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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Women in Golf

Women in Vegas Golf

Here are just a few of the dynamic ladies making a name in Southern Nevada golf.

Story by Brian Hurlburt



As I sat down to write this story, it occurred to me that since there are so many influential ladies in golf in Southern Nevada, maybe there was no need for the title, “Women in Golf.” These important folks are making a difference in the game locally, and being of the female persuasion is just one aspect of their stories and journeys.

Here are the stories of some of the “people” making a difference in golf in Southern Nevada, and this area is the better for it.

Jennifer Alexander

Jennifer Alexander is a LPGA teaching pro who was awarded the prestigious 2016 LPGA Sandy LaBauve Spirit Award as having the best girls program out of 360 LPGA girls programs nationwide. The award for the former lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force was a culmination of many years of giving back and helping to grow the game.

Alexander is a teaching professional at Las Vegas Golf Club and has given more than 16,000 lessons in her career. Her impact with the LPGA Girls Golf program is a highlight for her and her pupils and the entire program has grown nationally and locally since she’s been a part of it.

“When I first started a Girls Golf program in San Francisco, there were only 2,000 girls in the program nationally,” Alexander says. “Now there are more than 60,000. LPGA Tour commissioner Michael Whan has set a goal of 100,000 by 2020. I think I won because of the wonderful letters from the parents. Our motto is changing lives one swing at a time. These girls are the future, and females age seven to 17 are the fastest growing demographic in golf.”


Pam Bowers

Pam Bowers is synonymous with junior golf in Southern Nevada, specifically in the Henderson and Green Valley area. She and her husband Dale operate the Junior Golf Academy at Desert Willow Golf Club. Bowers also grew up in Henderson, playing junior golf and for the Basic High School. She attended San Diego State on a golf scholarship and played on the Futures Golf Tour, as well as in several LPGA Tour events. She received her formal teaching training through the PGA, Nike Golf, and US Kids Golf. 

After receiving the US Kids Golf Top 50 Kids Teacher Award in 2006, 2007, and 2011, Bowers was honored at the 2012 PGA Show in Orlando with the prestigious Top 50 Master Kids Teacher Award for her lifetime contributions to Junior Golf. She has also created the DVD “Got golf: teaching kids golf swing fundamentals.”

“Our Academy slogan is ‘building swings from the inside out,’ because we believe golf is more than executing shots,” Bowers writes. “We encourage the kids in understanding that excellence, self-control, and “gentlemanliness” encompasses the golf enigma. The impact we are having in our students’ lives is life changing. Yes, the kids are learning the skills and fundamentals of the game, but more importantly they are learning to be good people. The respect they are learning for themselves and others thrusts them into a part of the world where honesty, integrity, responsibility, and caring are highly valued. The kids are thriving on their own personal growth and accomplishments on and off the course.”


Amy Bush-Herzer

Amy Busher-Herzer is a PGA of America member who once served as the first official employee of the Southern Nevada chapter of the PGA. For the last seven years, Bush-Herzer has been the head coach of the UNLV women’s golf team, which as of this year has made the NCAA regionals for 15 straight years.

Bush-Herzer takes great pride in her players on and off the course and is now thrilled to watch former players Therese O‘Hara and Dana Finkelstein as they play on the LPGA Tour, marking the first time two former Lady Rebels have been exempt on the tour during the same season.

“I take great pride in knowing our student athletes are successful in the classroom,” Bush-Herzer said. “They continue to work very hard on the golf course and in the classroom. Every day it is my goal to make a difference in my student athletes and get them ready for whatever the next step in life may be.”


Shawna Elliott

Shawna Elliott is a Class A PGA Professional and director of instruction at Rhodes Ranch specializing in golf instruction for beginning golfers, juniors and women. Elliott, a Las Vegas native, began playing golf in high school. She graduated from UNLV with a Masters of Science in Hotel Administration in 2013 and was a part of the prestigious UNLV Professional Golf Management program. 

She is also a certified personal trainer and Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) golf fitness professional and doTERRA Wellness Advocate. She believes wellness from the inside out is critical to achieving any goal on and off the golf course.

“The game of golf is one that can uncover talents, passions, and experiences one might have never anticipated,” Elliott wrote in a recent blog. “As a golf coach I am fortunate to work with and learn from the tiniest golfers. At the beginning of each class we start with a movement warm-up of sorts. In a span of just a few minutes we find ourselves pretending to be a frog, bear, or even a snake! Though the goal I have set forth is to encourage motor learning and control through play, I am simultaneously being taught how to be silly and let go. As I get more and more comfortable with playing like a kid (strange to think that has become challenging because I was a kid) the more relaxed and free I feel, and ultimately, I learn how to be a better leader, friend, teacher, and person. The most interesting part is that the more I let go of my ridged agenda, the more organic and fuller the learning environment becomes at a far greater magnitude then what I planned for the lesson that day.”


Natalie Gulbis

What can we say about Natalie Gulbis other than she has been a true ambassador for golf in Las Vegas? Gulbis has lived in the Las Vegas area for nearly two decades and has not only represented the area as a star on the LPGA Tour, but has taken time to give back to the community, most notably through her efforts with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada.

She was instrumental in creating a Natalie Gulbis campus center and annually hosts a fundraising event to help raise dollars and awareness for the club. Gulbis not only donates to the cause but she quietly visits the club on a regular basis, spending time with the kids with no cameras around and many times taking the kids on outings to the TaylorMade Golf Experience, Lake Las Vegas, and other locations.

On the course, Gulbis is playing less on the LPGA Tour but continues a burgeoning television career with her work for Fox and also her series, “18 holes with Jimmy Hanlon and Natalie Gulbis.” As of this writing, Gulbis had earned more than $4.8 million on the golf course and had won the 2007 Evian Masters.

