Dickens is one of only 12 females to hold the distinction of certified golf course superintendent with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America
Lawrence, Kan. (Oct. 7, 2014) – Nancy Dickens traded a promising career in the corporate world at Hallmark Cards to follow her love of the outdoors, eventually getting a turfgrass management degree from North Carolina State University. She started by working on the grounds crew at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort and today is club manager at Kierland Golf Club in Scottsdale, a position she accepted in 2013, with responsibility for the entire golf operation.
She has been a member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America for more than 20 years, and she is one of only 12 females in the country to currently hold the high distinction of certified golf course superintendent.
You graduated college with a business degree but you took a different path to be a golf course superintendent. What are the opportunities for women in this profession?
“It’s a male-dominated profession, but I think it is wide open to women. In fact, I have had fabulous opportunities come my way. People say that it is a man’s world, but I think that if women want this career, it is certainly open to them. But I remember when I told my mother what I had decided to do, she cried.
“I grew up in sports and played collegiate tennis. I have always loved the outdoors. I have a degree in finance, but I just didn’t enjoy what I was doing everyday. I had this thought that if I was going to work another 30 years of my life, I wanted to do something I really enjoyed. So, when I got exposure to the superintendent world through my boss at Hallmark Cards (his brother was a superintendent), it sounded perfect for me.
“I’ve never seen that being a woman is a disadvantage, and I’ve never felt discriminated against in the golf industry. I think it was helpful to have a mentor and learn from someone who is agronomically sound. I was at notable golf courses like Pinehurst and Mission Hills Country Club (Rancho Mirage, Calif.), and that helped me. But I would say that simple hard work will get you where you want to be.”
Do you think of yourself as a pioneer in a male-dominated profession?
“I don’t think of myself as a pioneer. I think of myself as incredibly fortunate to have made this choice more than 20 years ago. It’s been an amazing career for me. I am not a fan of being called a pioneer. It is up to all of us to make the most of the opportunities we have.
“I started on the grounds crew at Pinehurst No. 2 and worked there for almost three years. Then, I got an opportunity to be the assistant superintendent at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., eventually becoming the superintendent on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.
“If someone had told me that I’d have a chance to work at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course just a few years out of turf school, I wouldn’t have believed them. Five years later, I joined Troon Golf. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
In early 2013, when you were still director of agronomy at Kierland, you eliminated 14 acres of highly managed turf at Kierland Golf Club, a 27-hole facility. Why?
“I believe it is a trend that is going to continue, and it is the right thing to do as we try to be good stewards of the environment here and conserve water. With the cost of water, it was a financial decision as well. We have cut our water use by 20 million gallons annually, and we have reduced maintenance costs. We have to find a blend of aesthetics and conservation of natural resources in the golf industry.”
What is an interesting story that you have from being a superintendent?
“I was a turf student at North Carolina State in 1994, and I was working on loan at an LPGA event at Indigo Lakes Golf and Country Club in Florida. It was pre-tournament, and I was out changing hole locations at about 6 a.m. when I heard a voice saying, ‘Good morning. Tell me what you are doing.’
“I look up and it’s Amy Alcott. So, we visited a bit. She thought it was very impressive that a female was getting into the business. We talked a bit and became friends, and 20 years later, we are still good friends. We’ll go nine months without talking, and then she’ll call me out of the blue. I just caddied for her earlier this year when she was out this way for the LPGA Legends Tour. She is just a great person.”
What should golfers know about superintendents?
“Golfers should appreciate that superintendents are highly trained professionals and a passionate group who love what they do. The dedication of the people in the profession is what impresses me the most. Superintendents work behind the scenes, but a superintendent’s work is critical to the success of a golf facility and the whole golf industry. Course conditioning is at the top of the list for almost every golfer.
“Superintendents are constantly trying to do more with less – less staff, less water and less money. And they are doing a great job.”
About GCSAA and the EIFG
The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) is a leading golf organization in the United States. Its focus is on golf course management, and since 1926 GCSAA has been the top professional association for the men and women who manage golf courses in the U.S. and worldwide. From its headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., the association provides education, information and representation to nearly 18,000 members in more than 78 countries. The association’s mission is to serve its members, advance their profession and enhance the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf. Visit GCSAA at www.gcsaa.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter.
The Environmental Institute for Golf is the philanthropic organization of the GCSAA. Its mission is to foster sustainability through research, awareness, education, programs and scholarships for the benefit of golf course management professionals, golf facilities and the game. Visit EIFG at www.eifg.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter.