Women's Tee Time Is Time to Network

Rapidly growing Executive Women's Golf League helps them get in the game

AS morning rush-hour traffic whizzes by, Robin Lucero awaits two press visitors on the veranda of the posh Marriott World Center resort. A self-employed businesswoman, she has turned a patio table overlooking the golf course into a temporary desk until her guests arrive.

Lucero coordinates the activities of the Orlando branch of the Executive Women's Golf League, a national organization with 82 chapters and nearly 10,000 members.

''Most other leagues set up in cities throughout the country are geared for women who have flexibility during the week,'' she explains. ''The Executive Women's Golf League is geared to the working woman, with more events on weekends when women have a greater opportunity to play.''

For business-minded women like Lucero, the league is a way to mix pleasure with business, as often happens with men. In fact, she says the Orlando chapter is planning some networking breakfasts, at which topics such as banking, communications, and the training industry are discussed and business cards exchanged.

''Many of us are entrepreneurs, and if we can help each other, we do,'' says Lucero, who was the national account manager for a pharmaceutical company when she and her husband moved to Orlando in 1992. Today she is president of her own consulting business, Lucero Insight, which gives her more latitude to play golf and participate in EWG, the acronym the organization has adopted.

Part of EWG's purpose is to provide a ''positive environment of acceptance and camaraderie'' for career-oriented women who want to learn and enjoy the game.

Statistics compiled by the National Golf Foundation indicate that women are establishing a greater presence in the game. They account for 37 percent of all new American players since 1993 and number roughly 5 million out of a total US golfing population of 24.8 million.

Karen Timmermans, coordinator of a 180-member Boston chapter of EWG, says she started playing golf several years ago. An accountant, she decided to take lessons because loan officers she dealt with kept asking if she played.

''As a beginner, I played with my husband, but he got frustrated playing with me because I wasn't moving up fast enough,'' she says, sitting in her spacious Back Bay office. ''We tired of playing [short] par-three courses, and I really wanted to play with other women at my level.'' Timmermans and two women attempted to launch an Executive Women's Golf League chapter in metropolitan Boston three years ago. It didn't pan out, she says, partly because of concerns some had about using an inner-city public course as a base of operations. When the national organization kept getting calls from Boston-area businesswomen, though, Timmermans was coaxed into trying again.

Two years later, the chapter is going strong and likely will split into north and south chapters so members won't have to travel as far. Timmermans says word-of-mouth advertising is the main means of attracting members, who pay $56 in annual dues, more than half of which goes to the national organization. She spends about an hour a day planning activities, including weeknight, nine-hole events, teaching clinics, and 18-hole weekend outings. All play is on public courses.

To some, the organization's title might connote an exclusive club of high-salaried CEOs. It's not. ''I think most professional women in their 30s think of themselves as executives,'' Timmermans says. Lucero adds that members don't even have to have jobs in order to join, nor even be women. ''We're not a sexist organization,'' she says.

Women, however, have had to stake out their turf in a game that sometimes excludes them. ''The women who inhabit the private country club world, in particular, find themselves in a cultural backwater, constrained by arcane rules left over from a largely forgotten age,'' writes Marcia Chambers in a new book, ''The Unplayable Lie: The Untold Story of Women and Discrimination in American Golf'' (Pocket Books, $21). Chambers cites challenges women face at some private courses, where their tee times, voting rights, and memberships are limited.

The founder of EWG sees her organization playing a role in fighting club wrongs but not leading the charge. ''We can't take it upon ourselves to solve those problems,'' says Nancy Oliver, adding that the league keeps abreast of legal initiatives and helps trailblazing individuals make the proper connections. ''Right now our goals ... are to create opportunities for women to come into the game of golf,'' she says. ''We have our hands full with that.''

''Overwhelmed'' is how she feels about the league's phenomenal growth. She formed the organization in West Palm Beach, Fla., its current headquarters, four years ago with about 30 people. Serving as the league's leader is now a fulltime job.

Oliver says her inspiration for establishing the league grew out of a desire to address a longstanding void in her professional life. Although she ran her own golf-marketing company, she didn't know how to play She kept this fact a secret for years, declining numerous midweek business-related invitations to play golf. ''I'd always blame it on having to get a FedEx package out,'' she says.

Eventually, she confessed to a business associate and his wife when they invited Oliver to join them for a game on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. She vowed then and there to learn to play and set about organizing beginner clinics that would teach both the mechanics and etiquette of golf.

''I don't think men have the same patience level or are as encouraging [as women],'' Oliver says. ''I think women feel safer learning to play in an environment with other women.''

* Executive Women's Golf League, 1401 Forum Way, Suite 100, West Palm Beach, FL 33401.

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