Condoleezza Rice attacks challenges with enormous vigor, whether as Secretary of State, National Security Advisor to the President, a key faculty member at Stanford University, a fellow at the Hoover Institution or member of a corporate Board. And she brings that same passion to golf, which makes her the perfect face for the game on National Girls & Women in Sports Day.
NGWSD on Feb. 5 is to inspire girls and women to play and be active in order to realize their full power. The Women’s Sports Foundation says the confidence, strength and character gained through sports helps provide the tools girls and women need to become strong leaders. No one exemplifies that better than Dr. Rice.
At the age of 50, a few months into becoming only the second woman to serve as Secretary of State, Dr. Rice discovered golf. Neither she nor the game has been the same since. The game provides an expression of her essential self and she has provided golf a powerful voice.
In 2012, Dr. Rice became one of the first two female members of Augusta National Golf Club. Since then, she’s been a key figure in the club’s promotion of Drive, Chip & Putt, a competition for boys and girls 7-15 that concludes at ANGC the Sunday before the Masters, as well as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the final round of which is at Augusta National the Saturday before the Masters.
“I’ve been an athlete all my life,” Dr. Rice told Golf Digest. “I was a competitive figure skater, and then when I realized skating was not an adult sport, I took up tennis. And then I went on vacation in 2005 to The Greenbrier. My cousin and her husband live on the TPC course at Sugarloaf and he’d always wanted her to play (golf), so he gave her lessons, and he gave me buddy lessons. And I loved it.”
What Dr. Rice discovered was that golf spoke to several of the key elements of who she is as a person.
“For one thing, you’re outside, and when I was in Washington, I was rarely outside,” she said. “But it’s actually also a thinking-person’s game. I find that I enjoy walking from shot to shot and deciding how I’m going to get out of this or that trouble. I just enjoy the strategy of it.”
National Girls & Women in Sports Day acknowledges the accomplishments of female athletes and the ongoing struggle for equality for women in sports. NGWSD was initiated in 1987 to remember Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman, who fought for equality and died of Marfan’s Syndrome while competing.
As a minority and as a woman, Dr. Rice has been fighting for equality all her life. From 1980 to 1981, she was a fellow at Stanford’s Arms Control and Disarmament Program, which began her affiliation with the university.
“I would certainly describe golf as one of Dr. Rice’s greatest loves,” said Anne N. Walker, the Mitch and Margot Milias Director of Women’s Golf at Stanford, which won the 2015 NCAA national championship.
“If you look back on Condi’s life journey, she has never been known to take the easy path,” Walker says. “She thrives on challenge and intellectual curiosity. In golf, she found a lifelong sport where she is continuously challenged and learning. That combination, along with her love of competition, sports and a healthy lifestyle make Dr. Rice and golf a perfect union.”
To prove her point, Walker noted that just 10 minutes earlier she had come upon Rice on the practice range working on her game for the upcoming AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But Dr. Rice is about more than helping her own game – she is about helping the overall game and those who participate in it.
“Golf has created an opportunity for our Stanford players to forge a unique bond with Dr. Rice,” Walker says. “They spend time with her on the golf course, in the classroom and she hosts us for dinner. The times we spend with her are often the highlight of a player’s four-year experience. The lessons learned, stories shared and the wisdom imparted during these interactions are immeasurable. She is one of the most remarkable women of our generation and golf has brought her into our lives, for which we are forever grateful.”
Through Walker, Dr. Rice met renown coaches Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson. She was a fan of their first VISION54 book, “Every Shot Must Have a Purpose.”
“She loves the game so much,” says Marriott. “She is so curious and eager to learn. First time we had dinner she brought her blue VISION54 notebook, in case there was something to remember from our conversation. She strives for excellence in anything she does, and her work ethic is fantastic. She wants to be the best she can be in anything she does.”
Her public profile and unique perspective on the world makes Dr. Rice an important contributor to the growth of the game.
“She is a role model for so many – men and women, older and younger, all cultures,” says Nilsson. “She is global in thinking. She transcends the stereotypes we have in golf. She a born leader and loves golf and that is good for all of us wanting to grow the game.”
For the game to have a person of such prominence in its corner is a huge boost. For women’s golf, it is especially important.
“Her status and worldwide recognition as a high-ranking, female political leader give her a stage to promote golf that many others are not afforded,” says Walker.
“Dr. Rice believes in the values, lessons and opportunities the game creates for all who play, and in promoting that message she is growing the game of golf in all sectors but especially the women’s game,” Walker says.
Of all the ways in which Dr. Rice has been a pioneer, the promotion of golf and female athletes remains an ongoing quest, one in which she’s been as successful as in any of her other endeavors. Dr. Rice found a game for life and golf found a lifelong friend.