Woman makes Pennsylvania professional golf history
Ashley Grier hasn't always been completely comfortable as one of the few women competing against the men in the two PGA of America sections in which she has worked over the last six years.
However, in her second year of employment in the Philadelphia Section, as an assistant professional at Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova, she has found acceptance from her fellow pros and club members alike with a winning personality and a fine golf game that produced section history last month.
Grier, 33, the daughter of a golf pro who played for five years on the LPGA Futures (now Symetra) Tour, became the first female PGA professional in the section's 95-year history to win a points event, last month's Callaway Golf TPD Championship at Trump National Philadelphia.
"It's sometimes different being the only girl playing," said Grier, a native of Hagerstown, Md. "In my old section, the Mid-Atlantic, a lot of the older guys knew my dad and a lot of the younger guys my age knew me, so I think I was friends with everybody. When I first moved here last year, it was different.
"But the guys have all been super-nice to me. I'm friends with a lot of the assistants. After I won last month, I got a lot of emails and phone calls saying 'Congratulations,' so it was pretty cool to have their respect. They were all very supportive."
The Philadelphia Section PGA office says that of the 899 members and apprentices in the section, just 24 of them - less than 3 percent - are women. Between three and six women usually compete in each of its tournaments, which include 15 points events and a similar number of other competitions.
When women compete in section events, they play from 80 to 85 percent of the yardage that the men compete from, in compliance with PGA of America guidelines.
Judging from the reaction to her victory last month, the shorter tees weren't a problem.
Teeing off in the morning wave, Grier tallied 24 points under the modified Stableford format. She went home, and would later return to the course, to see if the score was good enough to win or if a playoff would be necessary.
"When I was home, I kept hitting refresh to see the scores," she said. "Once it got to be around 4:30 or 5:00, I was kind of hoping nobody would beat me because I thought it'd be pretty cool to win, and obviously I wanted to win. I drove back and luckily it held up.
"It did make me feel good because I do play a shorter tee box than the guys play. Sometimes you never know how people feel or if they think it's fair or not. So to get those calls and emails made me feel good, that they were happy for me."
Eric Kennedy, the head golf professional at Overbrook, called Grier "a special individual and a special player who is easy to root for."
"The membership absolutely adores her," said Kennedy, whose first job in golf was working for Grier's father, Dave Grier. "She's become one of the most popular golf professionals in Philadelphia in very short order. She fits in extremely well. She's able to hang out with the guys and have a great time."
Grier started playing golf at age 6 after her father bought a golf center in Hagerstown. She developed her competitive nature in putt-putt contests against her parents and her two younger sisters where everyone would put $5 in and the winner would take the pot.
She played collegiately at Central Florida and graduated in 2006 but wasn't sure if she wanted to turn pro. A great summer on the amateur circuit changed her mind, and she qualified for the LPGA Futures Tour that fall. In 2007, she earned a berth in the U.S. Women's Open where one of her first practice rounds was with LPGA Hall of Famer Lorena Ochoa.
But after 2010, she said she started experiencing some burnout.
"It's hard to make it out there," she said. "I was in the middle of the pack a lot, nothing special, and just felt like I needed a break because I wasn't having as much fun as I used to. I still wanted to play and be around the game, so that's when I thought about getting into the club pro side of it."
She entered the PGA of America club professional program in 2012 and got her card in May 2014. She was successful competing, winning the Maryland Women's Open twice. She also qualified for the 2016 PGA Professional National Championship in Verona, N.Y., as one of two women in the field of 312 players.
Grier will take part in next weekend's Pennsylvania Women's Open, and also has qualified for the May 30 Haverford Philadelphia PGA Classic, featuring the largest first-prize purse in the section.
And her comfort level, in the time she's been at Overbrook, has improved greatly.
"Overbrook is a great club," she said. "The members really enjoy playing with the pros, we get to go out with them a lot. They're very, very supportive of our golf. Eric's supportive of us and he's a great teacher. He's helped me with my swing. It's a fun place to work."