Getting To Know Barbara Douglas

The USGA's new leader of the Women's Committee talks about her passion for the game, her plans to increase opportunities for women in golf and why it's better to be called "BAD" than "Barbie"

February 11, 2009

Interview by Rhonda Glenn

At the United States Golf Association's Annual Meeting, which took place Feb. 3-7 in Newport Beach, Calif., Barbara Douglas of Scottsdale, Ariz., was confirmed as chairman of the USGA Women's Committee.

Douglas grew up in Chicago, a self-acclaimed tomboy who enjoyed all sports. A business major at Southern Illinois University, Douglas's career track included many years as an executive with IBM, then a stint at the National Minority Golf Foundation, where she served as president for five years.

Douglas, whose current USGA Handicap Index is 10.0, began playing golf as an adult and qualified for the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship four times in the 1980s. She was named to that championship's committee in 1992. In 1993, she was named to the Women's Committee.

"Barbara brings a wealth of experience to the committee, said Roberta Bolduc, Douglas's predecessor as Women's Committee chair. "She has worked in both the private and non-profit sectors, and she has wonderful organizational skills. She is a forward thinker who is committed to golf and the USGA."

USGA President Jim Vernon is equally confident of Douglas's ability to shoulder her new role. "I have had the honor of working with Barbara in a variety of capacities and have grown to admire her passion for and knowledge of the game," Vernon said. "Barbara's rich experience both as a volunteer in golf administration and in her business career will enable her to push the Women's Committee to new levels of achievement in her new role as chairman. I look forward to working closely with her to confront the challenges facing the USGA and the game of golf."

Douglas spoke with us about her life and the challenges ahead.

How did you grow up, and what did you like to do when you were a child?

Barbara Douglas: I grew up in Chicago as an only child. My mother, Marva Harper, was a high school teacher and counselor, and my father, Sonny Harper, was an electrician. Golf was not a part of our community or circle of friends, so I didn't get involved at an early age. I tried my hand at tennis, but I was never very good at that. In high school gym classes, we played a little bit of everything, so I was just sort of an all-around tomboy who climbed trees.

Did you face racial discrimination as a youngster?

Barbara Douglas will become the first minority to chair the USGA Women's Committee. (USGA/Jeff Noble)

Douglas: The first thing that I recall facing was when my family bought a house in a primarily white neighborhood that was turning over and becoming integrated. I remember going to school and someone had written on the pavement at one of the entrances to the school campuses, that favorite phrase, "Go home, n-----." I just sort of passed it off because I'd been sheltered from that kind of thing. I knew it existed, but my parents really sheltered me.

How did you become involved in golf?

Douglas: I was working for IBM in Toledo. I met a man who was a golfer and he suggested that I take up the game. To that end, he saw an ad for golf clubs on his office bulletin board, so he bought them and gave them to me. One good thing was that my friend never tried to teach me, but suggested that I see a professional. I took lessons and then started playing with friends. I fell in love with the game because of the outdoors, the physical aspect of it, the challenge of it and because you're dependant just upon yourself. I remember the first time I went out on the course, going to the first tee and seeing all those people. That was at a time when many people thought women shouldn't be allowed on the golf course. But my thought as a beginner was always, "Please, please, hit the ball!"

We know through research surveys that many women are so intimidated that they don't stick with golf. Are conditions better today?

Douglas: I think there are a lot more opportunities for women to get into the game. But women are not as willing to go out on their own to play. When I left Toledo and moved to New York, I really didn't know any people there. On Saturdays and Sundays I would go out to golf courses as a walk-on and ask to be paired with someone.

That's quite brave.

Douglas: You're right, because that's something that 99 percent of women wouldn't do. I play very sporadically now, with my USGA commitments the last two years. I now sell real estate, so I don't play on weekends but try to play at least twice a week. In the summer when there's more daylight, I can play golf and then do an open house or meet with a client. I love to play. After the Christmas holidays we played five days in a row. I love to walk, so we walked and it was fun. I play as often as I possibly can.

Your nickname is BAD?

Douglas: It started back in my IBM days because my initials are B.A.D., Barbara Angela Douglas. They just started calling me "Bad" and it sort of stuck. I don't mind because it's a term of endearment -- and I much prefer that to "Barbie."

How did you become involved with the USGA, beginning with when you became a member of the Women's Amateur Public Links Committee in 1992?

Douglas: I was taking lessons from the professional at Blue Hills Golf Course in Orangetown, N.Y. One day the pro handed me the application to play in the WAPL. I sort of laughed, but the qualifying site was in New Jersey, and I thought, "Why not? I love to play." I thought I would play a practice round, play the qualifying round and go on my merry way. So, I played and qualified for the last spot. I was absolutely thrilled. I went to the championship and I was awful, but I tried qualifying several times and did get to a number of championships. I was working for IBM at the time, the typical 70-80 hour work week, and trying to practice at night at a lighted driving range. One day I asked Carol Crosby, the local WAPL Committee member, what she did and how she got into committee work. I thought it was something I might be interested in doing. Lo and behold, a few years after that, Carol moved out of the state and recommended me for the committee. I was thrilled. I thought it made sense rather than trying to compete against college kids who played every day. I didn't have the time to devote to that and I wasn't that good. The WAPL Committee was a great committee, and we had a lot of fun. My thrill was in going back to chair that committee after I became a member of the USGA Women's Committee.

