Breaking the Glass Ceiling on Women's Golf
The year is 1974, two years after Title IX is signed into law to require equal access to women in academics and athletics at public schools and universities. Women’s teams were still very limited, with fewer than 300,000 girls playing on high school teams according to a 2012 article in The Atlantic, and even fewer continuing into collegiate athletics.
That didn’t stop Laurie Glass, class of ‘78, from approaching Ray Best, then head football coach and men’s golf coach. She had been golfing since the age of four, when outings with her grandfather first sparked her love for the sport, and played competitively in amateur leagues across Nebraska along with participating in track and field at Beatrice High School. What she wanted, though, was to play golf on a college team. And maybe in the future, professionally.
“There weren’t really women’s sports at the time at our college,” Glass said. “But Best said, ‘well, you can try out for the men’s team.’”
Best was progressive, and saw an opportunity in her, she said. The door he opened led to support from fellow coaches Fred Beile and Bob Erickson. She made it on the team — the first woman to play golf at Doane. And not long after, the first woman to be a student athletic trainer for all sports.
Glass actually started at Doane in the pre-med track, and worked as an EMT in Crete in addition to being an athletic trainer. She switched later in her college career to education after an encounter with legendary biology professor, Dr. Katherine Buell, who retired in 1979. But she continued to play golf and work in the athletic department.
Although the coaches were on board with her participation on the men’s golf team, recognition by her teammates and other players in the Nebraska Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (the forerunner to the Great Plains Athletic Conference) took a little more patience.
“There was a bit of skepticism on the part of the guys,” Glass said. “When I was allowed to play, I had to play from the men’s tees.”
The Doane team — which included Jim Heitman, Tom Kozisek, Rich Vanier, B.C. Couton, Tom Westover, Rick Sullivan and Mark Schreier — quickly learned Glass was more than a match on the course. With Glass on the team, Tiger golf took second place in the NIAC in 1975, and first place in the NIAC in 1976. The team also placed second in the NAIA District 11 Championships both years.
Glass said one of her favorite memories from being on the team is during a tournament early on, when competitors made fun of Doane for being ‘the team with the girl.’ Glass was playing third or fourth during the tournament, which clearly showed her skill. One of the opposing teams was particularly mouthy.
“The [Doane] guys said, ‘hey, do you want to make a bet?’” Glass said, on whether or not she would beat the opposing team. “And I did win. That kind of took care of it.”
Word got around through the smaller schools of the NAIC not to underestimate the Doane team. And regardless, there wasn’t anything for competitors to complain about. No concessions were made for Glass to play on the men’s team.
But at the end of 1977, while Glass was playing flag football as part of an elementary education course, she was severely injured after colliding with a member of the football team during the class. Her spine was fractured at the C5 vertebrae.
It was traumatic. It was heartbreaking. It put an early end to her competitive golf career. But it didn’t stop her.
Glass went on to graduate in 1978 with a K-12 endorsement in education and switched her focus from playing golf to volunteering with the Nebraska Women’s Amateur Golf Association, where she served as junior representative on the state board of directors. And after a few years of recovery, she was able to start playing again. Though she wouldn’t play at a professional level, she racked up medals for individual and team championships in Nebraska. Then another opportunity opened for her to help advance women’s golf.
“In 1989, I was hired by the U.S. Golf Association,” Glass said, the organization that writes the rules and sets the standards for golf in the U.S.
She was hired to start the USGA’s Women’s Regional Affairs office, which served as a liaison between the association and state and regional women’s golf associations. Even at the national level, Glass could see that women’s golf wasn’t getting the recognition it deserved. For one, she said the association hired five men to do the exact job she was paid for, but for the regional affairs office without a gender in its title. Regardless, during her seven years at the USGA, she traveled and played every course she could, making connections with other women passionate about golf across the country.
With three other women who served as USGA Women’s Regional Affairs committee members, she helped charter the Southeastern Women’s Amateur Team Championship Association (SWATCA), which held an annual tournament rotated around several states in the southeast U.S. Teams of ten players were sent from each state. The tournament and association continued for 23 years, and for many of those years, Glass both played on the teams and served as president and treasurer of the association.
“Those women were the movers and shakers in their state organizations,” Glass said.
Looking back at her alma mater now, Glass said it was her experience at Doane that helped shape her career, even if it was a different path than she intended. The classes she took and the opportunities she had all gave her a well-rounded education that remained applicable in every job she had and long-lasting friendships.
She was also highly regarded on campus and beyond, serving as treasurer of the Cardinal Key women’s honorary and pledge trainer for two years in the Gamma Phi Iota sorority. She regularly made the Dean’s List, and was listed as a Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities in 1978. In 2001, Glass was also recognized with the Honor D award, given to Doane alumni who lettered in athletics and have performed outstanding service in their life’s work, following years of volunteering on golf and athletic associations and committees, including the Nebraska Coaches Association, the Nebraska Women’s Amateur Golf Association and American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, among many others.
And to this day, there’s a clear impact from her decision to attend the college and knock on Ray Best’s door.
“I’m thrilled to death now to see that Doane has a women’s golf team,” she said. “That’s really, really exciting.”