A.J. Hill was the only woman on the maintenance team at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. This year, at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, she was joined by 28 female …
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A.J. Hill was the only woman on the maintenance team at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. This year, at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, she was joined by 28 female colleagues as part of a 60-person staff.
The Olympic Club’s Director of Golf Maintenance, Troy Flanagan, had the idea to involve more women in the event’s maintenance team when the Olympic was named as the site of the Open a few years ago, but speaking to Hill solidified his push to put together a more diverse team than years past.
“I said, `Let’s try to have as many female volunteers as we could in the profession,’” said Flanagan. “We already had to have about 60 volunteers, so why not get as many women, and there’s been a push in our industry to diversify because we’re a heavily male-oriented industry.”
Among the 29 women that served on the Open’s maintenance team — the most women who have ever served on the event’s groundskeeping crew, according to Flanagan — were Sun Roesslein and Christi Clay, stadium managers at the North Area Athletic Complex near Arvada and Golden.
While Roesslein and Clay, who have been NAAC’s stadium managers for 16 and seven years, respectively, are no strangers to working on big stages — Roesslein in got her start in the field working for the Lexington Legends minor league baseball team and worked this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Coors Field, and both worked the 2005 MLB All-Star Game — the significance of this year’s U.S. Open was special.
“I think it’s definitely a historical experience to be a part of,” said Roesslein. “I don’t think that we’ll see the effects that it will have on the industry for years. I think it’s going to cause a ripple effect through the industry of sports turf management as well as ballpark management, but I think it’ll really take time to see the effects.
“For the Sports Turf Managers Association,” Roesslein continued, “women make up about 3% of our memberships. For the Golf Course Superintendents, female membership is like 1.7%.”
Roesslein and Clay were selected through an application process spearheaded by Flanagan, who used his industry contacts to work towards ensuring that his goal of having a more inclusive team than years past became known.
The team of 29 women worked with the Olympic Club’s regular staff to prepare the course each day, running through a multitude of responsibilities including moisture testing, bunker management and cup setting each day to ensure that the event worked smoothly.
Roesslein and Clay said that the team gelled almost immediately, having to do very little make-up work after running through their morning agenda. Clay added that after a bit of initial trepidation, the Olympic Club’s regular staff got along well with the female volunteers.
“The regular grounds crew at the Olympic Club was working as well,” said Clay. ”They did their normal job, they did a great job, and they welcomed us there. It was really cool to work with them. I think at first they were a little taken aback, like `Oh my gosh, we’ve got to work with all these women,’ but by day two they were jumping in all our pictures and smiling with us and having a great time.”
Roesslein added that she hoped the success of the crew at the U.S. Open would lead more women towards working in the sports field management industry.
“The visibility of females in the industry has grown in the last several years,” said Roesslein. “So, I think just being able to see other women in the industry reach out — the coolest thing about our industry in general is that I can call anybody at any time and say, `I see you have had some experience with this issue, how’d you handle that?’ And the information sharing among turf managers is unlike any other industry I can think of.”
“It was super exciting, I think it’s great,” Roesslein continued. “it was a great stage to showcase that women can do all the same things and we’re just as qualified. It was just a larger stage than anyone had seen in the industry and it was an honor to be a part of it.”
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