A member of the PGA of America team for 23 years, Chief People Officer Sandy Cross has a breadth of experience that includes licensing and marketing, partnership sales and management, and women’s initiatives. In 2014, she successfully launched the PGA’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative.
Cross earned her Certified Diversity Professional (CDP) credential from the Institute of Diversity Certification in 2016. She holds a Master’s in Sport Administration from Kent State University and a Bachelor’s in Legal Studies from the University of Buffalo, where she played NCAA Division I volleyball.
THE CROSS STORY —
My entry into the golf industry was not planned. While I had earned a Masters of Sport Administration from Kent State University and I desired a career in the business of sports, I had very little exposure to golf.
After graduate school, while I was working as Director of Special Projects at the United States Water Fitness Association, I decided to accept a 90-day, temp-to-perm position as the Licensing Administrator at the PGA of America. I was over the moon about an opportunity with one of the world’s largest sports organizations.
Fast forward, 23 years later, I have thrived at the PGA of America. With tenacity and grit, as well as invaluable mentors, sponsors and teammates, I have positively impacted many areas of our business through a variety of roles before ascending to Chief People Officer in January 2019.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Our people on the PGA of America team and our nearly 29,000 PGA Professionals. We have an unbelievable opportunity to positively impact the lives of individuals from all backgrounds through golf.
You were recently named Chief People Officer for The PGA of America. What was the genesis for that position?
It was the vision of our CEO Seth Waugh and his desire to make the PGA of America the best place to work in sports and beyond.
Given the need to expand golf’s participation for a wider range of people is it not fair to say the PGA of America has been lacking in doing so from year’s past?
Our mission is to grow participation in the sport of golf, which will help ensure the livelihood of our PGA Professionals. We have been focused on this mission for decades, however, the ‘lens of inclusion’ we brought to those endeavors was nowhere near as sharp and as focused as it is today.
Do other major organizations throughout golf truly realize the need to broaden golf’s appeal and if so are the needed resources — namely money — actually being applied to do just that?
While I cannot speak on behalf of the allied associations in golf and the resources they are able to apply to broadening golf’s appeal, I do believe they fully recognize that inclusion and diversity are crucial ingredients to maintaining golf’s relevancy among America’s new consumer.
You played a central role in the program “Connecting with Her” in attempting to bring more women into the game. How successful was that program and how does golf really enter the picture for women already overly committed to both work and family priorities?
The Connecting with Her strategic initiative, including the education of PGA Professional-affiliated facilities on gender differences and family mega trends, has been a driver in growing women’s participation from 19% in 2011 to nearly 25% currently. Females also represent a disproportionally higher percentage of beginners (31%), juniors (36%) and off-course participants (44%) than they do in the overall golf population.
The PGA of America has a woman in the President’s chair for the first time in the organization’s history. But how much diversity is there in other key offices throughout the PGA of America’s leadership hierarchy — both nationally and via the various sections in the country?
While there is a long way to go in becoming gender balanced at the national and section levels of our organization, we are consistently demonstrating year over year growth at both levels. We envision a golf industry workforce that mirrors America, and that workforce includes our volunteer leaders who serve on boards and committees.
By what benchmarks will you measure success in bringing more of a diversified audience to golf?
Our success metrics span consumer participation, workforce and supply chain. We want the composition of those to mirror America across all dimensions of difference, i.e. age, gender, race, ethnicity, Veteran status, religion, sexual orientation and ability.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
I would eradicate the perception that golf is a sport exclusively for white males. If individuals can’t see others from backgrounds like their own playing the sport, working in the business, or participating in the industry’s supply chain, it’s unlikely that they will engage and will never discover all that the world of golf truly has to offer them.
How does golf fit into a world where time is especially crunched on all ends?
You have to make it your game, your way. Let golf facility operators know exactly what you’re looking for. Golf doesn’t have to be an 18-hole experience that takes 5 hours. We live in a very customized society where consumer experiences are highly tailored to individual needs, wants and desires. Facilities that can respond in a very one-to-one fashion will win.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Operate with an ‘others first’ mindset. While my Dad didn’t verbally give me this advice, he modeled it every day through his actions.
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