Were you surprised to be selected for the Women's Committee in 1993?

Douglas: I was absolutely flabbergasted. Marty Leonard, a former chairman of the Women's Committee, called me. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I had come home from playing golf. Marty asked if I would be interested in doing this. After she went through the normal spiel, she said, "Would you like to think about it?" I said, "I don't need to think about it."

Was some of your surprise because you are a minority?

Barbara Douglas, right, has served on the Women's Committee since 1993. (USGA Museum)

Douglas: No. I've endured a lot of discrimination, both from being a female and a minority. But it's never the first thing that comes to my mind.

I don't automatically think that I was not selected because I'm a minority or a woman. I almost always conclude that the other person got it because he or she was better qualified. At the same time, I don't think that I was selected, nominated or appointed to a position because I'm a woman or a minority. Instead, I automatically recall my parents' constant refrain: believe in yourself and strive for excellence. I believe that the good things that have come my way are the direct result of my hard work and dedication and people's faith in me.

So ... I guess that goes back to my parents, drilling that thing about independence into my head. I was raised to be very independent. I remember at a very early age having an allowance and having to live all week on that allowance. If I spent it I didn't get any more money. I also had to learn to cook from scratch, no pancake mix or cake mix. I had to learn all these things. I was just raised as a very independent, self-sufficient person, which has served me very well.

How is the USGA different from your original perceptions?

Douglas: Prior to the time I got on the WAPL Committee and the Women's Committee I didn't know anything about the USGA, even when I competed in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links. I think, in some ways, that is our downfall. Part of the problem is that a lot of the people on committees have grown up in the USGA and in families involved in golf. I didn't grow up in golf, so I didn't know anything about the USGA. A lot of the golfers coming into the game didn't grow up in golf and they know nothing about the USGA. The LPGA, the USGA, they didn't know the difference. That's still a challenge.

You're known as a real stand-up rules official. What's your philosophy on the role of the rules official?

Douglas: Clearly, the rules official is there to help the players and not there to call penalties on people. The official is there to help and to try and ensure that players don't accidentally, through ignorance, violate the Rules of Golf. If there's a situation, I'm going to address it, but by the same token I'm not going to stand there and watch somebody make a mistake.

What is your concept of the Women's Committee role?

Douglas: First and foremost, we oversee the national women's championships, including the U.S. Women's Open. I don't think people realize that it's our number-one responsibility. That's a huge responsibility. Relative to the women's championships, we oversee all of the qualifiers conducted around the country. And while we have the championship committees, it's still our responsibility to ensure that those championships are carried out in a superb manner and that they are the best that they can possibly be.

One of the things I want to focus on is women's golf in general. I think our main focus has to be through the women's golf associations around the country. The Women's Committee can't be a hands-on committee in that regard; we just don't have the ability to do that, but we can be involved through our Regional Affairs Department with women's golf associations around the country. How do we help them continue to grow and develop? Our focus on girls' golf with the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program is another area where we can be effective by helping to grow the game and ensure that the game continues and is available to young girls who are starting in the game.

So, you are a strong advocate of the USGA's role with regional and state associations?

Douglas: Absolutely, that's the grass roots. That's where it all happens. It's not going to happen in Far Hills [USGA headquarters in New Jersey], and it's not going to happen through members of the Women's Committee, except through our focus on those organizations and how we can help them grow and develop. We need to bring people into the game and ensure that they have the opportunity to play and the opportunity to compete. There are a lot of women who want to compete, and there are different levels of competition. There are women out there who are never going to play in a USGA national championship, but they enjoy competing. That's where the state associations come into play.

In that regard, I just came off the board of the Executive Women's Golf Association (EWGA). They really do great work by offering the opportunity to women to get into the game in a non-threatening environment. The EWGA has more than 20,000 members, and its national championship attracts about 2,500 women at different qualifying levels. It offers the opportunity to the high-handicapper as well as the single-digit handicapper to compete, so it offers something to women across the board. State associations offer the opportunity for women at all levels to compete as well, and to grow in the game. Many of them offer development programs introducing the game to women who want to learn and start to play the game. I think that we definitely have a responsibility to support them in every way we can. That's one of the things I want to look at. How do we better support associations? It's not all financial. There are other ways.

Why do you choose to do this sort of work?

Douglas: I have a friend who always introduces me by saying, "She's guilty of golf." And that's true. I love the game and think it's a great game. I'd like to see more people have the opportunity to play the game, especially women. As I always say to Marty Leonard, "Look what you got me into!"

Rhonda Glenn is Manager, Communications. The runner-up in the 1965 NCAA Championship, Glenn has played in 13USGA championships. She can be reached .

For more on the subject of minorities in golf and the USGA's long history of welcoming minorities in its championships, click here.


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