Orender's new job: Find more women golfers
Before she was an All-American basketball player at Queens College who turned pro, and long before she became president of the WNBA and one of the most powerful women in sports, Donna Orender had her own idea about golf. It was the wrong idea.
She was a five-sport athlete at Elmont High School -- earning a spot on the boys tennis team -- and thought only elite players really liked golf, which she didn't play. "My uncles played all the time. They'd get up at 4:30 to play at Eisenhower Park and Bethpage," the former Donna Chait said. "It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I realized that was not directly correlated to their ability to play well. That was my 'A-Ha!' moment.
"They were 20 handicappers. For them it was all about loving the game and sharing the passion," said the executive who spent 17 years working for the PGA Tour before heading the WNBA.
Now Orender's job is spreading that feeling for golf, especially among women. Having left the WNBA last December to start a Jacksonville-based marketing firm, she has signed with the PGA of America to lead its Golf 2.0 "Connecting with Her" strategy. The plan is to dramatically increase the number of golfers nationally by 2020, with an emphasis on women.
Orender does play golf now, along with her husband M.G., the former PGA of America president, and their twin 14-year-old sons. She appreciates the nuances. "There is the environment, nature aspect of golf. There is the fact golf is an incredible business tool and there is the discipline of sports, which I believe in. Those lessons you learn refine and define a person," she said.
Orender is a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and has been a powerful executive. But she has an uphill struggle this time. Women who play golf say that when they are placed in a foursome with men on the first tee, the men aren't thrilled.
Given current trends, though, some courses might not stay in business if they don't attract new golfers. Cristy Jurgens, head pro at Spring Lake Golf Club in Middle Island, who was honored recently by the Long Island chapter of the Executive Women's Golf Association, said that EWGA members and other women are good citizens on fairways. "They respect the course. And pace of play is very crucial to them. They have very strict rules and they follow them," Jurgens said.
Lexi Thompson, the 16-year-old who won on the LPGA Tour last month and was given special permission to join the tour next year despite her youth, might inspire young women to play. "She's an unbelievable talent," Orender said. "As a mom, though, I always worry about pushing our kids too fast."
Orender is forming a high-powered committee of business people to study ways to attract women who feel as if "they had been left at the clubhouse door."
"Take gender out of it, and just put the facts out there: Here is more than 50 percent of the population that represents 56 percent of college graduates," she said. "Who wouldn't say, 'Oh my gosh, that's my audience?' "
Oheka-Cold Spring connection
The historic connection between Oheka Castle and neighboring Cold Spring Country Club will take a new step Tuesday with the Otto Kahn Golf Classic. Brunch and dinner will be at the castle. Call 516-719-7100.