First Tee Director Stiles Comes Full Circle With Game, Roots November 12, 2017 | Houston, Texas By Lisa D. Mickey

Courtney Stiles found her calling in the game by mentoring others as an executive director for a First Tee chapter in her native North Carolina. (USGA/Darren Carroll) 

U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Home

In a circuitous homecoming, North Carolinian Courtney Stiles returned to the Pinehurst area three years ago to serve as executive director of The First Tee of the Sandhills.

The position offered Stiles a chance to bring her golf career back to the sandy loam where she had learned to play and an opportunity to influence junior golfers, just as she had been guided as a wide-eyed kid in the pine tree-lined golf utopia.

“She loves her home roots and it’s pretty awesome she’s stayed in golf and come back to this area,” Bonnie Bell McGowan, Stiles’ first teacher and a longtime instructor and co-owner of Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, a three-time host of the U.S. Women’s Open and site of the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

While overseeing The First Tee chapter and being a mother of two children (Palmer, 8, and Parker, 4) occupies a good portion of Stiles’ time, she is thankful for the limited number of opportunities she gets to compete. One of those chances comes in this week’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Champions Golf Club, where she opened stroke play on Saturday with a 6-over 78. It is the 35-year-old’s first USGA championship since having her amateur status reinstated eight years ago, and her sixth overall.

Stiles said she played three rounds in 2015, and “maybe” six rounds last year. When she learned there was going to be a sectional qualifier for the Women’s Mid-Amateur on Aug. 30 on the Dogwood Course at The Country Club of North Carolina, she headed to the practice range and competed in a local two-day women’s tournament to prepare.

When she earned medalist honors in the qualifier by shooting a 75 to qualify for the Women’s Mid-Amateur, Stiles admitted the nervous butterflies began fluttering.

“The competitive juices definitely tried to come out and I’ve tried to push them away because I don’t want to put any expectations on myself this week,” said Stiles, whose The First Tee participants created a giant good-luck card before she departed for Houston. “The reality is, I work 60 hours a week, have two kids, a husband and a household.

“But when I do get to play golf, it’s much more enjoyable now. By Sunday, I will have played four straight days of golf, which is huge.”

Growing up in Lee County – just a short drive from Pinehurst and Southern Pines – Courtney Pomeranz (her maiden name) couldn’t help but fall in love with the game. Her  cousin, Jay Overton, a life member of The PGA of America with deep ties to Pinehurst Country Club, showed her what a career in the game looked like.

Exceptional instruction also was just down the road. As a junior, she worked on her game with McGowan, whose mother just happened to be legendary instructor Peggy Kirk Bell. Bell occasionally showed up to provide wisdom on the game and life.

“I ate a lot of banana pudding with Mrs. Bell at Pine Needles,” said Stiles. “Spending time with her was never about golf tips. It was about the way she was confident. But she also had a huge heart and always gave back to the game.”

Pomeranz played collegiately at North Carolina State University, earning a communications degree in 2004. North Carolina State coach Page Marsh saw a relentless competitor, but one that was gracious and had the potential to be a “great ambassador” for the game.

Two seasons on the Futures Tour (now Symetra Tour) were enough for her to realize that wasn’t a desired lifestyle. She wanted to start a family and not live out of a suitcase.

Her career changed with one call to the PGA Tour through a private-housing contact she had made while playing the Futures Tour.

That connection landed her a new media job with the PGA Tour. Stiles learned about customer service with golf fans, helped perform media research and worked with the Tour’s marketing campaigns.

A year after retiring from the Futures Tour, she married Cole Stiles, who currently oversees Courses 6 and 8 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, and began to start a family.

By then, Stiles was interested in tournament operations and was tapped by the PGA Tour to run the annual McGladrey Classic (now the RSM Classic) in St. Simons Island, Ga. From there, she landed a position with the Davis Love Foundation.

“Davis has such a passion for children and families,” said Stiles. “We had 85 different charities at the tournament there, so I really got exposed to all of the needs of people in the community.”

Love eventually approached Stiles about starting a The First Tee chapter in St. Simons Island. Her focus shifted for two years to launching what would become The First Tee of the Golden Isles.

Around the same time that The First Tee chapter was fully chartered, Stiles learned that The First Tee of the Sandhills was looking to replace its executive director. She had invested considerable time and energy into the coastal Georgia program, but with the blessing of Love, Stiles knew the timing was right for a homecoming.

“It was a great fit to go back home and my kids were at an age when it was just right,” said Stiles. “To be able to stay in golf, essentially in my back yard – with my home county eventually becoming a part of our chapter as we expand – is a big thing I wanted to do when I took the job. Being able to use golf to help kids who don’t have a lot of opportunities is really special.”

The First Tee of the Sandhills currently serves six counties in the Pinehurst area. Stiles said the next step is to expand the program into Fayetteville and its Ft. Bragg Army Base.

“Courtney has already taken The First Tee program here and grown it to four times its previous size,” said McGowan. “It’s not just a job. She truly loves the game and wants to see it grow, so we’re blessed to have her here.”

Stiles wouldn’t trade her busy schedule for anything. She credits McGowan, Marsh, the late Peggy Kirk Bell, Love and longtime Pinehurst golf instructor Eric Apenfels for helping her build a lasting foundation in the game.

Now, her mentors are her peers, and they’re still offering to help.

Her responsibility now is to help nurture the next generation and educate them on the game’s possibilities.

“I want the kids I work with to see this as a lifelong sport,” said Stiles, “and I want to show them that you can do things through hard work and perseverance.”

And if that route takes you right back to where you started from, it might just be a road well taken.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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