No longer a novelty
Female tournament directors, such as Valspar’s Tracy West, are finding success across all parts of the PGA TOUR
March 19, 2019
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Tracy West joined the Valspar Championship as tournament director in 2014. (Photo by Michael McCoy at MP Studios)
Tracy West was in her late 20s and working at a company called Pro Links Sports, which managed a half-dozen golf events, mostly on PGA TOUR Champions. Part of her job was to recruit players to appear at special events. During this time, she also went through a couple of pregnancies – and the senior golfers came to view her as something of a daughter figure.
“In a way, it was easier for me to try and cajole them into playing in pro-ams and things like that,” West said. “They had to at least think about it a little more, probably, to say no to me than maybe one of the male tournament directors right away.”
Now she’s the tournament director at this week’s Valspar Championship, and part of her job is again enticing players to participate in her event. The requests, though, are not always as easy.
“Definitely not, because now I can be their mothers, right?” the soon-to-be 54-year-old said, laughing.
Even so, West has found the TOUR players welcoming – albeit sometimes surprised early on when she approached them on the range to encourage them to play in Tampa or to show her appreciation once they were there. One such encounter in 2015 stands out.
“I was going up on Tuesday afternoon to thank this prominent player for playing that week,” West recalled. “It was late on a Tuesday afternoon and his wife was on the putting green with him. She looked at me and was like, ‘Oh my God. A female tournament director. This is fantastic. This is awesome.’
“So, yeah it was probably a bit of a novelty -- which isn't that long ago.”
In reality, what’s less of a novelty in each passing year is a PGA TOUR event run by a woman.
West, who joined the Valspar Championship in 2014, is not the first female tournament director on TOUR; there were three before her. But she is the longest-serving of the seven currently in position and the list is growing on PGA TOUR Champions and the Web.com Tour, too.
In addition, Alexandria (Alex) Baldwin was named in January to oversee the entire Web.com Tour – the first woman to lead one of the PGA TOUR’s six global Tours as president. And of the 27 events on that schedule, a third now have women as tournament directors.Alex Baldwin joined the PGA TOUR in 2017 as Vice President of Corporate Partnerships. (Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR)
When PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan announced Baldwin’s appointment, he called it a “watershed moment for our organization.” In truth, though, it’s one the TOUR has been building toward for many years.
Of the 1,100 or so employees at the TOUR, nearly half – 42 percent, to be exact – are female. And those women fill a variety of roles from sales and marketing to media officials and ShotLink coordinators to finance and accounting to digital producers and on-air talent to hospitality and child care.
“I've never really been privy to an organization that has had such a focus on elevating women within the workplace,” said Allison Fillmore, in her second year as tournament director of the TOUR Championship, the FedExCup finale.
“Jay Monahan has really taken this to another level and to see the moves that the TOUR is making towards really creating opportunities for women is amazing.”
A concerted effort has been made to promote diversity. Of the new hires at the TOUR in 2018, 42 percent were women and more than 80 percent of the slate of candidates presented crossed gender, racial and ethnic lines.
“Creating a diverse team at the PGA TOUR is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do,” Monahan said. “Given the global appeal of our sport, only by building an energetic mix of voices and perspectives will we be able to develop the best ideas, foster innovation and broaden the reach and impact of the TOUR.”
The TOUR is focused on retaining that talent, as well as recruiting it. Employee resource groups, launched in 2017, focus on multicultural concerns, advancing women, generational aspects, life balance/working parents and military, veterans and first responders.
“Jay's incredibly passionate about our diversity and inclusion efforts and it's exciting to see,” Baldwin said. “There's some fantastic talent here at the TOUR and across the industry.”
That push toward diversity extends to the TOUR’s 47 co-sanctioned events. And Julie Tyson, a senior vice president of the TOUR who has been the tournament director at THE NORTHERN TRUST since 2017, says the conversation around influx of women is gratifying.
“What's most exciting for me to see is the premise of this whole discussion,” she said. “It's that there are women now filling nontraditional roles and in more significant roles where their voices and everyone's voices can be heard. And I think that's, that's the thing that makes the TOUR. …
“The more we can hear from more people and more viewpoints, the better the product.”
Marci Doyle, who has worked with the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard for more than a decade and served as tournament director since 2015, sees a more inclusive environment overall.
“I feel like not only the PGA TOUR, but sports in general, I think that there is more openness to say, let's make sure that we're … hiring the best person no matter what,” Doyle said. “Now I think they're making sure that they're going through that process and making sure there are females that are being considered that maybe they didn't do in the past.
