Blazing New Trails
The golf industry is prodominantly male, there’s no question about that. It’s one of the reasons I was inspired to start FORE Her in the first place. And here in this newsletter, we’ve spotlighted historically male roles that are being held by females, whether it be the GM at Rancho Carlsbad Gena Dells or USGA President Diana Murphy. Recently, I sat down with Laura Bauernfeind, the golf manager for the City of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, who became the first woman to hold that position when she was promoted seven months ago. I found her tenacious attitude and creative approach to the golf industry both inspiring and motivating during a recent chat in her office.
What is it exactly you do in your position with the City of L.A.?
The City of Los Angeles is very unique, as we’ve been operating some semblance of golf for over 100 years. We are one of the oldest and largest municipal golf systems in the country. A lot of golfers go through our courses. We completely own, operate and maintain the courses. That means city staff greet you, mow the greens, operate the driving ranges, all of it. At some point, all of that falls on my shoulders. I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of all 13 golf facilities throughout the City of Los Angeles.
How did you get here?
I started working for the Department in 1986 as a greenskeeper at Sepulveda Golf Complex. I was mowing greens and changing cups. I worked there during my breaks from school. After I graduated from Humboldt State in 1988 with a B.S. in Forest Research Management, I thought I was going to be Smokey the Bear and save the world. But I quickly realized there were little to no jobs in my field. So I came back to LA, where I was raised, took a civil service exam, and secured a full-time job at Woodley Lakes GC as a greenskeeper.
Over the years with the city, I eventually left golf as I got promoted. I’m also a certified arborist, and I was the Department’s principal arborist and forester – another predominately male industry! But golf was always in the back of my mind. I interacted with the courses on a regular basis with pest control and supporting tree work. I came back to golf and then most recently, my boss retired, and they put on a big nationwide search for a golf manager. I threw my hat in the ring. They received over 150 applications and low and behold the best person for the job was a woman who already worked there. It’s neat because I’m kind of book-ending my career with golf. I think everyone in their career at some point in time gets stuck, not in a bad way, but with the same day-to-day challenges and problems. When you get the opportunity to do a complete 180 and move into something new it can be really refreshing. It’s been nice to wrap my brain around new challenges. I was able to come in and see things with a fresh perspective and move us out of “doing things the way we’ve always done them,” which is systemically a problem throughout the golf industry.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing in this position?
I really believe that municipal golf is the foundation of the golf world. And I don’t say that just because it sounds good. We are the stepping stone upon which everything else succeeds. We are where people get their first job in the golf business, or the first place they put a golf club in their hand. It’s time to be a little more creative and inventive. The demands of the golfing public have changed. If we’re going to not just survive but thrive, I think we need to be creative. There are a lot of things people are doing, exciting things, and we can tap into some of those successes. And because we have 13 facilities, we can experiment with some things and find out what’s going to work.
We still want to focus on our core golfers and our core clubs, but we have to understand that that isn’t going to sustain us. At the end of the day this is a business. While our primary focus is to provide a service, we do have to pay our way. The primary focus has to be growing that base of core golfers.
How are you going to do that?
We are working with very arcane tools. We just put out an RFP for a new point of sale and reservation system. The current one is tired and outdated. We want to develop a loyalty program for our golfers. We are also getting ready to release an RFP for new F&B operators at all of our golf courses. It’s probably the number one complaint we get, the food and beverage side of things. We want to provide a quality experience for our golfers, and right now the F&B isn’t doing that. A lot of our golf courses and clubhouses are stuck in 1950 or 1970, and it’s time to freshen them up. We have a golf course like Rancho Park across from the studios. We should have a thriving after-work environment there. People should want to hit balls. Grab a drink. Eat a meal. Whether they ever grab a golf club or not, it should be a community hub. We want to make the golf course a destination for many reasons, not just golf.
Are you yourself a golfer?
A beginner. I enjoy playing with my husband. But I get funny looks when I, let’s say, tee it up in the fairway. I’m playing my own game, I’m not keeping score, why should anyone care if I tee it up to make the game easier and more enjoyable for myself?
I’ve had that experience myself, where the golf course can be pretty unfriendly to new golfers. What can the City of L.A. do about that?
My next focus is what do we do to maintain the integrity of the golf system for our hardcore golfer, but still cater to beginners? I think it’s through clinics and social events in the off hours, when the avid golfer may not be there. We have a lot of work to do. But every day I come to work and talk to someone or read something that makes me more and more excited about the opportunities ahead.