represent that as a whole,” Matheson said.
This year’s Founders Cup will also host for the first time on March 21 the Women’s Leadership Forum, an extension of its annual “What’s Fore Lunch” program.
Moderated by LPGA major champion and Golf Channel host Karen Stupples, the Women’s Leadership Forum features a panel of influential community leaders in the Valley.
Community leaders include Filippa McDougall, the new director of golf operations at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa; Jamie Rahaeuser, FSOP division manager at Swire Coca Cola; and Beth McDonald, Valley radio personality.
The keynote speaker is LPGA spokeswoman Roberta Bowman.
“The LPGA is a celebration of powerful women in golf and we’re excited to kick off the tournament with the help of these influential business leaders,” said Scott Wood, Bank of Hope Founders Cup tournament director, in a prepared statement. “It is our goal to advance and empower women, across industries, by connecting these featured guests with the next generation of leaders.”
Matheson calls the Founders Cup a great tool for empowering the young golfers.
“It elevates what they expect from their game versus if they just had a couple friends they played with, they wouldn’t really know what the future could hold,” she said. “It gives them a chance to see that elite level.”
Lorel, Kendall and Brooke have been heavily involved with the Founders Cup, from volunteering at an informational booth for Girls Golf to being a flag holder on the 18th hole. Matheson gave Brooke the opportunity to do the latter.
Lorel uses Founders Cup as an opportunity to educate other young girls about the event and upcoming tournaments and to get them excited about the sport.
“The Founders Cup is a super-family friendly environment that really shows younger boys and girls what golf is all about, and I think it’s a cool thing for them to see – that golf is a real thing and it’s not just a hobby. They can really go somewhere with it,” Lorel said.
Building and strengthening relationships is at the core of sport for Matheson and the three young golfers, particularly for Kendall, who also attends Highland High School in Gilbert.
“I like to watch Lorel for a few holes and I feel like it’s made our bond even closer. We’re closer than ever right now,” Kendall said. “Golf brings us together as a family.”
For Matheson, Girls Golf of Phoenix isn’t about the golf, but about the girls, the families and the relationships they build.
“It’s about empowering them and building their confidence,” Matheson said. “I still have relationships with women and girls that I played with back then.”
With junior players on the rise, Lorel and Brooke said they would like to see more local golf courses offer more opportunities for juniors, including offering special junior rates.
“I think that if more courses saw value in that sort of mentality of this is our future and this is the next generation, then the sport would be more welcoming, in general,” Matheson said.
Golf courses in Scottsdale offer deals for junior players.
Scottsdale Silverado Golf Club, for example, has a nine-hole, executive-style Challenge Course specifically for junior players. Kids ages 2 to 16 can play the course for $10 after 3 p.m., and accompanying adults can also play for $10.
TPC Scottsdale has a Junior PTC Pass for $125 plus tax per person for those between the ages of 12 and 17. The pass is valid for one year from the date of purchase, and perks include a $5 walking fee after 3 p.m., $21.31 walking rates before 3 p.m. and access to the junior practice facility.
Starting in April, Junior PTC members get their first bag of balls per day for just $5 on Mondays and Wednesdays only. Additional practice balls cost $15 for one bag or $25 for two bags.
If there’s one message Lorel, Kendall and Brooke have for girls and women who are interested but intimidated to play: “Don’t be afraid of the difficulty that it brings you. In the long run, it’ll pay,” Kendall said.
“Don’t be afraid of what people think, especially when you first start,” Lorel added. “You’re going to be bad at first, but you’ll get better with practice and it’ll be fun.”
If you go ...
LPGA Bank of Hope Founders Cup
When: March 19-24
Where: Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, 5350 E. Marriott Drive, Phoenix
Women’s Leadership Forum
When: March 21 at 10 a.m.
Where: JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, 5350 E. Marriott Drive, Phoenix