USGA Executive Goes All-in Fore the Ladies
Abby Liebenthal is Introducing More Women to the Game of Golf One Event at a Time
If ever there was a LinkedIn profile that reads like a roadmap for getting deeply entrenched in the golf industry, it’s Abby Liebenthal’s.
Her near-decade-long career includes stints with the American Junior Golf Association, The Tiger Woods Foundation, Acushnet (parent company of Titleist and FootJoy), and her current position as the United States Golf Association’s Senior Director of U.S. Open Fan Engagement.
Yet despite this resplendent resume, and multiple industry touch points, the Sylvania, Ohio native wanted more. As in more women on America’s fairways, greens and wherever golf is played. So in March of 2019, she launched Fore the Ladies, a female-based community and non-profit organization with the mission of introducing more women to golf.
“Fore the Ladies started out of observation,” Liebenthal says. “I had noticed in my time in working in golf there were so many fantastic ways for junior girls to learn the game, and for executive women in higher socio-economic classes. But I didn’t feel like there was a lot of opportunity for young professionals to be introduced to the game in a fun, approachable way.”
That spring she organized and hosted her first event, a speed dating-style clinic of multiple stations featuring different aspects of the game, such as driving, chipping and putting. Participants rotated from station to station, grabbing drinks and refreshments in between. She invited friends and family, but word quickly spread and more than 70 women showed up for the inaugural Fore the Ladies outing.
“I said to myself, ‘ok, there’s definitely an opportunity here,’” Liebenthal says. “I was expecting around 20 people.”
With 2020 putting a hold on events due to the pandemic, Liebenthal came out swinging in 2021 with 10 Fore the Ladies clinics planned in Atlanta, San Francisco, Toledo and Portland to name a few cities. And while it might sound like she has an army of organizers working behind the scenes, Liebenthal is a solo act for now.
“I travel to every event,” she says as she preps for to travel to the U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco this week as part of her “day job” with the USGA. “I work with each golf facility and the instructors to make it as seamless as possible. Eventually I’d love to get people onboard to help cover the events.”
Liebenthal estimates that more than 1,000 women have attended a Fore the Ladies event and there are currently 350 ladies in its directory for tee-time match-making. @foretheladies and @AbbyLiebs also have 10,000-plus followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and Liebenthal launched a podcast earlier this year in collaboration with the USGA.
“Even small grass roots organizations can have a big impact on the game,” she says. “First they [Fore the Ladies participants] are introduced to the game, then they start watching golf on TV and buying apparel and equipment.”
And they start traveling to play golf, as was the case in March when 68 ladies made their way to storied Pinehurst Resort for “The Lilly Golf Getaway Weekend.” Named for Lillian Ross, original Pinehurst golf course architect Donald Ross’s only daughter, The Lilly featured golf, lodging and a reception at the Pinehurst Brewing Co., among other activities.
“We’re planning another trip for later this year and golf getaways will be a part of the offering moving forward,” Liebenthal says.
Her unique experience amid an almost unprecedented cross-section of golf affords Liebenthal the “street cred” to grade the game accurately and honestly on its women friendliness. For now, she gives it a “C” but adds there’s plenty of immediate opportunity for improvement.
“To get to an ‘A’ there would be equal representation of males and females in several areas, including participation, professional golf, the wage gap and more offerings in equipment and apparel,” she says. “We’re not quite there but at least the industry has acknowledged there’s an issue.”
According to the National Golf Federation (NGF), 24% of on-course golfers are women. Females represent a disproportionately higher percentage of juniors (34%), beginners (36%) and off-course participants (45%) than they do in the overall golf population.
Golf isn’t always the most forgiving sport, but what is great about it is that people can take it up at almost any age. However, there is an undoubted advantage to starting earlier, so how do we get more ladies who didn’t start as juniors to take up the sport?
Arccos is working with Fore the Ladies to offer discounts and event opportunities to help female golfers feel more confident in their game. With the #growthegame initiative we are seeing some increases, as well as a number of female-led groups (like Fore the Ladies), resources, and leagues formed to help other ladies get into the male-dominated sport, regardless of skill level.