Female greens superintendent breaks through 'grass ceiling'

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerNovember 3, 2013 

Julie Taylor didn't set out to become that rarest of commodities in the golf world -- a female greens superintendent.

The Harris County native pushed through what could be termed the industry's "grass ceiling" as she pursued an interest in agriculture, agronomy and the great outdoors that began as a teenager.

"I originally was interested at ABAC (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College) in landscaping -- turf and landscape," said the 46-year-old woman who has been superintendent at Phenix City's Lakewood Golf Course since July.

"It was like, 'Who wants to be a greenskeeper? All you do is mow grass,'" Taylor said.

She was used to doing so much more working after high school in the landscaping crew at Callaway Gardens Resort and in the outdoors in a similar capacity at ABAC in Tifton, Ga.

"Then Don Branch called at ABAC and invited me to apply for a job at Green Island Country Club," she said. "Don got me back home."

Branch, for 40 years associated with Green Island Country Club as superintendent and with its parent, The Jordan Company, worked her into a career path. From her hiring in 1997, she worked her way from the grounds crew at the private Columbus club to become a second-assistant superintendent, then graduated to first-assistant status.

During that journey, she discovered the diverse challenges of a profession that incorporates landscaping with maintaining and sculpting fairways, greens and roughs on a recreation area simultaneously thriving with individuals making their way through that work area.

"It's not just a matter of jumping on a mower and going," Taylor said.

She was ready for a greater challenge and applied for the Lakewood Golf Course post that had been vacant since April.

She was a female seeking a post in a male-dominated realm, a career field in which women are outnumbered 99-1 by men, according to 2012 statistics of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

"We had some really qualified people to apply," said Lakewood Director of Golf Bubba Patrick. "I was impressed with Julie because she was going to be a 'hands-on' superintendent. If it needs to be done, she's on the machinery and able to do it. She's also familiar with spraying (fertilizers and herbicides).

"We've got Champions Bermuda grass on our greens, and she was familiar with Champions from Green Island," he said. "She could bring some of that experience over here."

The fact that she was a woman in what had always been a man's job at Lakewood was never a factor in her hiring, he said, and after she arrived and immediately went to work alongside the greens crews, it wasn't a factor among those workers.

"The guys all respect her for being out there with them. And they definitely work harder," Patrick said. "It's a huge relief to me to know this course is being taken care of so well."

"This whole crew knows their jobs. They've got the know-how and don't have to be trained. I respect them -- and get respected back," Taylor said.

Patrick said members who have been playing at Lakewood for 30 years have made it a point to tell him the course is now in the best condition they have ever seen it.

"All the players have been very complimentary," Taylor said. "And I'm looking forward to what's yet to come."

That includes working to increase weed control throughout the course, eliminate weeds around the green complexes, maintain the greens in prime condition and improve irrigation and drainage, she said.

The condition of the course also is a tribute to the volunteers and marshals who -- with no help from her crew -- are solely responsible for filling the divots in the fairways to keep them in the best condition possible. "The members will help if you ask them and tell them you need it," she said.

Just a few months into the job, Taylor said she's very happy with her decision to venture into the golf course field.

And she's extremely happy at Lakewood, which allows her to move forward in her career while remaining in the area she loves.

"This is home," said Taylor, who grew up in Cataula, Ga. "I'm content. I'm not leaving this area. I built a home in Harris County five years ago and I love living here."

But could her ambition take her away if the right place called -- such as Augusta National?

"No. Not even Augusta," she said, laughing.

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