“And when I say they, I mean all sports honestly. I think it is. I think it has opened some doors. That's a good thing.Marci Doyle joined the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard to help preserve Palmer's legacy. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
West didn’t plan on getting into event management. After she got her MBA from Michigan State, she was handling economic forecasting and product management for a company in Grand Rapids.
After joining the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1989, she volunteered at what was then-known as the Farmers American Classic, a Jaycee-run tournament on what is now PGA TOUR Champions. West worked in corporate hospitality and media and served on the executive committee.
The behind-the-scenes work of putting on a golf tournament was intriguing. And the end result of money raised for charity made it seem that “life was more meaningful,” she says.
A meeting with Hollis Cavner during the 1992 tournament eventually changed the course of her life.
Cavner had been working for the USGA as director of operations for the 1990 and ’91 U.S. Opens. But he had just been hired to launch the inaugural Burnet Senior Classic in Minneapolis and needed an assistant tournament director.
“We spent several hours together here and there during tournament week,” West says. “He called me the Monday after and said, ‘Do you want to make this a career?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely’ and my husband and I picked up and moved to Minnesota.”
And so, Pro Links Sports was born. The company soon was managing several different events, and West helped hire and oversee the staffs. When Peter Mele left the BankBoston Classic to join the PGA TOUR, West took his position as tournament director and remained in that role for the next 10 years.
The event eventually lost its corporate sponsor, and West faced a decision: Move her family to stay in the golf business or take another job. She opted to join the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital as signature director of development for its Home Base program focused on healing the invisible wounds of post-9/11 veterans and their families.
Six years later, Pro Links took over the management of the Valspar Championship. Once again Cavner came calling.
“Listen, there’s going to be a change in management here,” he said. “You need to come back into golf.”
While West didn’t originally set out to work in sports, Fillmore, Baldwin, Tyson and Doyle did.
In high school, Baldwin took an inside sales job for the Volvo International tennis tournament in New Haven, Connecticut. As a political science major at Bates College, she researched internships in sports business and singled out the company she wanted to work for: IMG, the powerful sports agency.
She sent a letter to the human resources department and was turned down. But she persisted – interrupting a short-term college trip to Europe to call IMG every time she arrived in a new city – and eventually an opening became available in the internal audit department in the Cleveland office.
“I said, I'll take it,” said Baldwin, who soon set about networking with as many people as she could. “It had absolutely nothing to do with my undergraduate degree or in any area of interest, but I wanted to get into the business, and I just needed to get a foot in the door.”
The internship went well, as did college where she minored in Latin American studies. After Baldwin graduated from Bates, she worked for Madison Square Garden until a job opened up in IMG’s Cape Horn project, which supported the company’s Latin American business initiatives.
From there Baldwin, who is fluent in Spanish, moved to Cleveland and the golf division, taking over Mark Steinberg’s clients on the LPGA Tour during his brief foray into basketball pre-Tiger Woods. She also spent 10 years at Fenway Sports Management, where she worked with Monahan, and later took jobs with Santander Bank in corporate sponsorships and CAA Sports.
Baldwin joined the PGA TOUR in 2017 as Vice President of Corporate Partnerships. She says she “didn’t see it coming” when Monahan asked her to lead the Web.com Tour but once she really thought about it, “It made a lot of sense.
“It was not something I had expected, but it was something that, as I thought it through and really evaluated and really tried to understand how I could take on the role and how I could make an impact and make a difference, it suddenly felt like the pieces were there,” Baldwin said.
Tyson went to Indiana and majored in communications with minors in business and psychology. She started out in media and advertising but had visions of being an agent. She thought the best path would be to work for a women’s sports organization. And she liked golf, so she took a job handling media production and sales for the LPGA.
Urged on by Ty Votaw, the former LPGA commissioner who now is an Executive Vice President at the PGA TOUR, Tyson found her way to Ponte Vedra Beach in 2007, taking a job in account management and later working in business development.
Tyson left what she jokingly calls the “mothership” in 2012 to run point on business development in the TOUR’s newly opened New York City office. The offer to become executive director of THE NORTHERN TRUST, which kicks off the FedExCup Playoffs, was something of a “really strange turn,” but like Baldwin, she came to understand that the move made sense.Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, center, and Tournament Director, Julie Tyson, right, visited with Taste NY during THE NORTHERN TRUST. (Ryan Young/PGA TOUR)
“It really does actually take all the things I've learned across my years of experience and blend them all together,” Tyson said. “And the cool part for me is you're almost like running a small business with the backing of the PGA TOUR.
“I'm like a franchisee, right? And so, it's a little less scary when you've got the infrastructure of the PGA TOUR, but the freedom of being an entrepreneur.”
