Ashley Reiner never expected to come full circle at the Keiser University Golf Coaching Center.
Reiner first learned the game from three-time LPGA Tour winner and LPGA Teaching & Club Professional Hall of Famer Donna White. White’s exuberant personality and passion for teaching left a lasting impression on Reiner. In fact, those lessons led Reiner to work at a golf course during her four years at the University of Central Florida. After graduating from school, Reiner took over as an Art Director at SeaWorld, ultimately playing less golf to focus on work and her family.
As fate would have it, Reiner eventually settled down with her family just 30 minutes from White, an instructor at Keiser University College of Golf and Director of the Golf Coaching Center. In addition to her other responsibilities at Keiser, White and fellow faculty member, LPGA Class A professional Connie Capanegra, launched a LPGA*USGA Girls Golf site at the university earlier this year. This program is what brought Reiner and White back together.
Reiner’s seven-year-old daughter Kylie was looking for an activity to get involved with, and golf was the first one to come to mind. They started out with a few local youth programs, but nothing stuck. After learning that White was involved with the Girls Golf site at Keiser however, Reiner immediately signed Kylie up.
“I’m driving 30 minutes to Keiser because Donna’s amazing, and then she has Coach Connie and Peter (Crocitto) there,” Reiner said. “Connie teaches the classes and they just make it fun. I remember seeing girls when I was playing who didn’t want to play anymore. They were getting burned out, and I didn’t want that for my daughter. She loves the sport, so I just want to keep it fun, and that’s exactly what the team at Keiser does for the girls.”
Launched in February as an affiliate of the First Tee Palm Beach Chapter, the Keiser University Girls Golf site is just another way that the school is building a strong foundation for the future of the game.
Upon retiring from the LPGA Tour in 1992 after a 15-year playing career, White dedicated her life to teaching the game, becoming one of the first women to own and operate a golf professional concession company, Golf Professional Services, Inc., serving three Palm Beach County municipal golf facilities.
White has always been committed to growing the game, especially for women. Knowing that starts at the youth level, White co-founded the Junior Golf Foundation of America in 1995. Opening the Girls Golf site at Keiser is just the latest effort in her quest to get more girls playing the game.
“This program goes well beyond the game of golf,” White said. “It’s not so much about playing at a higher level, but to see themselves using the game to excel on and off the course. You never know where your golf ball is going to take you.”
That’s exactly what the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program does. Each of the 500 Girls Golf sites help prepare girls ages 6 – 17 for a lifetime of enjoyment of the game while also inspiring them to feel confident, build positive self-esteem and live active and healthy lives through “The Five E’s of Girls Golf”. Those are empower, enrich, engage, exercise and energize. Each site offers activities and lessons that reinforce these ideals.
The Keiser University Golf Coaching Center changes lives every Wednesday night through the Girls Golf program. Site director Capanegra knows how impactful the game of golf can be, which is why she facilitates an environment that is not just fun, but safe.
“I don’t want it to feel intimidating for any of the girls,” Capanegra said. “We want to make sure the girls know this is supposed to be a good time. Some of them are playing tournaments, others are just getting started. We just want them to know what golf is and to take it whichever direction they’d like to go.”
Capanegra keeps things fun by providing all sorts of activities for the girls. This includes a version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos on the putting green and Operation 36, in which the girls play a few holes from 25 yards out, focusing on shooting 36. If the girls shoot that score or better, they move to 50 yards out and so on. The goal of this activity is to make golf less intimidating and help players build up their skills to be able to play an entire hole.
Another thing that separates the Keiser Girls Golf chapter from other sites is the connection to the university’s women’s golf team. As the lead instructor at the Keiser University Golf Coaching Center, Capanegra made it a point to incorporate the college golfers into her Girls Golf activities. Not only does this provide role models for girls in the program, but it teaches the college athletes to give back to the game.
“I’m obviously older than the girls in the program, so it’s much easier for them to relate and look up to the college girls,” Capanegra said. “Having a teacher, coach, or role model in life is extremely important, and that’s what I hope they get out of the players participating in the program. The college players are awesome swing models for the girls and offer tips as they practice. Seeing the players and the girls connect is special for all involved.”
In addition to hitting on the range and offering advice, the college players also participate in activities like Operation 36 with the girls.
“As a female in a male dominated industry, I know how important it is to see someone like you living out a passion they love,” White said. “It really gives you hope.”
Between the lessons, fun environment and working with the college players, Reiner has noticed a definitive change in the way Kylie carries herself.
“I feel like the program has empowered her quite a bit,” Reiner said. “Kylie always had a lot of friends, but she was very soft spoken before and would kind of stand off to the side. At school she was a bit shy, but now she’s on the morning news crew, so I think it’s definitely helped.”
Kylie is a prime example of the good that comes from participating in Girls Golf, but for Reiner, it’s just special to see her daughter working with White just like she did when she was young.