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SERVING THE GAME
Women in Charge: Ohio Course Has Female Pro, Superintendent
October 19, 2020 | Columbus, Ohio
By Dave Shedloski
One was born into the game, the other fell in love with it after trying it on a whim. Each wanted to be a tour pro, but instead found her own niche in golf. Together, every day in Columbus, Ohio, they are living history, a two-piece puzzle that has yet to be recreated anywhere else in America.
Fran Kocsis is the head golf professional at Champions Golf Course, one of six courses owned by the city, a green oasis tucked in an urban region east of downtown. Sherry Brogan is Champions’ head superintendent, charged with the upkeep and preservation of the former private layout designed by famed architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. No other golf facility in the U.S., it is believed, employs two women in these key positions.
“I’m not sure either of us have ever given it a lot of thought,” said Kocsis, who has worked at Columbus city courses since 1993. “We both love what we do, kind of married to our jobs. We’re well qualified to do what we do, and we have years of experience. But come to think of it, until about four years ago, our golf administrator, Terri Leist, was a female as well, so I guess it’s not unusual around here to see women in charge.”
The individual champion in the first state high school girls championship in Michigan in 1973, the year after Title IX of the Education Amendments Act was passed, Kocsis comes from a prominent golf family. Her father, Sam, won the 1955 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, while her uncle, Chuck, played on three USA Walker Cup Teams and finished runner-up to E. Harvie Ward in the 1956 U.S. Amateur. In nine U.S. Open starts between 1934 and 1960, he twice finished as low amateur, and Chuck also competed 11 times in the Masters Tournament. Another uncle, Emerick, was a two-time Michigan PGA Professional champion who played in several U.S. Opens and PGA Championships (including the 1939 PGA, when he was co-medalist with Ben Hogan). All three men are members of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.
This heritage helped Fran get her spikes in the door as a club pro. After playing golf at Florida State University, she returned to Michigan and applied for several jobs before catching on at Edgewood Country Club in Commerce, Mich. Turns out that the head pro there, Paul VanLoozen, played on the same University of Detroit team with her dad. After nine years at Edgewood, Kocsis became a teaching pro at Franklin Hills Country Club in Franklin, Mich., before moving to Ohio.
A native of Canton, Ohio, Brogan already was working at Champions when Kocsis arrived. She had started working for the city after playing golf for Ohio State University, serving as an assistant pro at Bolton Field, now known as Airport Golf Course. A landscape horticulture major at OSU, Brogan didn’t enjoy being cooped up inside a clubhouse, so she asked the superintendent at the time, Jack Phenger, if she could fill the greenkeeper job that was available.
“He showed me a mower and said go mow the greens. No instruction or anything,” Brogan recalled. “I learned it all on my own, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wanted to be outside, and this was my way of doing that.”
Brogan did it her way even as a child. When she was 9, while swimming with her mom and two sisters at Holiday Country Club, a nine-hole facility in Canton, she saw her father playing golf and was intrigued. “He got me a set of junior clubs and we went out, and he beat me, and I refused dinner because I was so upset that he beat me,” Brogan recalled. “And it just went from there. I was determined to be good at golf. I loved the challenge.”
A huge challenge awaited her in 1992 when she took over as superintendent at Champions. The city had purchased what was Winding Hollow Country Club in 1989 but didn’t formally take possession until ’92. Not much money was poured into maintenance in those three years.
It took a while, but Brogan, despite being limited by a small staff – a challenge that exists to this day – brought the course back up to private-club standards. Not that she got much credit. A few years later she earned her Class A certification from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. She thought that might earn her more acceptance.
“I did it mainly because, bottom line, I get no respect for being a female in the business,” Brogan said. “I thought it would make a difference, but it didn’t change anything. There are still men who play here all the time who think I shouldn’t be here. That’s OK. I’ve stuck with it, because it’s what I wanted to do. I’ve proved a lot of people wrong, I think.”
Kocsis, who has consistently ranked among the top teachers in Ohio, has fended off her own slings and arrows over the years. She remembered just after arriving at Champions in 1993 a conversation with an insurance salesman who had stopped in to see the head pro, but instead found himself talking to Kocsis. He asked her about her credentials as the assistant pro.
“I said to him, ‘Well, I am Class A-certified by the LPGA and the PGA of America. What else do you want to know?’ I mean, it wasn’t going to do any good to tell him how well I could play,” said Kocsis, who in 1998 won the Southern Ohio PGA Section Championship by 13 strokes at Columbus Country Club thanks to a first-round 68, which still is the women’s course record. “It was almost like he was saying, ‘Why are you here?’ And, you know what? I’m still here.”
So is Brogan, who would like to see more women in the course maintenance field. “But it’s a more male-dominated career [than the club professional field],” she said. “You have to really love it and have a thick skin.”
Kocsis is hopeful that more women will simply get into the game, whatever the field of endeavor. “And I think it already is happening,” she said. “The LPGA is producing a lot of high-quality teachers and club pros, as well as club managers, administrators. We’re finding our niches in the business. I think, especially for female teachers, there seems to be more respect. It’s still very, very difficult. It’s still a very male-oriented sport and there are still a lot of hurdles. But at least it is happening.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.