Azucena Maldonado’s Background
Azucena Maldonado is a trailblazer on a mission to transform women’s lives through golf. She founded the Latina Golfers Association (LGA) in 2008. Introducing women of all ages to golf for their professional development, personal enjoyment, and to promote a healthy lifestyle. With over 1,200 members in Los Angeles County, Azucena has received numerous awards and recognition for making an impact on growing the game of golf in the Latino community including being inducted in the Latino Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. She is a public speaker on the subject of women shattering the glass ceiling with a golf ball. Azucena has been quoted in Golf Digest magazine and featured in Golf Business, Arnold Palmer’s Kingdom Magazine, Southland Golf and the PGA of America’s national magazine. She joins golf legend Anika Sorenstam and the Golf Channel’s Kelly Tillman as an advisory board member of Women’s Golf Journal.
A Z U C E N A’S S T O R Y …
What started as a love of the game of golf turned into a passion that led me to found the Latina Golfers Association in 2008. I could never have imagined that one day I’d be playing golf much less be working as a professional in the golf industry. I was raised by immigrant parents from Mexico who did everything in their power for me to obtain the American Dream. Sadly, golf was nowhere in their scope of possibilities for me. I’d have to wait for the day a crazy, avid, recreational golfer introduced me to the game that changed the trajectory of my life. Miguel took me to the golf course on our second date and I’ve never looked back. While he remains my golf buddy, my love for the game kept evolving and the opportunity I saw to enhance women’s lives through golf became my mission.
MATT WARD: What was the genesis for the Latina Golfers Association (LGA)?
AZUCENO MALDONADO: After playing golf as an avid recreational golfer for three years, I was invited to participate in a charity golf tournament. I accepted the invitation and on that day was introduced to a world unknown to me, the world of business golf. I loved it. I saw, first hand, how golf breaks down cultural and gender barriers and I was an equal with the golfers playing in the tournament. Golfers are a part of a world-wide family and I saw, at the charity tournament, that the participating golfers were bonding with each other through business golf. What was glaring to me at that tournament was that there were only a handful of women participating. I set out to change that and founded the Latina Golfers Association (LGA) in 2008 in order to introduce women to golf and teach them how to utilize golf as a business tool.
MW: How many people are members of the LGA today?
AM: The LGA has over 1,200 members in Los Angeles County and we’re growing in Southern California. We also have a presence in Texas.
MW: When was your very first event and what was the attendance for it? Were you surprised?
AM: I had no idea so many women/Latinas would respond to my Latina Golfers Association Kick-Off event. I reached out to my network of women via email invitations. I had less than a month to get the word out. I rented a banquet room at a golf course, secured some sponsors, put a golf fashion show together, charged a minimal fee, and 94 women showed up! I was surprised at the great turn-out and the enthusiasm of the ladies to want to learn to play golf. The big reveal was that the women in attendance did not have anyone or any group make a concerted effort to invite them to learn how to play golf! Given the opportunity, they jumped at the chance. Soon after, I began to organize golf clinics and golf lessons. We now conduct golf outings, women’s golf tournaments, golf fashion shows, and fun networking gatherings at the golf course.
MW: What do you see as being the chief obstacle women of all ethnicities and races in including golf as their recreational game of choice?
AM: I can certainly speak from the perspective of a women of color. I was not raised in a golf family. Golf was nowhere in my field of reference or that of my friends. I never saw a golf course or stepped foot on a golf course until I was an adult. Many Latino families, certainly not all especially in recent years, don’t have anyone to introduce their family members to the game of golf. There was no reason for me to ever visit a golf course. Frankly, I’m sure the stereotype I had of golf kept me away. I was so fortunate as an adult to have had someone hold me by the hand and walk me through those first steps of not only introducing me to golf but to help me learn how to play golf and especially take me out on the golf course to play. I would not have become a golfer without that introduction. Golf needs ambassadors to make it easy for non-golfers to join the golf family. Enrolling youth from diverse communities into golf programs is essential for the growth of the game.
MW: Golf is facing growth issues — particularly as baby boomers age out. What would you recommend to the major golf organizations who are seeking to add players to the game — especially among Millennials, women and minorities?
AM: Golf courses need to be more inviting and create opportunities for non-golfers to visit the course. It’s easy to get hooked on golf but you have to get potential golfers to the course first. The LGA has a constant stream of women lining up to learn how to play golf. I believe we’re successful because we make golf FUN. Yes, we teach our ladies to respect the game of golf and learn golf etiquette but foremost our golf experiences have to be fun in order to be a hit. Golf courses need to create and organize events that will draw non-golfers to the course. And they can’t expect for people to just go to them. Golf courses need to conduct outreach and do marketing where their future customers work and reside. I don’t believe the golf industry has to change the fundamentals of the golf game to make it more fun. I don’t believe we need gimmicks like 15-inch holes to attract more recreational golfers. Golf is fun and it is challenging. I know when to adhere to the Rules of Golf and when to play a relaxed “Comadre/Compadre” round of golf. And I think the golf industry should be ok with that because it’s not always about lowering one’s handicap.
MW: You can change one thing in golf — what would it be and why?
AM: Golf courses should let us play 5 holes, 9 holes, 12 holes, or 18 holes with corresponding greens fees. My friends and I have extremely busy schedules and complicated lifestyles that don’t always lend themselves to a leisure 4/5 hour round of golf. I believe this would encourage more recreational golf.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
AM: Be slow to judge people. Everyone has had unique life experiences, tragedies, and successes that make up their point of view, actions, and reactions. Until people are enlightened to a broader way of thinking, they are the star of their movie, and see the world only through their lens. From Don Miguel Ruiz — author “The Four Agreements.”
MW: The number one concern members of the LGA have with golf is what?
AM: Before the golf recession, few golf courses welcomed the LGA with open arms. Since the recession – these golf courses are calling me. I fear that as the golf business recovers, initiatives to reach out to new and diverse customers will wane. While there is an emphasis within the industry to reach out to women, I don’t yet see a concerted effort to reach out to communities of color. I don’t want these efforts to decease before they are even off the drawing board!
MW: What kind of support have you received from various local golf organizations, associations in the greater Los Angeles area?
AM: I was driven to found the LGA because I wanted to share the benefits of golf and business golf with all women, especially Latinas. I actually didn’t know anything about the golf industry or knew anyone that worked in the golf industry. It was the Southern California Golf Association (SCGA) and the Southern California PGA that reached out to me when they learned about what I was creating. They have completely embraced me and have introduced me to the world of golf. They give me guidance, include me in their committees and advisory boards, open doors for me as well as sponsor some of our events. The PGA of America has also reached out to me and invited me to speak at the PGA Trade Show and Educational Conference in Orlando.
MW: The biggest satisfaction you get with LGA is what?
AM: My biggest satisfaction comes when I see posts/photos of our LGA members on social media golfing with each other, family members, and clients — without me! They blossom into bona fide golfers and have become ambassadors for the LGA and golf. My heart melts when they tell me how grateful they are to the LGA for opening their world to golf and how their personal and professional lives have been enhanced through golf.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?