A bit of background: Over a year ago, I received several emails from Karen Johnson, a golfer in Portland, Oregon. She bragged a bit. Karen told me that her club’s nine-hole group at the Columbia Edgewater Country Club was so popular that even 18-hole golfers joined it. She sent me photos and more emails and invited me to write about her nine-hole success story. But I live in Florida and Karen lives in Portland, Oregon, and time flies.
In fact, many months passed. And then I noticed that, on August 30, 2018, the LPGA Tour would be making its annual stop in Portland, Oregon for the Cambia Portland Classic at the Columbia Edgewater Country Club.
“That’s Karen’s club!” I said to myself.
A visit to an LPGA Tour event and an opportunity to finally meet and interview Karen and her co-captain, Alison Silva, was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
The stars were aligned!
At the same time that I planned my trip to Portland, I heard about a new campaign from the LPGA Women’s Network and We Are Golf—#inviteHER—that focused on invited women to play golf.
I recalled that Karen had mentioned in one of her emails how she actively invited women to join the nine-hole group. I knew that Karen was going to be an expert on how to #inviteHER. As co-chair of the Nine-Holers, she was an expert at inviting many women—some she hardly knew—to join her and other Nine-Holers on the golf course. One email later, our interview was all set for Thursday, the first day of the LPGA tournament in Portland.
When I arrived at Columbia Edgewater, I looked at the golf club brochures and newsletters on display for those attending the LPGA Tour event. Every newsletter has two whole pages devoted to women’s golf. One was all about the 18-hole women golfers and another page was devoted to the nine-hole golfers, featuring the popular line, “If you don’t have time, just play nine!”
When did the nine-hole group start at Columbia Edgewater Country Club?
I believe Columbia Edgewater started the nine-hole group in the early 70s. I joined in 2008 and became the co-captain along with my friend, Alison Silva. We have been co-captains for eight years. In 2008, we had 12 Nine-Holers. Ten years later—in 2018—we grew the group to 63.
Our Nine-Holers group is part of the larger ladies’ organization. We have monthly meetings with the leaders of the 18-holers, nine-holers, the Sundowners (women who play after 5pm on Thursday night) and the chairs of special charity tournaments we have at our club.
Can anyone join the Nine-Holers? Do you use handicaps?
Yes! Any member of the club may join the Nine-Holers. They just have to sign up with what we call the Trophy Fund; the fee is $50, and that $50 pays for tee prizes, decorations, and miscellaneous items.
Once new members join, the next hurdle is getting the ladies to understand the rules and golf course etiquette. We play once a week on Friday. We do use handicaps and play tournament formats. The lowest handicap among our Nine-Holers would be about a 20, if playing eighteen holes. And, we have from time-to-time requested the Director of Golf, Bryan Tunstill, and the pro shop staff to do a rules/etiquette clinic.
Don’t new golfers worry about “not being good enough” to play?
Probably the most important part of our nine-hole golf experience is that there is no pressure to play well. As a new golfer, a gal may feel hesitant. I try to make it clear when I meet and invite new golfers personally that we are all in different stages of our game. There is no pressure to play well. My invitation is really about being together and having fun.
How have you been able to attract so many women?
It’s basically the invitation! And, I invite women members in many ways because there is no one single invitation that works with every member. Although we advertise nine-hole events in our club newsletter, I believe that personal invitations are even more effective.
So how do you make the invitation personal?
I personally walk up to women at the club—even those I don’t know. I ask them if they are golfers, and if so, would they be interested in joining the nine-hole group. Because the invite is personal, when a new member tells me she was just so busy, I remind her that our motto is, “If you don’t have time, just play nine.” I can also answer questions and reinforce our welcome to the Nine-Holers, regardless of the members’ golf experience and skill.
I also personally go through the Member Roster. I email members, introduce myself and follow up with a flyer about our Nine-Holers.
And, I am well-known at our club as being the “parking lot recruiter”. In other words, even in our parking lot, if I see members I don’t know, I will walk up to them and invite them to the nine-hole group. The one thing the ladies know about me is that they will receive constant reminders . . . and invitations.
What are your most popular tournaments?
We do have weekly tournaments that are well-attended. But our biggest tournament is the Niners’ Invitational. We have between 90 to 100 ladies from our club and other clubs in our area. We have a theme. This year, the theme was “A Cuban Holiday at Columbia Edgewater”. We had loud, Cuban music, Cuban food, and the entire area where we held the luncheon was decorated in Cuban colors and décor.
And we have a Member/Guest tournament. The theme this year is “Quaintrelle”, which is of English origin and mean, “a woman who emphasizes a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm and cultivation of life’s pleasures”. I love this definition of woman and can’t wait to see the theme and decorations.
Do some women participate in both the Nine-Holers and the 18-hole group?
Yes—because the groups are really different. What makes us different is that the Nine-Holers have other types of social events. For example, this August, we had 22 ladies going to one of our Niners’ cabins up near Mt. Hood in Oregon. We play golf at a local club, have prizes, eat meals at nice restaurants, and sit around a campfire and drink wine and tell tall tales! In July, we rent a pontoon and cruise up the Columbia River with appetizers and wine.
Many of the 18-Holers have joined our Nine-Holer group just for the social events. Most of those 18-Holers are very good players with low handicaps. So, they don’t always play in our Niner’s weekly tournaments. Just as an aside, we have a 92-year-old woman who typically scores between 50 and 55 for nine holes. She has an amazing swing and walks nine holes!
What’s your final advice to the women reading this who want to start or re-energize their nine-hole golfer group?
My advice is to keep emailing invitations and reminders and, most important, offering personal invitations. I think that really convinces members that the Nine-Holers have a special camaraderie to offer.