Kieffer Takes The Fight From The Streets To The Fairways September 14, 2014 By Lisa D. Mickey

Denise Kieffer, a Tacoma (Wash.) police sergeant, finds that golf offers a release from the challenges and dangers of her day job. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)
DEAL, N.J. – Denise Kieffer hopes to be on the grounds at Chambers Bay when it comes to her hometown of University Place, Wash., for the 2015 U.S. Open Championship.

But Kieffer won’t be sitting in the grandstands. Most likely, the senior sergeant on the Tacoma, Wash., police force will be directing thousands of cars to designated parking areas or working security for the players.

It would be cool to work the Open [as a police officer] because Chambers Bay is five minutes from my house, said Kieffer, 54, a contestant in this week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at Hollywood Golf Club. I’ve had dinner there, but I’ve never played the course.

Growing up in the southwest Tacoma suburb, Kieffer remembers the site now occupied by Chambers Bay as a former sand and gravel quarry. She also remembers riding in a pickup truck to the site for another reason.

You used to be able to drive to the end of the road and pick up free sand for your sandbox, she said.

When Chambers Bay opened in 2007, with picturesque views, stunning Puget Sound sunsets and a links-style course that features only one tree, some locals wondered if this walking-only course was a good idea. Chambers Bay was long, difficult and weeded out the contenders from the pretenders.

But as they say, If you build it, they will come, and a United States Golf Association championship landed in Kieffer’s neighborhood three years later when Chambers Bay hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur. Much larger in scope, the U.S. Open will test the neighborhood and the surrounding transportation infrastructure to the max.

This year, the University Place School District went back to class one week before Labor Day so they will be out of school early before the Open starts next June, said Kieffer. They don’t want school bus traffic on those streets around the course during the Open because it would be a logistical nightmare.

Those words were spoken like a good cop who considers all aspects of public events. Kieffer, who calls herself a lifer in police patrol, should know after working nearly 27 years in Tacoma’s police force.

The mother of two and grandmother of three has seen the good, the bad and the horrendous during those years. And even dealing with some tough characters on the streets has taught her the value of diplomacy. She learned years ago how to talk her way out of potentially life-threatening circumstances.

In a confrontation on the street, I usually tell the guy, ‘You probably could kick my butt, but do you really want to take that chance that you may have to go home and tell everybody you just got beat up by a girl?’ said Kieffer. After more than 26 years, I’ve been in two fights and every time I’ve used that, the situation was diffused.

Kieffer has responded to mall and school shootings. Street fights, homicides and gun battles sometimes come with the territory. Gang violence and domestic disturbances are also potential encounters in her daily routine.

It is dangerous work, but so many times, it comes down to common sense, said Kieffer, who advanced to match play at Senior Women’s Amateur. You just have to be prepared for anything at any time.

Unlike many of the competitors in this week’s field, Kieffer began playing golf later in life. Kieffer played softball, basketball and volleyball in high school and never regarded golf as a real sport.

But after banging up her body in softball, her sister suggested that she take golf lessons to learn a lower-impact sport. At 38, Kieffer soon was playing golf three to four times a week.

Her grandparents were members of Fircrest Golf Club – located 10 minutes from Chambers Bay – and when they were young, the kids in her family would go to the club to swim and meet their grandparents for meals.

Golf wasn’t even on Kieffer’s radar back then. Kieffer needed a free-time activity that would not impair her ability to perform the physical demands of her job in law enforcement.

Once she started playing, Kieffer was determined to keep improving. And after she started taking lessons in 1998 and was told she had an ugly golf swing by Fircrest assistant pro Tom Ainslie, the police officer was fired up to improve. Dutifully, she worked with Ainslie, put in the hours of practice and began seeing positive results.

In less than a year, he took me from being an 18-handicapper to a 5, said Kieffer. And within a year of taking lessons, I joined Fircrest.

Kieffer soon began playing in area and regional golf tournaments. She won the Fircrest women’s club championship seven times, captured nine titles in the Puget Sound Women’s Golf Association Championship, won the Washington State Women’s Golf Association Championship once, won three Tacoma Golf Association Champion of Champions events and won the 2009 Washington State Champion of Champions tournament.

Six years ago, she entered her first United States Golf Association national championship. That inaugural event came at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

I finished dead last in the stroke-play qualifying, she said. I had no clue what I was doing out there and I had no idea what a big deal these championships are against the best players in the country.

The strength of the field was an awakening for Kieffer, who admitted to swallowing a giant slice of humble pie.

You come out thinking you’re pretty good, then you quickly realize your game is nothing compared to some of the players out here, she said. Now I know it’s an honor to play in USGA national championships and to compete against and learn from so many talented women.

Kieffer occasionally plays golf with her husband, retired Tacoma Police Department sergeant Dennis Kieffer, but most of the time, when she competes against other police officers, it’s at the annual law enforcement/firefighter tournament each year at Tacoma Country Club. She has won the tournament once.

It’s kind of fun to beat the boys, she admitted.

But beating the nation’s top women players in an event like the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur is an altogether different matter. Her goal this week was to play well and to keep her scores respectable, which she’s already done by qualifying for match play.

She also wants to set a good example for her grandchildren, two of whom are now playing golf. Just like their grandma, her two grandsons are left-handed, but play golf right-handed. One of the boys, Jaxxon, 6, is already on his third set of clubs.

They grow so quickly, said the proud grandma.

But while Kieffer wants to share the game of golf with her family, she also knows the game’s value to her away from her job on the streets of Tacoma. It’s that one thing she looks forward to when she can hang up her holster and strap her golf bag across her shoulders.

In my job, you always have to be ready, because you never know if your life is going to get snuffed out, she said. You appreciate the little things.

Now, every time she steps onto the first tee, a tough world gets a little brighter.

And the voice of the radio dispatcher in her squad car morphs into the sound of singing birds and zinging tee shots. Even if it’s just for a few hours, the only fight she faces is against the course and her own emotions.

It’s my release out here, said Kieffer. Golf is my happy place.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.