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Fairway Friendships

Where women golf, connections form

Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 9:59 a.m. CDT

For women and golf, acceptance has been a long time coming.

Twenty-one years ago, a group of local women contacted area golf courses, seeking permanent weekend tee times. Of the more than 20 courses called, none would assist them. They finally connected with Peter Jans Golf Course in Evanston, which became the first course to accommodate the women, and The Fairway Network was born.

A membership-based group of women who golf together, network and socialize, the organization now boasts Saturday leagues at Jackson Park and Robert Black golf courses in Chicago, a Sunday league at Eaglewood Golf Club in Itasca and golf outings at many courses throughout the Chicago suburbs. “Now when we call a golf course, we’re welcome, but it was 21 years in the making,” says Louise Pauly, who has been with The Fairway Network since its inception.

The Executive Women’s Golf Association (EWGA) which has a Chicagoland chapter, is a similar group, offering golf opportunities for career-oriented women.  Both The Fairway Network and EWGA are open to women from throughout the Chicago area, of all ability levels, and ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-seventies.

“When I started, very few women I knew golfed,” says Pauly.  “Golfing with men is great but very different,” The Fairway Network was an excellent way for her to meet other women with similar interests. 

Judi Donovan, a member of EWGA, joined the Chicagoland chapter when she moved from Michigan five years ago. She had been looking for women with whom to golf, and had problems connecting until she joined EWGA. “Every day of the week EWGA offers different leagues.  After you join, you have the opportunity to sign up for the night of the week you want and at whichever course is convenient,” she says.   

The time involved in golf lends itself well to business networking.  “When you’re golfing, you’re with the same group of women for several hours. There’s plenty of time to talk about non-golf-related things in a relaxed atmosphere,” says Joanne Rinaldo, chairman of The Fairway Network and a project manager for United Airlines. “And then there’s the common interest of getting your ball into that little hole, so you cheer each other on.”

Pauly is vice president of sales and marketing for Totalworks, a database marketing firm. One of the reasons she joined The Fairway Network was because of the business opportunities.

“In general you make good business contacts and I’m the poster child for that.  I met the owner of Totalworks through The Fairway Network and she hired me,” she says. 

Donovan is the executive director of GreenFields of Geneva, a retirement community. While she doesn’t do much business networking through her league, the activity itself helps her to bond with the GreenFields residents. “GreenFields is surrounded by two beautiful golf courses, many of the residents are avid golfers.  They love to hear about EWGA and my involvement,” she says.

Pauly says that it’s been interesting to watch the evolution of women’s golf in the country over the years since The Fairway Network was established.

 “It’s certainly a generational thing.  Even though the ratio of women to men golfers is still low, there are now many women golfers and also many organizations that focus on them,” she says.  “It’s also an economic thing.  Women hold 51 percent of the purse strings in the country so it’s good business for women to be amenable to women golfing.”

While the women of the golf networks enjoy golfing together, they also simply enjoy each other’s company, often outside of the golf course.

The golf-season ends in September.  Every month between September and March, EWGA members get together, rotating at each other’s homes. 

“That creates a friendship and takes you beyond the golf course,” says Donovan. Pauly agrees. “I’d never have met these women without The Fairway Network.  And yes, we have golf in common, but we find we have other things in common as well,” she says. Your life is so much richer when you diversify your friendship base.”

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