Ashley Grier learned about the game of golf from her father, a PGA of America professional, growing up in Hagerstown, Md. Once she entered high school, however, she had to compete with the boys because there were no girls’ golf teams, and the only other girls in the area playing the game were her two sisters.
The sport for women has evolved slowly but steadily over the last two decades. Grier, 37, one of the nation’s top female PGA professionals and an assistant pro at Overbrook Golf Club in Bryn Mawr, wants to inspire young girls and women of all ages to learn the game and enjoy it.
“It’s very important,” she said Thursday in an interview at Overbrook. “If girls see other girls playing, then they’re going to want to play. Team sports are big these days. Sometimes it’s hard by yourself. But I hope I could inspire more girls to get into the game and stick with the game.
“It’s such a benefit to have later on in life, even in the business world, whether you’re good or not, at least you have the background. It helps you in many ways.”
The National Golf Foundation reported that in 2020, the number of adult and junior female golfers increased by 450,000, and that 24% of “on-course” golfers are women.
The Philadelphia Section PGA said of its 870 members, 28 are women.
Grier, who is in her sixth year at Overbrook, said it was a “special day” earlier this month when she was one of 14 contestants in the inaugural Women’s Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship at Kennett Square Golf and Country Club. She won the event by four strokes over her younger sister, Andrea Grier, and enjoyed the entire day.
“The staff did an amazing job,” she said. “They made it a top-notch event. We’ve been talking about it for a while, trying to get more women out and playing. So I think more importantly, it was just a day to get everyone together. Hopefully we can grow it each year to make it look bigger and bigger and create a better network of women golf professionals in the area.”
Competitively, Grier has enjoyed recent success, in particular winning the PGA of America’s 2020 Women’s Professional of the Year award despite all the uncertainty over the pandemic.
“COVID actually helped me be able to practice a little bit more and play a little bit more,” she said. “I was furloughed until about mid-June here. Then unfortunately a lot of the big events got canceled so I couldn’t really put to work where my golf game was because we had a lot of stuff canceled.
“Then having enough events in the latter part of the year, it was just nice to see working hard for a couple of years, to see it all pay off, and it motivated me to want to try to do it again this year.”
She’s on her way, currently leading the 2021 Women’s Professional of the Year points race.
She also qualified for the 2022 Women’s PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., located about an hour from where she grew up, which she called “probably the No. 1 highlight of my year.”
“I was real excited to make it to that one just because I have a lot of friends and family from back home,” said Grier, who has played in three previous Women’s PGAs. “It’s about 15 minutes from the club where I used to work.”
In the current Philadelphia Section PGA standings, she is sixth in the player of the year race with two wins and four other top-10 finishes, and 15th in scoring average. Women who compete in section tournaments play yardages that are 78-85% what men play.
She is playing well despite back problems that have lingered since a February 2019 car accident and also affect a leg and hip. She said she spends about 45 minutes between the time she wakes up and when she heads to the golf course stretching and getting loose.
Two big tournaments await section members. The 100th Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship is set for Monday through Wednesday at Aronimink and Applebrook Golf Clubs, with more than $72,000 in prize money at stake. Then on Sept. 7, the Haverford Philadelphia PGA Classic returns to Sunnybrook Golf Club, with a check of $100,000 going to the champion.
Grier likes the state of her game. She is smarter and more consistent and has picked up 15 to 20 yards off the tee in recent years. She’s been able to effectively balance work and competing. She calls Overbrook head professional Eric Kennedy a “great role model and mentor who’s taught me a ton on the course, off the course, at work.” And she wants to reach out and help women take up the game.
“So I feel like I’ve learned how to balance life, job, golf, everything a little bit better,” she said. “I feel like I’ve helped the programs here. It seems like we have more women taking up the game now so I like to feel like I had a little bit to do with trying to encourage and inspire some of the women and the girls in the area.”
The Philadelphia Professional PGA Championship has attracted a field of 179 contestants who will play one round each at Aronimink and Applebrook before the field is cut to the low 60 and ties for Wednesday’s final round at Aronimink. Alex Knoll, teaching pro at Glen Brook Golf Club in the Lehigh Valley, is seeking his third consecutive championship.
Geoff Surrette, executive director of the section, said the tournament will be an all-walking event at both venues.