Female golf pro stays the course Golfer: Joan Lovelace, who may be one of just three female head pros in the state, remembers when women's golf was strictly an off-hours thing.

September 29, 1996|By Beth Reinhard | Beth Reinhard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Years ago, as an assistant pro at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, Joan Lovelace kept quiet when female golfers were restricted to off-hours on the weekends. She liked her job and wanted to keep it.

Now, the 35-year-old is the head golf pro at the Fairway Hills course in Columbia -- one of three women known to be head pros in the state -- and part of her appeal is the way she relates to female golfers.

Lovelace espouses a bare-bones teaching philosophy: "I try to pick one thing at a time that's going to help a student's game," she said. "I don't try to give them 90 million instructions at once. I like to keep it simple."

Her students respond to that philosophy. One of them, Helen Yungmann, said she was ready to quit several weeks ago. But on a recent overcast afternoon, she bragged to Lovelace before a lesson about shooting a much-improved 102.

"She really turned me around," Yungmann said. "Sometimes it takes a woman to teach a woman."

Although many of Lovelace's students are men, her appeal to female golfers is key as increasing numbers of women enter what was once a more exclusive sport. Golf officials expect more than a million women to begin playing the game in the next few years.

As head pro at Fairway Hills, she oversees 55 employees who help make sure things run smoothly for about 2,000 members.

"In the year since Joan has been the golf pro, she's surpassed my wildest expectations," said Bob Bellamy, director of operations at the Columbia Association, which operates Fairway Hills.

"In terms of the quality of the job she's done in dealing with all the golfers, staff and other issues that come along with being a manager, she's done a terrific job."

Lovelace was born in Charleston, W.Va., and moved with her parents and two older sisters to Ellicott City when she was a year old. Her father was an aeronautical engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and her mother sold antiques.

Lovelace said she was a typical tomboy, whom the older boys in the neighborhood wanted on their football team because she didn't "throw like a girl."

"I wasn't one to sit home with the Barbies," she said.

She got mostly A's and B's at public schools, including Howard High School, where she started playing competitive golf. Lovelace said she was the first female athlete in the county to participate in a boys' varsity sport.

Her first exposure to the greens had come earlier, when she was 12 and caddied for her father at Hobbit's Glen in Columbia's Harper's Choice village.

"If I wanted to see my father, I had to go to the golf course, because he played a lot of golf," Lovelace said. "Next thing I know, he gave me a 4-iron, and I out-drove one of his buddies. I thought, 'Hey, I like this.' "

It must have been beginner's luck, however, because she spent the rest of the round in tears as her father barked out instructions: "Keep your head down! Keep your left arm straight! Relax!"

Her mother was a Hobbit's Glen golf champion in the early 1970s.

After high school, Lovelace attended Catonsville Community College, where she received her associate's degree in parks and recreation while leading a club and planning school dances.

Torn between pursuing a bachelor's degree and wanting to teach golf, she asked the pro at Hobbit's Glen for advice. A week later, he offered her a job as an assistant golf pro. For $135 a week, she spent 60 to 70 hours washing cars, answering phones, picking up golf balls -- and wondering whether the male assistant pros were making more money.

"I learned the not-so-glamorous golf profession from the ground up," Lovelace said.

She was an assistant pro for eight years and never considered applying for a head pro job. "Being a woman in the business, I didn't have the confidence that anyone would hire me, and I was comfortable where I was," she said.

Discouraged and depressed, she put down her clubs for more than a year and became a lab technician at Maryland Medical Labs.

By late 1989, a man she had known since childhood, Gene Ward, had become head pro at Hobbit's Glen. She told him she wanted a job and wanted it to be year-round. He hired her, and she worked her way up from a Ladies Professional Golf Association apprentice to Class B to Class A, the highest professional ranking. Then, last year, she moved to the head pro job at Fairway Hills.

"She's got a real good-looking swing," Ward said. "If she got a chance to play more, she'd be very good."

But after giving 10 to 12 lessons a day, six days a week, on the seventh day, Lovelace rests.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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