We all need women in our life who lift us up in our journey of self-discovery, someone who encourages us to go for that job, buy that new outfit (or leave it on the rack) and enjoy that second glass of wine. They remind us to get out of our comfort zone and stand by us as we face our fears head on. When we surround ourselves with such encouraging women, we begin to break free of our own limitations.
Sometimes, we find those cheerleaders in unexpected places—for Barbara Bufkin that unlikely place was the golf course. She wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Bufkin needed someone to help her conquer a fear that was lurking for much of her career: learning to play golf.
Bufkin was seemingly fearless and an unstoppable force in the insurance industry. After graduating high school at 16 and finishing college at 20, she jumped into her career early and never looked back as she climbed the corporate ladder, eventually becoming a top tier executive.
She was always comfortable and confident in a boardroom setting. Bufkin was exceptional at her job and recognized as a leader, an innovator and well-respected by her peers. The only time she felt out of her comfort zone was on the golf course, which unfortunately is also where many business opportunities take place.
“Early in my career I realized a lot of deals were happening on the golf course, but I didn’t think of translating my work to the golf course because there weren’t many women doing it,” Bufkin said.
Occasionally she would dip her toe in the water, but always found a reason to avoid learning the game. Then everything changed last year at The Club at Las Campanas in Santa Fe, N.M., when she met Marvol Barnard, LPGA & PGA director of player development.
“Barbara just appeared on my lesson sheet one day, and over time we started conversing about fear,” said Barnard, who also serves as LPGA Teaching and Club Professional National President. “I asked her ‘who would you be if you weren’t fearful of stepping out on the golf course and how would your life change?’ Then we talked about how many businesswomen are reluctant to put themselves out on the course—the main reason is ‘I don’t want to embarrass myself’.”
With Barnard’s guidance, it only took a few lessons before Bufkin caught the golf bug and her fears of embarrassment slowly began to fade. In fact, she started to improve rather quickly, and her on-course doubts transformed into possibilities.
“[Golf] is a lot about self-discovery and it’s like learning to ride a bike—you fall and fall and fall, then all of a sudden you’re riding,” Barnard said. “If you give women a chance to fall in love with golf, the rest of the game will fall into place and it becomes a sisterhood.”
Enlightened and inspired, Barnard and Bufkin started brainstorming ways to bridge the gap between golf and businesswomen. They began with the annual golf outing and fundraiser for the Association of Professional Insurance Women, an organization of 8,000 members nationwide, where Bufkin serves as president. The theme of this year’s golf outing was Think, Link & Drinks, which included an instructional clinic with Barnard. Proceeds from the sold-out event went to the APIW Memorial Scholarship Fund awarded to deserving insurance women.
As board chair of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation( IICF) , she proudly supported a fun-filled day earlier this month at IICF’s Western Division Insuring the Children Golf Tournament in Mission Viejo, CA—raising over $75,000 in funds and awareness to fight child abuse in Southern California.This is just the beginning of Bufkin’s vision to change lives through golf.
“Here’s this woman who fell in love with the game, and she’s using it as a vehicle to help other women and raise money for charity,” Marvol said. “Now you have one more person in the world using golf as a way to create opportunities for others.”
In just one short year after facing her golf course fears and forming a friendship with Barnard, Bufkin is discovering completely new ways to empower the next generation of businesswomen, proving the possibilities are endless when we get out of our comfort zone.
“We must erase the word perfection from our vernacular,” Bufkin said. “In golf you’re not going to hit every shot great, and same in our careers—you have to learn and adapt. Women try so hard to be perfect . . . we’ve been constrained by our sense of having to be better, and I think we need to put aside that word in life and in golf.”
Sometimes all it takes is finding our tribe to remind us we have all the right tools to achieve anything. With the help of Barnard, Bufkin 2.0 is ready to embrace new opportunities on the course and in her career.
“I call it the ‘Marvol effect’ because everyone needs inspiration and I needed Marvol to walk into my life,” Bufkin said. “She helped me address something I knew I wanted to do but just never believed I could. “If we can send that message now in a young woman’s life, we’re going to be shifting the dynamic and it’s going to happen in an exponential way.”