Valerie Smitheman-Brown is president of A.B. Security Co., of Lutherville. She also plays golf. Until last week, she considered one a business and one a recreation.
The turning point was a day-long golf program for executive women sponsored by Mazda and conducted Monday at Bethesda Country Club.
"Women are finding they can build professional relationships on the golf course," Kerry Graham, president of the Ladies Professional Golf Association Teaching Division, said at a morning session, limited to 150 because of the desire to break into small groups for on-course instruction from area female pros.
As it turned out, the program developed willing disciples in Smitheman-Brown and Faye Johnson, a vice-president-sales for Poly-Med Industries, Inc., which handles cardiac and orthopedic products, and is located in the Golden Ring section of Baltimore County.
"It was an excellent forum. I found out I have the best of both possible worlds," Smitheman-Brown said during a telephone conversation from Dallas, where she was on a business trip. "You can be a pleasant woman and an aggressive business person. I'm playing golf with one of my [male] customers tomorrow because I got aggressive, and I have a lesson scheduled with the woman pro who helped me at the clinic [Troy Beck of Glenn Dale GC] when I get home.
"Men are accepting women more in business, but you have to prove yourself. On the golf course, a group of men who play at different levels can have a good time, but I think women feel they have to be better, and that can be scary. It's kind of a polite aggression."
This is exactly what Jan Thompson, Mazda's vice president for marketing, was talking about when discussing reasons for the clinic, which was a sellout. The format included a Graham-led classroom-style discussion, followed by on-course work, then a luncheon -- attended by some 300 women -- and an afternoon clinic conducted by LPGA members Pat Bradley and Jane Blalock, who is involved in a post-tour career as a New England businesswoman.
"We figured a lot of corporate women worked hard to get where they are, and now work so hard during the day, that there should be a carry-over of confidence," Thompson said. "Still, it is so frustrating to be so good at everything else you do and not be able to take this to the golf course.
"I see it in the younger ones who work for me. They are in their late 20s, they have to go out and play golf and there is an intimidation factor. They don't know what to do or how to do it.
"I've been playing golf for 15 years, and I know that at the end of 18 holes of golf, there is a relationship with your playing partners that was not there before. There's nothing like suffering the trials and tribulations for four hours to get to know a person."
Johnson was enthusiastic about the whole program.
"It was very professionally done. I was reluctant about going, but the reception was wonderful and you felt welcomed. It turned out to be a great opportunity to meet women in business. It gave me good exposure and showed me how to be able to tie business and golf together.
"The morning clinic was exceptional. My teacher [Jean Spencer of Feasterville, Pa.] gave me some tips that I feel will definitely improve my game. I tried them later and couldn't believe how I hit the ball. It was dynamite!
She added that her husband had used golf for business but that she had never got involved. "Now I have a different perception. I can see how it would be helpful -- for building relationships, and keeping a customer in that comfort zone."
The overall response to the clinic was similar to these, and Thompson is working on ways to improve it.
"We'll send out surveys for the participants, getting their thoughts, and when we get the formula down, we'll go out to the top markets. We want to take this around the country, tying it in with other LPGA tournaments.
Local 36-hole qualifying for the United States Open championship will be held tomorrow at Wakefield Valley GC in Westminster, with 54 pros and 19 amateurs seeking six places in the sectional field. Another local qualifying site will be Mount Vernon CC (formerly Woodlawn CC), in Alexandria, Va., with 56 pros and 46 amateurs going for nine sectional places.
The 36-hole sectional qualifying event will be at Woodmont CC in Rockville on June 3, with the championship due June 13-16, at Hazeltine National GC, Chaska, Minn.
NOTES: Entries for the Maryland State men's amateur, set for Bethesda CC, June 6-9, close Wednesday at noon. . . . Qualifying for the Kemper Open will be held Wednesday and Thursday at Montgomery CC. With four places available each day, there will be 64 Middle Atlantic PGA members trying on Wednesday, and 198 "open" players trying on Thursday. . . . The CC of Maryland has announced a limited number of club memberships available between now and July 1, with information available from the club.
This week's schedule: Tomorrow--U.S. Open. Local qualifying at Wakefield Valley GC and Mount Vernon CC, 7 a.m.; Free State Seniors, Lakewood CC, 10:30 a.m. Tuesday--Women's Golf Association at Eagle's Nest, 9 a.m. Wednesday--MAPGA member qualifying for Kemper Open, Montgomery CC, 7 a.m. Thursday--Open qualifying for Kemper Open, Montgomery CC, 7 Saturday--Elkridge-Green Spring member-guest, Green Spring VHC, 7:30 a.m. Sunday--Elkridge-Green Spring member-guest, Elkridge Club, 7:30 a.m.