“It's easy to miss all of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that we do, since we are meant to be invisible and out of the way before play,” says A.J. Hill, assistant superintendent of Mountain Lake Golf Course in Lake Wales, Florida.
Hill is a trailblazer as a female groundskeeper, the only woman to volunteer during the 2020 Women’s U.S. Open. Just a year later, 29 women followed her lead at the 2021 event.
She grew up helping her father, Dave, in his role on a golf course grounds crew from the time she was in Kindergarten. “I have always loved working out on the golf course with him. Being outside and feeling the gratification of a job well done makes golf course maintenance my passion,” she says. Hill helped rake bunkers and cut cups on those early mornings, learning the groundskeeping side of course management.
Years later, when she applied to the local country club’s grounds team, Hill was instead offered a job as a waitress. “They told me that because I am a girl, I couldn’t operate their equipment. But that didn’t stop me,” Hill says.
She continued helping her dad in his work while raising her two children, waiting for the right job on a golf course. While assisting her dad with hurricane cleanup, she told the club pro that she was looking for a job on the course. “When he replied about needing another pro shop girl, I looked him straight in the eye and told him ‘No sir, you misunderstand. I said ON the golf course,’” she recalls.
And now, Hill has established herself as a leader with her team, recognizing what needs to be done, ensuring the work meets Mountain Lake standards, and bringing a woman’s eye and attention to detail.
While keeping the course in pristine condition is priority number one for Hill, it’s about more than just the grass. “It’s equally important to make sure that your members feel welcomed and your staff doesn’t feel burdened. Maintaining a well appreciated and happy team is just as important as the direction we’re mowing greens that day,” she adds.
Hill’s most rewarding experience was volunteering at the Olympic Club for the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open. Not only did she have the honor of working beside Troy Flanagan, his staff and 29 other women, but she also got to share the opportunity with her dad. “In his 30 years working on golf courses, this was his first time volunteering for a tournament,” she explains. “To be able to share that experience with him, seeing how happy and proud he was to be there made that experience all the more amazing.” That U.S. Open was unique since the prior year Hill was the only female volunteer.
As with all of us who are breaking barriers in sport, career, motherhood, it comes down to passion. And Hill has that in spades. She has achieved her dream and aims to inspire other women. “Don’t let anyone discourage you from doing what you love,” Hill says. “Demand the respect you deserve and don't let anyone limit your potential.”
At the end of the day, what really matters is Hill’s love for her work, for the game, for the members, for her course. “I enjoy watching the sun rise every morning, watching the dew melt away and bringing the golf course to life every morning,” says Hill.
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