Women connecting through golf: Blair Chamber clinics help build bonds, confidence

Courtesy photo Rachel Prosser, an ABCD Corp. employee, takes a swing during a golf game.

By Patt Keith

pkeith@altoonamirror.com

Natalie Depto-Vesey of Patton credits the Blair Chamber of Commerce’s Ladies Golf Clinics with boosting her self-confidence so much that she invested in new clubs at the end of the 2017 season.

“I learned how to think fast, hit the ball and how relationship building (through golf) is a key for business,” she said. “Golf is a great way to get to know people in a very relaxed atmosphere. People like to work with and do business with people they know.”

Depto-Vesey will participate in the Chamber’s clinics this summer to further strengthen her play and confidence on the green.

Offered in four sessions, women can pick to participate in one or all four from either 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. or 7 to 8 p.m. at Sinking Valley Country Club. Instructors are Tom Koehle, head golf coach at Penn State Altoona, and Troy Monahan, golf professional at Sinking Valley.

The golf clinics are an ideal opportunity for interested women to try out the sport, as clubs are provided and special shoes are unnecessary.

The Chamber limits the number of participants to 12 per session so each woman receives adequate attention. Dates and topics for the clinics are:

June 7 — Introduction to the game, the basics and short game instruction

June 14 — Full swing instruction

June 21 — Woods and sand play

June 28 — 9-hole scramble

“There is so much to learn,” Depto-Vesey said. “I want to move to the next level and improve my golf game,” she said. “The clinic really boosted my confidence; I learned a lot of tips and about golf etiquette. It is a really fun and unique program that provides me and other women with one more tool in their business tool kit as so much business is done on the golf course.”

Koehle agrees a nugget of truth is in the adage “more deals are done on the golf course than in the boardroom.”

“I would be willing to bet that a day of golf can solidify deals. From politics, business and friendship, golf provides opportunities for all,” he said. “That is the best thing now since golf used to be very much for the privileged. Now, the game and industry has opened its doors to so many.”

In general, golf’s popularity has grown, a trend expected to continue, Koehle said, noting that the National Golf Foundation estimates anticipated growth of three million participants by 2020 — and a key demographic for growth is women.

“I think there is a growing interest in women learning and playing because of golf being more open than 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.

“Without knowing exact numbers, by the eyeball test, I would imagine women participating in golf is lower (here) than in other parts of the nation. Economic centers show great strength in women participants. If you look at Pittsburgh, for example, they boast strong numbers of women golfers, complete with organizations like the Executive Women’s Golf association where golf, networking and socialization are key components to why they play, he said.”

Golf builds relationships, Koehle said, because the sport allows for conversation, competition and physical challenges.

“All of those factors together really allow you to learn what a potential business partner, friend or employee really may be like when you are in the grind of a workday or important deal,” he said.

Shortly after becoming chancellor and dean of Penn State Altoona, Lori Bechtel-Wherry remembers playing in a golf tournament to benefit ABCD Corp. after having joined its board of directors.

Being a tournament with many players, she remembers one drive in particular at Sinking Valley.

“I had to tee off in front of the foursome behind me that included Marty Marasco and Pat Miller. I was nervous as everyone was watching me, but I hit a great drive. I think they were a bit surprised by my drive, but they knew that I could hold my own in more ways than one,” she said.

A common mistake, Koehle said, by men and women alike is not being aggressive when it comes to hitting the ball.

“People tend to try to guide the ball or make sure they hit it, and you’re really to have speed generating as you make contact. Women tend to be a little more tentative when taking up the game, so convincing them to be aggressive is an early hurdle. However, once they make that first had contact and gain confidence the sky is the limit.”

Bechtel-Wherry admits she has “muffed” drives, too, but adds “so does everyone else. Golfing helps me to not take myself too seriously — to lighten up — to just have fun with the people with whom I am playing, enjoy nature, and to get a bit of business done at the same time.

“I love being outside and in nature, and the challenge and nuance of the game was intriguing to me. I also enjoy the camaraderie of the game and being with friends, colleagues and community members. Playing golf gives me the opportunity to get to know others, to discuss business and community affairs, while also supporting community causes. I’ve met a lot of people and business associates over the years through playing golf.”

The cost to participate is $20 per session or $70 for all four. Payment must be made in advance and there are no refunds or rainchecks. Reservations are required. Contact Judy Juda at the Chamber at 943-8151 or email her at jjuda@blairchamber.

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