This inventive intern program is diversifying golf’s workforce

USGA Pathways interns at Pinehurst

USGA Pathways interns with U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.

Courtesy of the USGA

At the U.S. Open at Pinehurst last month, Esther Etherington was one of 24 students selected from a pool of nearly 500 applicants to take part in a unique opportunity: the USGA Pathways Internship, an immersive 10-day experience in which participants from underrepresented communities in the golf industry are exposed to a variety of golf-career pathways by way of job shadowing and professional development sessions. The interns also had a chance to get a behind-the-scenes perspective of the inner-workings of a major championship, plus valuable networking time with golf’s movers and shakers.

Each Pathway intern has a remarkable story. But Etherington, a 20-year-old rising junior and member of the women’s golf team at Franklin College, in Indiana, has overcome some particularly difficult health setbacks. Born at 26 weeks, she weighed less than two pounds at birth and dealt with heart complications in the NICU. As a kindergartner, she was diagnosed with a mucoepidermoid carcinoma tumor in one of her bronchial tubes — lung cancer — and, in seventh grade, received a prosthetic implant in her right eye.

Esther Etherington at USGA Pathways
Esther Etherington presenting to her peers in Pinehurst. Courtesy of the USGA

Now cancer-free, Etherington is intent on giving back. She’s in the preliminary stages of launching her own charity golf tournament — Esther’s One Eyed Open — benefitting the organizations that helped her: the First Tee – Indiana, where Etherington learned the game and was one of 25 students to be named a First Tee Scholar in 2022, and Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where she received her medical care.

“I really wanted to take golf and my love for golf and my love for building relationships with people, and I wanted to give back to two organizations that are really near and dear to my heart,” she said. “We are in the very early stages of ‘EOEO,’ which is Esther’s One Eyed Open. I hope to launch it here in the next couple of years before I graduate from college.”

At Etherington’s event, participants will wear a patch over their eye when they play certain holes, and all of the proceeds will go to the First Tee and Riley Hospital.

Etherington is majoring in elementary education with a minor in nonprofit leadership, but she said the USGA Pathways program introduced her to other potential career opportunities in golf.

“I love education and I will always be involved with youth in some capacity,” she said. “But now definitely a career in golf is potentially on the table, whether that’s working in championships or player relations.”

Kamille Ramos leads a panel
Kamille Ramos, far left, moderates a leadership panel for USGA Pathways interns. Courtesy of the USGA

That sentiment brings great satisfaction to Kamille Ramos, who has served as the USGA’s director of DEI, Culture and Community for the last eight years.

“When I think about what excites me about [Pathways], it’s seeing where these interns go following this experience,” she said. “It’s seeing that light light up in their eyes the week of the experience, because I think half of them come into this experience with no understanding of golf. And the other half have some connection or experience or might be competing actively in the sport, but the other half don’t.

“And even those that know golf, have played golf, still have no idea about all the different career touch points that they can have, and the impact that they can have, even if they don’t work at a club, running a championship, but how they can work and touch the sport through our partners or through the different departments that we have in the organization.”

Ramos added the connections the interns make during U.S. Open week can and have led to internships and even full-time jobs.

“That,” she said, “is the success of the program ultimately.”

The mentorship and leadership connections that Ramos helps foster through Pathways was Etherington’s favorite part of the experience. Particularly impactful, Etherington said, was the breakfast her group had with USGA President Fred Perpall.

“He walked in and he said, ‘You show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.’ And that was incredible,” Etherington said. “He actually got emotional during the speech when talking to us, and it was so nice to be able to be in communication and eat breakfast with a leader in such a high position who was so down to earth. Definitely the most inspirational speaker I’ve ever heard in person.”

Esther and Fred Perpall
USGA President Fred Perpall greets Pathways interns at Pinehurst. Courtesy of the USGA

The USGA Pathways Internship first launched as the Lee Elder Internship in 2022 with a goal of advancing more equitable and accessible opportunities for individuals interested in working in golf. Just three years in, 40 percent of past participants now hold full-time positions in golf administration or golf-connected businesses.

“I think if you can change and shift minds and perceptions, that’s just the start of shifting and changing the world,” Ramos said. “And we’re seeing it firsthand within the walls of our organization, and I see it in my peers. I see their continued support and encouragement and just our willingness to give up their time to be a part of and support the program.”

As for Etherington, with two years of undergrad education remaining, there’s much to look forward to — both in golf and life.

“The USGA Pathways Internship definitely changed my life for the better,” she said. “Definitely a lot of options that we were exposed to through USGA. We’ll see what the future has in store.” Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on