You could say Tara Jenkins grew up with a golf club in her hand, and it wouldn’t be far from the truth. The Springfield native is the youngest of five children and spent hours on the golf course with her dad. Lee and Joan Jenkins operated a modular building company for over 50 years, and their youngest child took after her dad in both business and recreation.
Jenkins treasures the time she and her father spent on the links and realizes that not every youngster—especially a female—gets the opportunity to spend quality time with her father while learning the intricacies of what’s long been considered a man’s game.
Somewhere along the way she heard that GOLF was an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden. Her dad didn’t subscribe to that, and neither did she. Lee Jenkins wanted his daughter to understand which club to choose for which shot, how stance can affect your swing, how to score the game and to be well-schooled in golf etiquette. He knew this understanding of the sport would pay off one day for his daughter in terms of both business and leisure. He likely never knew it would benefit other Ozarks women as well.
SWAG, or Springfield Women Ambassadors of Golf, came about after a conversation between Tara Jenkins and Jerald Andrews, the longtime Executive Director of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Andrews had been exploring opportunities to add women’s golf events and raise the game’s profile during the PGA Price Cutter Charity Championship Tournament. Jenkins, now helping run the family business and still an avid golfer, was wanting to get more women interested in the game. The two were clearly onto something.
Missouri Equipment Leasing, Inc. had become a corporate sponsor of the tournament, so Jenkins got to witness its success up close. The PGA event raised millions of dollars for children’s charities in the Ozarks since its inception in 1990, and Jenkins had always respected the philanthropic effort. Getting women involved in the annual Betty Allison Pro-Am and other fundraising events surrounding it became a mission that stretched well beyond tournament week.
Eventually, Jenkins and Andrews met again, but this time they invited a handful of local female golfers to join them and brainstorm ways to get women on the golf course. The group wasn’t interested in a cutesy name or a frivolous mission, they were serious about offering regular golf outings, education, and networking opportunities for women of all ages and all skill levels.
After much discussion, Springfield Woman Ambassadors of Golf was born.
The first SWAG golf opportunity came about with only two weeks to promote it. Jenkins says she and other organizers were delighted that twenty people showed up with golf bags in tow and are happy to report that the player count has grown steadily ever since. SWAG now boasts about 150 members; some of whom have played for decades, and others who may never have played otherwise.
Jenkins gives much of the credit for SWAG’s success to several women who’ve helped recruit members, secure golf venues, coordinate calendars, plan menus, and promote regular events that take place nearly all year long.
All ages are welcome. Women from age 18 to 97 have played in SWAG events and Jenkins says organizers tend to form groups based on skill level but also mix it up a little based on professional interests. Players form friendships, business relationships, and bonds that span far beyond an age range. Some players are retired, and others are just starting their careers. The socialization aspect of SWAG truly outweighs the opportunity to sharpen your game, and Jenkins should know. She says SWAG friends helped support her through a difficult divorce and made an otherwise painful experience much less traumatic.
Jenkins, like many other SWAG members, recognizes that golf is often perceived as a game for the privileged. Not everyone is a member of a country club, learning the game can be intimidating, gear can be expensive, and finding women to play with can put golf seemingly out of reach. SWAG, however, fills in the gaps. The venue is secured, and a relatively small fee is about all it takes to get into the game.
Jenkins didn’t play golf as a school sport, but looking back, wishes she would have. Golf can be played both as a team and as an individual sport. It gives you time in the great outdoors in a peaceful environment. You can enjoy the solace of playing alone or enjoy a round with friends. It’s a low-impact sport that can be enjoyed for a lifetime and high school girls’ golf teams often need players which can lead to the potential of college scholarships. SWAG members hope one day to offer scholarship money to young women who choose to pursue the game along with higher education.
Bottom line: Golf is not out of reach, and SWAG wants women across the Ozarks to know that.
For Tara Jenkins, golf is far more than a sport. Something about teeing off into a wide-open fairway brings back memories of the days spent with her dad. She says she’ll always be grateful that he took the time to teach her the game and nurture her progress. Jenkins, like other SWAG members who’ve had the good fortune to learn the game of golf, fully intends to play it forward.
For more information on SWAG, and to learn about upcoming 2023 golf opportunities, visit swaggolfwomen.com.
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