Revolutionizing the “Ladies Club”
If you’re involved in SoCal women’s golf, you’ve heard the name. She’s a caretaker for the community, not just a founder of a golf club. Azucena Maldonado has a very creative mind and for the last 10 years, she’s been exploring ways to create a more inviting introduction to the game through her club, the Latina Golfers Association. From clinics and youth camps, to lunches, cocktails and travel, nothing is out of reach. You can find LGA members smoking cigars, enjoying mezcal and tacos before they tee off. Azucena can be found at golf events all over California, striving to connect to all who share the same passion. A huge fan of LPGA Tour player and LGA supporter Lizette Salas, Maldonado attends as many LPGA tournaments as she can to support the USC alumna. If she’s not behind the ropes, you’ll find her posting enthusiastically about the Latina tour player on Facebook.
I attended my very first Latina Golfers Association event in 2009 after being invited by a friend. Azucena recognized my high school accomplishments and thanked me for representing the Latina community. Since then, I’ve grown to become a golf instructor for SCGA Junior. She has been there for me since day one, and regardless of the thousands in her contact list, I can call her at any time and ask for help – and if she can’t – she’ll know someone who can.
Soon after celebrating the LGA’s 10-year anniversary, I sat down with Maldonado and talked about what it was like discovering the game, falling head over heels and starting a golf club of her own.
What made you decide to start a club?
After playing golf for three years, a friend invited me to a charity golf tournament. I loved the experience. I was surrounded by outstanding individuals, from corporate executives to elected officials. But, what I found problematic was that they were all men! Out of more than 100 golfers, less than a handful were women. This struck me as odd. I played in more tournaments and the story was the same. Great people, but I could count the women on my right hand. This disturbed me. I thought the men were trying to keep us away but to the contrary, they were always asking me to invite my women friends to join me. I realized I didn’t have any female friends to invite because my comrades didn’t golf!
Instead of complaining, I did something about it and in 2008 held my very first Latina Golfers Association reception to invite women to join me. 94 were in attendance and we’ve grown to over 1,500 members since then. It’s been a labor of love.
How did the idea turn into a reality?
Once I made up my mind to proactively introduce women to golf – literally one woman at a time – I organized a group that would play the role of a “welcoming committee.” I knew that many of the women I was trying to reach were just like me. They had no knowledge or first-hand experience with golf. They had no one to introduce them to golf. The Latina Golfers Association had to take on that role and it felt quite organic, organizing fun, non-intimidating golf clinics and golf lessons. Then I hit the streets, preaching the word of golf to any woman that would listen. This was the most difficult and time-consuming piece of my strategy. I couldn’t just wait for the women to come to me. I went wherever they congregated – networking events, women’s conferences and business gatherings, just to name a few. We went from golf clinics to golf lessons to golf outings to brunches and fashion shows and now even golf tournaments for women.
What are some of your struggles with creating a club?
I knew nothing about the golf industry or the business culture of golf. The only thing I knew for sure was that golf was a very important networking tool for women. One of the most challenging issues I had early on was convincing golf courses and golf instructors to open up to a new approach for introducing golf novices to the sport. I wanted the golf courses to work with me to do things a little different. To get non-golfers to step foot onto a golf course, there had to be a reason for them to be there. We must intrigue them to visit a golf course with an activity that is familiar to them. My golf clinics are networking events with a bonus. Golf instructors could not seem to understand that a golf clinic had to first be fun and then followed by instructional, along with an acknowledgement that the women participating had very minimal expectations.
Who inspired you to play golf?
15 years ago, I was invited on a date by an avid golfer. He gifted me a putter and proceeded to teach me how to putt. I fell in love with golf almost immediately and dedicated the next three years to establishing and lowering my handicap, playing at least once or twice a week. I became immersed in the recreational world of golf and it was glorious. Golf far outlived that relationship. Today, I have two golf inspirations: golf legend Nancy Lopez and LPGA Tour Player Lizette Salas. I’d love to know what it would have been like to be raised in a golf family. I was vaguely aware of Nancy Lopez as a Latina role model but not as an LPGA Tour player.
What do golf clubs provide for women that they can’t find in other communities?
I love that I instantly became a part of a world-wide golf family where we all speak the same language…GOLF. Golf clubs provide women a space where we can share our passion for the game, a safe space to learn and improve our game and build a camaraderie with women from all walks of life and careers. Through our club, LGA members build casual and professional relationships with women they maybe wouldn’t have met otherwise. I love seeing watching the development of friendships that have turned into foursomes forever!
How has LGA benefitted the Latina community?
I am so proud of the impact the Latina Golfers Association has made in introducing Latinas to the world of golf. We have provided a safe and inviting space for Latinas of all ages to be introduced to golf that never existed before. I am moved when countless members tell me how golf has positively impacted their lives and provided them with the confidence to participate in business golf outings. To see the faces and excitement of the girls who participate in our free golf lessons is priceless. It’s the fuel that keeps me fired up!
How much has LGA grown since you started it? What’s your advice on growing a club?
Our members are our best marketers – they tell their networks of friends, who tell their friends. That’s the key to growth. The success of the LGA comes from connecting with our women with programming that works for them and makes it easy for them to participate. Our club keeps growing, with more than 25% of the women who participate in events are new to us. It’s important to understand the need to focus on targeting. To grow a club, its core leadership must promote the club outside of golf. It does require some elbow grease but, I promise, their hard work will be rewarded.
Learn more about the LGA here.