All Carol Offenbacker knew about grass was the color. And on a golf course, she couldn't describe the difference between a green and a fairway, a tee or a trap. She had, out of necessity, pushed a broom but never experienced the feel of swinging a club.
But Carol, a single parent, with two children to raise, commuting to college daily, and working as a waitress, was willing to pay the price for (1) an education and (2) the chance to pursue a profession that has provided more satisfaction than anything she has known in life.
She grew up in a row house in South Baltimore, with pavements and no grass, went to St. Jerome's elementary school and Southern High, class of 1969. Eight years later, divorced and wary of what the future held, she enrolled at the University of Maryland.
"I knew computers weren't for me and I wasn't interested in any of the medical courses," she says. "So I took general agriculture. On a part-time basis, I got a job in a nursery, but that wasn't for me either. Neither was landscaping. Then I heard about the turf industry, the study of grass and how to implement its growth and keep it healthy."
Offenbacker, nee Burr, graduated with a degree in agronomy, plus a certificate from the Institute of Applied Agriculture. Then she hired on for a seasonal position working under superintendent Lou Rudinski at the Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville, Md. It offered long hours, low wages but excellent on-the-job teaching from a true professional.
Now, five years later, she's the only woman in the Middle Atlantic Association of Golf Course Superintendents and exudes that rare enthusiasm found only in those thoroughly immersed in a job they totally enjoy. "The hours are long, the days have a way of running into each other, there's responsibility but love of nature and the environment make it all worthwhile," she says in what almost sounds the part of an exaggerated public relations presentation.
But Carol is much too sincere for that. For the last year, she has driven from her home in Lusby, Md., to the golf course at Clifton Park, where she is the superintendent with an assistant and five other employees under her direction. The distance between Lusby and Baltimore is 92 miles.
"In summertime, I got up at 3 a.m. and was at the course before sunup. Then I'd drive home dead-tired at day's end to go to bed and get up the next day to do it all over again. I couldn't sell my house in Lusby so I have had to take another job closer to home."
So, starting Monday, she'll be an assistant at the Port America Course in Prince George's County. It's a temporary step backward but she couldn't continue to spend close to four hours daily on the highway. "Carol is an exceptional young lady," says Nick Vance, president of the Middle Atlantic Superintendents Association. "She has a burning desire to do all she can. There's no doubting her ability to provide services in all areas of our business."
Carol is the only woman member in the Middle Atlantic Section and, in a nationwide organization of 10,000, a mere 31 women are superintendents and 95 serve as assistants. "In the next five years you'll see an unprecedented influx of women," forecasts Scott Smith, spokesman for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America in Lawrence, Kan.
And why can't a female know as much about growing grass, manicuring greens, treating diseases that come with the changing of the seasons, knowing when to fertilize, to seed to irrigate, to aerate and how to shape a course into first-rate playing condition?
"They can," she answers. "More women would be in it if they knew about it. This is a job where details are extremely important and most women are oriented that way. It's outdoors and, at times, can be physical. I personally can't wait to get to the course because it's never monotonous. And guess what? You even get paid for the pleasure."
It's obvious to anyone around Offenbacker that her enthusiasm can't be restrained. She also is starting to play golf because of the enjoyment the game offers, plus believing it will help enhance her awareness of what needs to be done to make courses better for the players.
Golf superintendents aren't any better than the budget at their disposal. But each one takes the ground under foot and tries to put a stamp of their own personality into it. That's how it is with Carol Offenbacker, who doesn't look for applause -- only to create happiness among the golfing multitudes. The job is to serve others, even if they trample on her work.