Marvol Barnard, National President of the LPGA Professionals and one of the most respected women in golf, didn’t set out to be a role model. It was never her life goal to inspire a legion of women through the game. In fact, Marvol just wanted to learn how to play.
When she took her first swing, she was operating a commercial fishing boat with her husband, Sam, in Alaska, a business that kept the two of them on glacier-filled waters from April through October. They had two boats, one they lived on and the other they chartered and used to fish. Sam had retired from the Alaska State Patrol and wanted to live on the water, a life that couldn’t be further from golf.
The other five months they got away from the wet and cold by traveling to Green Valley, Arizona, a pretty little retirement town off I-19 between Tucson and Nogales, Mexico. That’s where Marvol picked up a club for the first time…at age 38.
“When you live on a boat in Alaska, you want to get off the boat and out of Alaska in the wintertime,” Barnard said. “So, we started coming to Arizona, first for a week, then two and then a month. My husband thought it would be great for us to try golf, so that’s how it started. A lot of our neighbors in an RV park were golfers, so they hooked us up with lessons.
“I took lessons from a woman who was a PGA professional and who really made it fun,” she said. “My husband ended up not liking golf. But I loved it from the first swing, couldn’t get enough of it.”
Unfortunately, about the time her game began to peak, it was fishing season again and they were off to Alaska. But when they came back to Arizona, as Barnard said, “I’d practice my brains out.”
She never thought about a career in the game. There was no grand plan. But some things can’t be hidden. Some traits are as much a part of a person as sparkling blue eyes or the shape of a face as it breaks into a magnetic smile.
Marvol Barnard has it. Charisma, command presence, charm, warmth: whatever draws one human to another, the 62-year-old has more than her share. There’s no “warming up” period with Marvol. Five seconds in, you’re leaning in and listening, smiling alongside. Then you hear the stories.
“After 20 years, we sold the boats and moved (to Green Valley) full time,” she said. “I practiced (golf) so much at this one course that the pro there offered me a job. Not long after that, the head pro suggested that I try out for the LPGA. That hadn’t been on my radar at all. I thought, gosh, I wonder if I could pass that playing ability test.”
She did and began a journey that resulted Marvol being one of the most acclaimed LPGA teachers in the world, a leader who has the ear and admiration of everyone.
“I fell in love with how people learn,” she said. “That is what the LPGA instilled in me, that fascination in how people learn.”
Her PGA of America membership also came by accident and dare. A local pro suggested that she work through the apprentice program. “Again, I thought, I wonder if I could pass that playing ability test,” she said. “Thank God I did.”
Her PGA of America membership opened her eyes to the chasm between men who make up the majority of golf’s teachers and women who make up the fastest growing segment of the game.
“I realized that my beginners weren’t really playing,” she said. “I would take them out (onto the course) for their first session but then I wouldn’t see them on the course anymore. They were intimidated. They weren’t there to be competitive. They felt afraid. So, I started a Nine and Wine program to get them out in a safe, non-competitive environment.
“We started out with eight women. By the end of that first season we had over 100. It struck a chord in my area. We got a lot of women who were refugees from the 18-hole leagues who were sick and tired of people being mean to them. They came over and we got this thing going.
“Now, I have over 500 women in the database. They play four times a week and have anywhere between six and ten groups every time.”
That is her gift. People trust her; people relate to her; people aspire to be like her.
“If I play with someone who started at age 6, I can see a difference between their level and what I have starting at age 38,” she said. “I’m not on the level of a tour player who has been playing their whole life. But I’ve become an LPGA Professional and part of the PGA of America and I developed a pretty good teaching business.
“But I think the fact that I started late helps,” Marvol said. “I can so relate to them with the fears they have in starting.”
These stories are not part of a presentation. She’s not working to inspire awe. It’s natural. It’s who she is.
Last year, when she mentioned to some of her players that she’d be heading to Phoenix for the Volvik Founders Cup and would love some company, they had to rent a bus for all the takers.
Role models are always relevant, but they’re especially important in difficult and uncertain times; times when the public needs a soothing voice, a deep breath and a shared smile.
The week the Final Four would have been played, the subject of basketball came up. Marvol went to Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington on a basketball scholarship back in the day.
“I was only there for basketball, not the academics, and it showed,” she said. “I left midway through my second year. That troubled me for a long time. So, I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree last December.”
At age 61, she didn’t add. Marvelous Marvol continues to amaze.