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Last week, the 118th Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship drew a talented and competitive field of more than 90 golfers at Plymouth Country Club. From past champions to high-level junior players, the field was a display of how women’s golf has grown in the Bay State in terms of both talent and popularity.
During the 24 matches contested during the Round of 16 and Round of 32 last Wednesday, there were six female Rules officials who officiated at least one match: Pam Gardner, Jenna Walkiewicz, Joanne Gagnon, Karen Ammerman, Christine Veator, and Mace Foehl. Each official took different paths to their position, but they all have done it as a way to give back to the game.
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many different people who I never would have met if I had retired and continued doing something in the field that I did all my professional life,” said Christine Veator, who earned the 2020 Volunteer of the Year Award. “So, all these wonderful ladies here, I’ve gotten to meet them by being the starter or in the field working with them. It’s been a pleasure.”
Veator has built up quite a resume when it comes to Rules Officiating. After retiring from her career working in financial services, she took up officiating as a new way to support the game. In addition to her work with Mass Golf, Veator is a member of the Division II Women’s National Championship Committee and helped run the DII South Regional Nationals this year. At the event, she worked alongside both Ammerman (Head Official) and Gagnon.
Ammerman, who also serves as President of the New England Golf Association, became a Rules Official because of family ties. Her brother was a USGA Rules Official and ended up joining its Executive Committee. Her late husband also studied the Rules of Golf, so naturally, she gravitated toward it.
“He really dragged me along and got me to go to Rules School with him,” Ammerman said. “I started volunteering with the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts in the 1990s, and in 2010, I joined the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Committee. In 2012, I went on the USGA Executive Committee, so I got to know a lot of people and studied the Rules really hard. It’s really cool stuff.”
As mentioned, no two stories are the same. Gagnon became involved after experiencing false rulings during her own competitive events, resulting in withdrawals or penalties. She then decided to take the Rules into her own hands.
Walkiewicz, Mass Golf’s Assistant Director of Member Growth & Services, worked for the Florida State Golf Association out of college, and it was expected that she knew the Rules. Once she began learning them, she fell in love with them.
Gardner signed up in addition to playing the game she loves, while Foehl, the golf coach at Northfield Mount Hermon High School, learned the Rules as a requirement of her role as a coach.
All six ladies have different backstories, but what remains the same among them is a passion for the game and the community that has formed around them. For instance, this past July Foehl got to watch one of her high school players, Annie Dai, win the Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship at Orchards Golf Club.
“You can’t get more special than that,” Foehl said. “I was on the 10th hole, and then one of our Rules Officials said ‘Let me take this for you, you can go follow Annie,’ so that was nice.”
Frequently, these women and other Rules Officials get to walk alongside the top amateur talent in the state. Last year, Gardner got her first taste of forward observing during the Women’s Amateur. This time around, she was responsible for refereeing her first match.
“One of the reasons I started doing this is my son played golf in high school, and I had the opportunity to walk along a lot of junior tournaments,” Gardner said. “I ended up kind of working with the golf team and just really loved that. Once he was done, I still needed that fix of following with great players. This provides it.”
“I look at some of the players who I’ve met as they were coming up through and basically just forming friendships with them, even mentoring in some cases,” Gagnon said of her experience. “I wish I had started when I was younger for those reasons. It’s just good activity as opposed to all the trouble that you can find unsupervised outside of golf. To me, it’s like helping the young person along on their journey, so I love that.”
Ammerman spent years working as an Obstetrician and traveled for about 90 days a year. Still, she made time for officiating.
“People would say to me, ‘How are you doing it and getting on a plane again?’ Ammerman recalled. “I said, ‘I’m going to see people I love to see. It’ll be a really fun time when I get there, so I don’t mind it. I don’t mind it at all.’”
The overall group of female Rules Officials is growing, but there is still a need for more to join the community. Joining in any capacity, big or small, could end up being a decision that has positive ramifications for years to come.
“When you play golf, you meet a lot of cool people, but then when you work in the golf industry or you volunteer in the golf industry, the door opens up to so many more people than you can meet that you normally wouldn’t come across,” Walkiewicz said.
If there is a desire to help, she said a role will be made no matter how small it may be.
“You can volunteer at a junior event, a women’s event, a men’s event, and you see great golf, and you get to meet a lot of different people and see all these great courses,” she said. “You don’t have to be certified in Rules, you can just love the game and come out and help. It’s the best environment and community that I’ve ever been a part of.”