A Pioneer Amongst the Pines Part 1

By TODD WOLVERTON

It was a typical summer day as I stood with a 7 iron in hand. I must have hit about 70-80 balls as I noticed an older woman walking with a couple of younger women toward me. The older woman seemed to be leading the others like a realtor toward a home; clients, you know? She set up in a shaded area not far from me; nuzzled up next to the pine trees that separated the driving range from the ninth fairway.

There was a sandwich board set up but I couldn’t read what it said. I was there with my daughter Mari working on her swing. Mari was 15 at the time and a budding high school golfer who had just finished her freshman year. I watched the woman work on the real basics of the ladies swings. These women were true beginners. What I noticed most was how kind and gentle the woman was as she instructed her students.

It would be another 15 months before I would have the chance to formally meet her, though I did pick up her business card at the Pro Shop. I held on to that card with special care; it went into my wallet. Only God knows how it wasn’t lost.

Fast forward to March 2011, I am sitting on the patio of Hunter’s Bay on Higgins. The sun is warm on my face as I set up my recorder and iPhone. I have a plan and want to make sure I don’t screw it up. Recording level set? Check. iPhone on and camera app open? Check. Seats arranged to capture picture and video with the right light? Check.

Do I even know what I am doing? No! Hunter Bay is closed unexpectedly so I am prepared to change locations. I notice a figure approaching. There’s a woman walking toward me. She has a big smile, big sunglasses and is dressed casually, but a cool casual. Nothing too pretentious here. This is exactly what I have grown to expect over the past 6 months, kind, cool and collected. That’s Ann Loughlin. Ann has been Mari’s coach now for the past 6months.

Ann greets me warmly and strongly and we exchange niceties and I thank her for meeting me. Ann has a lot going on as we meet, but seems excited to talk about it. She has had an interesting few days due to some recent excitement regarding newly discovered Babe Ruth footage and, as it turns out, Ann’s family’s connection to it. As well, Ann will be traveling to St Louis in a couple more days on golf related business, but we will get to these topics a bit later.

I move our discussion suddenly to the business at hand.

“So, let’s get to the reason I asked you here.” I say and we both laugh.

Q. “Tell me a little bit about where you were born; where you grew up.”

A. “ I am an original native of Iowa. I grew up in a little town in Iowa about 5000….it was about 5000 now…it’s was 8000 then; they’re diminishing.  The small towns there are starting to disappear.

Q. What’s the name of the city?

A. “Cherokee.  And I went to school at the University of Iowa. I graduated in ‘74 and got my masters in ‘76. I was pre-title 9. Some people don’t know what that is…I know that you do.” She says to me with a nod of the head.

Ann’s golf roots go deep; back to when she was a very young girl. She was taught to play by her dad, although her mom played some.

“I had golf in the blood from her.”  Ann proclaims proudly. “I had two uncles; one was the captain of the Notre Dame golf team and one was the captain of the Georgetown golf team. They were, you know, big golfers. It’s kinda been in my family. I always loved it.”

Ann says that she got started hitting balls into the neighbor’s yard with a cut off club wrapped with electrical tape with gaps for the fingers. She played on a little course in her hometown and laments that kids today don’t have the same opportunity to get on the course for free and just hang.  This seems to be the underlying drive to Ann and teaching golf; giving something back that she had (support) and what she didn’t (opportunity).

“Hanging out at the golf course just gives you a feel for it.” She proclaims as if from a happy distant memory.

Ann didn’t have the opportunity that today’s girls do. Ann didn’t have the school teams and the scholarships, but that didn’t stop her. Approached by a female professor at the University of Iowa, Ann was part of the first women’s golf program there.

“I think we went and played Iowa State. I feel like I was part of the second wave of pioneers.”

Ann knows a thing or two about golf pioneers. She is close friends with Shirley Spork, one of the last five survivors of the original 13 LPGA founders.

The LPGA Founder’s Tournament played the previous week and now it honors the original founders and keeps the story alive in the hearts and minds of the current tour players. Ann shares this connection to the beginning of professional women’s golf proudly like a daughter sharing a story of her family, and in a way she is.

Ann is an essential part of the link to women’s golf’s past. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride to know that my daughter–through her relationship with Ann–will have a connection to the beginnings of something that she so strongly desires to pursue.

I told you that Ann was in the midst of some exciting developments related to her family and its connection to Babe Ruth.  Go here to read more about it and view my discussion with Ann about it in the video below.

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Todd Wolverton was born in Missoula and is a UM class of ‘88 alum. Todd and has been an avid golfer for over 40 years, but make no mistake, he’s no pro. He’s just a guy on the course yelling “fore”. Todd is the first to tell you he has his good days and his bad – more bad than good – but to him there are no bad days that include golf. Yes, Todd loves to tell stories and right here is where you will hear them–on a weekly basis. You can expect stories about his latest round, stuff he knows or thinks he knows, and interesting anecdotes about the the past and the present in the world of golf as he knows it…….Missoula areagolf!