Jessica Lenihan doesn’t play a lot of golf, but she spends a ton of time on the course.
“I play a little bit, like at industry events,” the Hayden Lake Country Club assistant superintendent said. “When I’m on the course for eight to 10 hours a day, usually the last thing I want to do is hang on the course a little more.”
Lenihan opts for early morning alarms over 270-yard drives. She enjoys seeing the sun rise while handling multiple tasks and making sure the course is in top-notch condition.
Lenihan has made her mark on the game as one of the few females in the predominately male world of superintendents and assistant superintendents. She knows of just two other women in the Spokane-North Idaho region with similar job titles.
So it stands to reason Lenihan would be part of another groundbreaking venture for women in her industry. She was one of 29 women on the 65-person maintenance team at the U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco earlier this month.
Those are unprecedented numbers for a PGA, LPGA or USGA event, including the biggest women’s tournament in the nation. Lenihan knows this firsthand from volunteering at three men’s tournaments.
“When I did the Players (Championship), I was the only female among 84 volunteers,” she said. “At the Waste Management there were three women that year and at the (2018) U.S. Open at Shinnecock (Hills) I think there were five of us.
“Usually, I’m outnumbered, so it was pretty cool to see.”
And important to see. It’s common to hear the phrase “grow the game” tossed around in golf circles, but it almost always refers to boosting the number of golfers, not boosting the appeal of course maintenance jobs to more women.
The near 50-50 male/female crew at the women’s Open was the brainchild of Troy Flanagan, director of maintenance at The Olympic Club. The course was in fabulous condition and the experience for the 29 women was much more than just a volunteer gig.
“There’s been a push to get more women involved in the industry,” Lenihan said. “It’s a super male-dominated industry as a whole, but it just lets it be known this is a career that women can do.
“The last couple years (the topic) has been more at the forefront in our national conferences. It makes it known this is something we can all do.”
Lenihan’s work day started with a 3:45 a.m. shuttle ride to the course, morning meeting, on-course assignments, an early dinner at 3 p.m. and then back to work until 8-9 .
Lenihan, 32, estimated she slept maybe 10 hours during her week in San Francisco, but the experience was worth the sleep deprivation.
“Another thing that made it unique was that Syngenta (a global agricultural company) organized educational activities so we did stuff on diversity and being women leaders in the industry,” Lenihan said. “I’m very fortunate to work for somebody (Hayden Lake superintendent Jeremiah Farmer) that allows me to do these things and sees the value in networking, building those relationships and how well-rounded it makes you.”
Open competitors were unfailingly complimentary.
“For the men, you’re there to set up the course,” Lenihan said. “During practice rounds, the women were like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much, the course is awesome.’ That was fun to see because it’s never happened before.”
Lenihan’s interest in course maintenance is in her DNA. Her father, Brendan, was the director of golf services at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Jessica, who played tennis, not golf, at Lake City High, worked at the scenic course for seven years, first as a caddie and then on the grounds crew, before joining Hayden Lake’s staff 10 years ago.
“I’d say 99% of the people you come across are really awesome and supportive,” she said. “It’s that 1%. It’s a frustrating position to be in, to have to work twice as hard to prove that you know what you’re doing, but it’s also we can do it, we can hang and working for the right person to get the chance.
“It definitely takes a strong personality. Maintenance shops are typically joking around and you have to be able to dish it out.”
It may have started out as more of a summer job, but it quickly became Lenihan’s career path. She completed her degree in turf management online from Penn State University in 2016 while juggling work and classes.
“That is what got me started on the golf course,” Lenihan said of her dad. “It’s not every little girl’s dream to grow up and be a grass grower. It was one of those things you fall in love.
“And you can’t beat that 5:30 sunrise on the course.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.