HOUSTON — Every year, the U.S. Women’s Open gives the world an unfettered glimpse at just how good the women’s game can be and presents an unparalleled opportunity to celebrate it.
This year, at a U.S. Open unlike any other, it’s only fitting that women be represented in a part of the golf industry where there are few females: golf course maintenance.
Out of 70 members of the expanded grounds crew at Champions Golf Club, there’s only one woman: A.J. Hill.
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Hill, who is on loan from her course in Florida, has a designated task for the week: cutting the holes on the front nine of the Cypress Creek course. It’s is a job she’s been preparing for her whole life.
“My dad has always worked at a golf course, so he’d bring me in when I was in kindergarten before school, and I’d cut cups with him,” Hill said. “He’d put it down in the ground and give me the little rubber mallet and let me beat it down in the ground.”
From there, her love for course maintenance blossomed and her dream job seemed well within reach. But achieving your dream is rarely easy.
“They insisted that instead of working on the golf course, I work in the kitchen. It was a little heartbreaking…”
Hill had young children and needed to find a way to provide for them, so she applied for a grounds crew position at a course in Georgia.
“They insisted that instead of working on the golf course, I work in the kitchen,” Hill said. “It was a little heartbreaking, and I had in my mind that I couldn’t get a job working on a golf course because it’s not [for women],” Hill recalled.
Her luck changed in Florida, during a ride in her dad’s pickup truck. After a quick stop for lunch, they pulled into the parking lot of Highland Florida Golf Club, about an hour east of Tampa, where he was meeting with the course’s manager. She didn’t know it yet, but this was her shot.
“I decided I’m gonna put my Burger King down, get out of the truck and go shake this man’s hand, and tell him: ‘I’m gonna work on your golf course.’”
And she did. When he responded about needing more “pro shop girls,” Hill stood her ground.
“No, sir, I’m gonna help you mow greens and fairways and all of it,” she told him.
That one encounter led to a superintendent position at one of the oldest courses in the state, and proved to Hill that her dream was worth chasing.
In what turned out to be another blessing in disguise, Highland Florida GC was sold and shuttered just two years after Hill had taken over as superintendent. But thanks to her tenacity and a mutual friend, Hill’s dream course came calling, Mountain Lake GC, in Lake Wales, Fla.
“Growing up as a kid in the same town, my dad and I would drive past [Mountain Lake] and he’d say, ‘Back there is the best golf course in the area.’ And I would just pray for a chance to see it,” Hill says. “To be able to work there is just phenomenal.”
For Hill, what started as something she enjoyed doing with her dad turned into an experience at the U.S. Women’s Open beyond her wildest dreams.
“Cutting cups is my absolute favorite thing to do,” Hill said of her work on Cypress Creek. “I feel so at peace.”
Not only has she cut holes at a championship course, but she’s also gained valuable experience that will set her apart when she applies to Penn State’s agronomy program for the summer semester. She did it all while proving to her two kids that “hard work will get you anywhere you want to go in life.”
But for now, Hill is just proud to have the world’s best players pouring putts into cups she cut.