“I’m [playing] a limited schedule this year and will continue to play a limited schedule,” Gulbis says. “I had a wonderful 2016. I finished my first season of my television show. I did have some injuries, but I’m healthy now and looking forward to playing a limited schedule again in 2017 and continuing the television work. I have balance. Playing a limited scheduled has been fun and allowed me to spend more time growing the game in different ways. I’m so honored to have a boys and girls club in my name, and the kids are amazing. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know them, and I’m so proud of them. My greatest joy is my time spent with the kids from the club. I get to share that with my husband, Josh, and there is no greater chapter in my life than that.”


Sue May

Sue May, the most noted United States Golf Association rules official in Southern Nevada, recently received recognition for 25 years of service to the USGA. The Award is named in honor of Isaac B. Grainger, who served on the USGA Executive Committee in 1945 and later rose to the office of USGA President in 1954. Grainger remained active as a volunteer in the years following his Presidency and was still a consulting member of the Rules of Golf Committee in 1994 (his and the USGA’s 100th year). He continued to serve until his death on October 18th, 1999, just short of his 105th birthday.

When there is a major amateur tournament in Southern Nevada, and some lower level mini-tour professional events including the Nevada Open, most likely May will be the lead rules official. She has also worked many US men and women’s opens, US amateurs, and other national competitions.

“I am extremely honored to be recognized for my service, but I guess this means I have been doing this for a little too long,” May says. “I never thought I would make it 25 years, but it has been special. What really stands out to me are the friends I have made and the people I have met over those years. We are a close-knit family and I have become personal friends with people who I have served the game with during that time. That is what has meant so much to me and what I will always cherish.”


Jody Niemann

Jody Niemann

It’s all about making people feel welcome for Royal Links Golf Club general manager Jody Niemann, who is the first-ever female general manager at a Las Vegas golf course. It’s kind of a stunner for Niemann to think that this year marked the first time a female has overseen a golf course, but she’s proud to be the one and is inspired by her fellow ladies of golf.

“When I think about women in golf in Southern Nevada, I think about a group of ladies who continue to challenge themselves and have a don’t quit attitude,” Niemann says. “They keep reaching for the top of their profession and remain involved in the game because they have a passion for it. For me, that’s what it comes down to; I just have a huge passion for golf and I love everything about it and I think that is the same for the other ladies.”

Niemann is a graduate of Arizona State University and team member of two NCAA Team Championships. Individually she is a USGA Public Links Champion and played for three years on the LPGA Tour and also coached for six years at the division one level. She donates a lot of time to charity events, where she routinely hits drives of 270 yards for her stunned male playing partners.

Niemann took over at Royal Links late in 2017 and is not only trying new ideas at the course, but she is hoping they catch on in the entire industry.

“Instead of the sport feeling very snooty and elitist, I want people to come here and have the same feeling I had when I walked into the clubhouse as a little girl,” Niemann recently told the Las Vegas Sun. “I want people to feel welcome, because if I wouldn’t have, then I would have never played, and who knows where I’d be.”

Niemann also believes there are growth opportunities for the game by embracing non-traditional ideas and bringing them to the golf course. In her first few months on the job, she has worked to bring unique events to the course and the future includes a combination drone and golf event and a military fitness/golf training program, among other ideas.

“It’s been a learning experience since I became the general manager and I think I have learned as much about myself as I have about the industry,” Niemann says. “Some of what I have learned is that we have a responsibility to help grow the game and reach out to people who may not “speak golf” or be true golfers and introduce them to the sport through different events that you may not expect to happen at a golf course. I want golf to be fun and interactive, and I am very excited to create non-traditional golf events while still honoring the things that make golf great.”


Kristen Sunderhaft

Kristin Sunderhaft is a Class A Member of the LPGA, Teaching and Club Professional Division, TPI Certified, and the author of the book, Swinging For Success, Life Lessons I’ve Learned on the Golf Course. She has been teaching golf for over 20 years and works out of the Legacy Golf Club, but teaching is just part of it. She believes what she does is a calling and much more than just helping someone hit the little round ball.

Sunderhaft teaches men, women, and children of all ages and skill levels from beginners to professionals. Her sessions utilize swing drills, various training aids, and video analysis. She uses golf as a way to empower all of her students and to live life to the fullest.

“I have a deep passion to help people and the avenue of how I help people is through the game of golf,” Sunderhaft says. “I consider myself a coach and just a one-time lesson instructor. Teaching has my heart and when I finally realized that, I was all in and that is my sole focus. I truly believe that people I work with have found me for a reason and it’s an honor to help change people’s lives through this wonderful sport.” 


Ann Sunstrum

Ann Sunstrum has been around golf for decades, including being married to professional John Sunstrum. For many years, she was the lady behind the scenes in helping turn Mesquite, Nevada, into the preeminent golf destination it is today and also helping to elevate the Mesquite Amateur into one of the largest amateur tournaments in the country.

Sunstrum now serves as the executive director of the Southern Nevada Golf Association, the official arm of the United States Golf Association in these parts. The SNGA operates a major tournament schedule, operates several USGA qualifier events and is now a key partner in the Southern Nevada Junior Golf Association.

“What a special year it is for us at the Southern Nevada Golf Association because it is the 50th anniversary for this special organization,” Sunstrum says. “It’s an honor to help lead the SNGA into the future, especially with so many exciting and interesting new initiatives by the USGA. Plus, we are very focused on our work with junior golf in Southern Nevada and we have big things planned, including hosting the Girls Junior America’s Cup in July.”

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