Fillmore, who has a degree in sports management from Ohio University, was an elite athlete. She was a member of the U.S. National Junior Racquetball team and found herself at the Olympic training center at the age of 18.
“I always wondered how I was afforded this opportunity,” she says. “I wanted to understand the business of sports and why things happen. So that's kind of what drove me to really get into sports.”
Her background included stints at NASCAR, in minor league hockey and with the Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Falcons -- where she was the only female hired with nine other sales reps -- and the Atlanta Dream. She has found that the expertise gained by working in a variety of sports is “very transferrable.”
“With working on a singular event and NASCAR, they are very similar setup to how a PGA TOUR event is set outside of the build,” Fillmore said.
Doyle, whose father and brother both played Major League Baseball, got a degree in business management from Florida. Her internships were always in athletics, and her first two jobs were with sports agencies in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
A job in sales and marketing at Golf Channel brought Doyle to Orlando. When a friend mentioned a similar position was open with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Doyle initially dismissed it. But after interviewing with Roy and Amy Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s daughter, Doyle was intrigued.
She liked that it was a family business like her father’s long-running baseball camp. She realized the Arnold Palmer Invitational is more than a PGA TOUR event, it’s an iconic brand and she wanted to help preserve Palmer's legacy.
“I was perfectly happy in my role, but when the family comes to you and says, we'd like for you to do this, I was honored,” said Doyle, who added tournament director to her duties four years ago. “How could I say no?”
She sees the legendary Palmer as an innovator off the golf course just as he was a force inside the ropes. Adding a woman to his team as tournament director was just another example to the way he thought outside the box.
“He was ahead of his time in marketing and the advertising that he did with Hertz and Pennzoil back when no one else was doing it,” Doyle said. “He started all that and once again as he always was and there he was in his eighties and to put a female tournament director position was pretty darn big deal.”Tournament Director Allison Fillmore speaks during a Representatives of Homes 4 Wounded Heroes ceremony. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
As accomplished and qualified as these women are, there have been challenges as they moved up the ladder. Finding the proverbial seat at the table doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone wants to have dinner with you once you sit down to eat.
“Any female, if they're telling you that they've always felt accepted, I think they're probably either not being honest with you or themselves,” Tyson said. “I have four older brothers and so I have never felt like I needed to work harder to be accepted. So, I'm sort of used to being in environments with a lot of guys.
“And so, it just never dawned on me for a lot of the time. And having been in sales, I hear ‘no’ a lot. And that's just part of my DNA is when I hear ‘no,’ it's an invitation for yes somewhere down the road. And so a lot of those challenges I sort of looked at as opportunities to sort of change someone's thinking.
“That may sound sort of Pollyannaish, but it's worked for me.”
Baldwin espouses a similar approach. While she’s never thought it was “necessarily a gender sort of thing whether or not I was accepted,” there were situations where she acknowledges feeling a stance she took or a comment she made was marginalized.
Baldwin wasn’t one to back down, though. “If what I said in that moment I knew was the best thing for the business, I'm not just stopping at that moment,” she said. “... If I know that's the best thing for our business, I'm not giving up.”
Fillmore, on the other hand, experienced more blatant discrimination. She was denied a promotion at a previous job after being “basically told (it was) because I was a female.” But she decided to turn the situation into a positive.
“I looked that was an opportunity for me to say, OK, you know what, I've done really well for this organization and if you're not willing to take a chance on me to move me to the next level, I am going to try to find somebody else that does,” she said.
“So, I moved on, actually got so much of a better job and was probably one of the best experiences in my life. Everything happens for a reason.”
After she made the move to golf in 2018 after eight years in NASCAR, though, Fillmore knows there were some who might have questioned the TOUR’s choice in leadership. But she took time to listen and learn from the people she would be working with – particularly on the operational side since her background was in sales – and feels those concerns have gone away.
“I just sat down and talked to people about their experiences, what worked, what didn't, and then put together a plan,” Fillmore explained.
“At the beginning, I am sure there were doubters – and people came up to me and told me that they were a doubter at first. But I think after the first year and seeing how the tournament ran last year and the success that we've received, I think, I'm hoping, that all those doubts have been put to rest.”
So, can we officially eliminate the qualifier “female” when talking about these tournament directors? They certainly hope enough progress has been made.
“I just want to be looked at as someone who's providing talent and a great opportunity to enjoy our sport and bringing new vision to it,” Tyson said. “At the same time, I think you don't want to be complacent about that kind of progress.
“Creating a level playing field is really all I think anybody wants.”