The Green Ladies of L.A.
Three years ago, Laura Bauernfeind was doing odd chores around the house when she was approached by her son, home on a break from college in Montana. Out of the blue, he said, “Who are you and what have you done with my mother?”
A little stumped, she asked him what he meant. He replied, “Mom, you’re so much happier when you come home from work now.”
At that point, Bauernfeind, a career employee with the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, began to understand that the decision she had made a month earlier to return to the golf division and supervise maintenance of the city’s 12 golf courses was a good one. Actually, a great one.
Bauernfeind, who graduated from Humboldt State University in 1988 with a degree in forest resource management, had been principal forester for the department for almost 10 years.
“In my previous position, I really thought I loved my job. I was passionate about it,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was kind of stuck. I was feeling it, but to see my son realize it … wow, I knew that was really a good decision.”
A year later, after James Ward retired as golf manager, Bauernfeind moved to the top golf position in the city, supervising all aspects of the golf operation. In her two years in that job, she has instituted a number of changes that include eliminating the resident/nonresident rate differential at the courses, modernizing and streamlining the tee time reservation system and ushering through a new strategic plan that calls for upgrading facilities to attract more visitors.
In July, when Griffith Park closed because of a brush fire, golfers with tee times at the three courses there were notified by email that they would not be able to get into the park and were alerted when it reopened. “That never could have happened with our old reservation system,” Bauernfeind said.
At Roosevelt GC, a nine-hole gem in Griffith Park, a recycled-water irrigation system is being installed, trees are being thinned out to improve views and bunker work is being done to restore some of the original design. It’s expected to reopen in the first quarter of 2019. Work at other courses and clubhouses is upcoming.
“We’re not there yet,” Bauernfeind said, “but in the next 12 months, golfers are going to see some real improvements.”
Bauernfeind grew up in the San Fernando Valley and practically lived in the parks, a self-described “park brat” playing softball and soccer and fishing “and all those outdoor things.” While at Humboldt State, she worked in the maintenance yard at the Encino and Balboa courses during summers, planning on a career in forestry after graduation. But sometimes career plans take a turn.
“I thought I was going to be the next great Smokey Bear and save the world,” she said. “I realized that working in the timber industry was really not what I wanted … and the Smokey Bear jobs out there were few and far between.”
So she returned to L.A. and soon thereafter became a greenkeeper at Woodley Lakes GC in Van Nuys. She had begun an unexpected career path, one that was extremely rare for women, and she has helped nurture other women who share her appreciation for the outdoors on their career paths as well.
Four of the seven golf course superintendents at the city courses are women, an extraordinary ratio in a field that has historically been populated by men. Of 11,701 superintendents and assistants who are members of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, only 110 are women, less than 1 percent, that goes into keeping courses green and in good shape. “When the doors opened, I just went with it,” she said.
OF 11,701 SUPERINTENDENTS AND ASSISTANTS WHO ARE MEMBERS OF THE GOLF COURSE SUPERINTENDENTS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, ONLY 110 ARE WOMEN, LESS THAN 1 PERCENT. THIS PUTS L.A. CITY COURSES IN A CLASS BY THEMSELVES.
Bauernfeind recruited Kristina Osier from the Parks department to become superintendent at Woodley Lakes about a year ago. Virginia Micka has been the superintendent at Rancho Park — the busiest course in the system with about 90,000 rounds a year — for six months, and Germinia Duenas has been the superintendent at the Penmar nine-hole course for three years. Both Micka and Duenas had years of experience as assistant golf superintendents with the city before their current positions.
Osier subscribes to the same belief that Bauernfeind has throughout her career: She wouldn’t have those who work for her do anything she isn’t willing to do herself.
“At first, being a woman, I don’t think it was a huge issue,” she said. “But with some of the staff, they might have thought, ‘Who’s this? Good luck to her.’
“I think I quickly changed their minds. I am absolutely not afraid to get right in the trenches with them. I had to have my staff be motivated enough to teach me properly, and after they got to know me and know that I’m here to support them, they were motivated to help me as well.”
After 18 years at Encino, Micka said the experienced staff at Rancho was an enormous help as she made the transition to what many consider the flagship course in a system that accommodates 850,000 rounds a year and has played host to the Los Angeles Open 17 times.
“It’s a great privilege,” Micka said of being at Rancho. “I’m honored to be there, and the crew is incredible. They were on board from the start, they helped me. It was new to me; there’s a different climate there. But the staff has been there a long time and they do the job really well.”
Bauernfeind has initiated an educational program for young golfers, similar to the First Green program of the superintendents association, with workshops that demonstrate the tools and methods of maintaining golf courses. And she has her female superintendents give those classes.
“Maybe there’s a young golfer who’s a little girl who has never thought about that as a career path, and now she’s being taught by a woman what a greens mower does and how she stimps a green in the morning, and maybe they’ll have an “Aha!” moment where they’ll think, “Wow, that’s a cool job, I never thought about that.”
Bauernfeind had an “Aha!” moment to return to golf three years ago. “I kind of felt like I was at the twilight of my career,” she said. “I feel so reinvented and rejuvenated now. It’s a good gig. I love my job,” she said, adding quietly, “Don’t tell anybody.”
Sorry, Laura, word’s out.