As an avid golfer who came to the game late in life (at age 46), I’m fascinated about how and why people play. I put that curiosity to work recently when Jill Haverkamp suggested I write about the Des Moines Executive Women’s Golf Association. 

Haverkamp is a marketing partner at On-Pitch.com and a recent member of the EWGA, which launches its 21st season in May with three separate options for play. (Visit ewga-dsm.org for details and sign-up information.)  

The local chapter began in 1994 and is part of a national association that was created in 1991 and now has more than 14,000 members.

“It’s a great way for women of all ages and career backgrounds to network while playing a sport they love,” Haverkamp said. 

Diane Stahle, a lawyer in the Iowa attorney general’s office, was one of the founding members of the Des Moines chapter. 

When the league started, she said, women were shut out of membership at most country clubs. 

“We knew a lot of business was being done on the golf course,” but women weren’t included, she said. “This was a way to get women to learn how to play golf so they could participate in those kinds of activities.” 

More than 40 women joined that first year. Membership grew to nearly 200 before dropping back to the current level of about 90. Membership is lower today, Stahle explained, because women now can be full members at country clubs.

The EWGA experience is different for everyone, Stahle said. 

For example, Luann Gafford of Bankers Trust Co. knew little about golf when she joined two years ago. 

“I was in the novice league the first year,” Gafford said. “We received some lessons from a golf pro, and I learned how to swing properly and about golf etiquette.”

The attraction was the camaraderie, Gafford said: “It’s about the relationships. When you have one with someone you trust, you do business with them.”

Ardrae Parmenter, who also works at Bankers Trust, came at golf from a different direction. 

“I’ve been very athletic my entire life,” Parmenter said. Softball was her specialty, but after two back surgeries and two knee replacements, she knew it was time to find something new. 

When Parmenter turned 39, she persuaded her husband and two young sons to take a few family lessons at the Longview Golf Dome in Johnston. She loved it. The men, not so much. 

Seven years ago, her husband showed her an ad for the Executive Women’s Golf Association. Parmenter joined and has been an active member ever since.

Stahle, who grew up on farm near Solon in Johnson County, took a golf class as part of a physical education requirement in college. 

“I got hooked on it when I was home from college during the summer and able to play every day,” she said. 

At the time, Solon had just built a new nine-hole course, “and everybody in town joined the golf club,” Stahle said. “You could get a family membership for $100 a year with unlimited golf.” 

My favorite story about learning golf came from Wynn Walters of USB Financial Services Inc. 

“I come from a long line of golfers,” Walters said. “I was 6 or 7 when my dad had me swinging a golf club.”

Her father, Ken Walters, sold corrugated steel in Washington, Ill. 

“When my three brothers and I were in grade school, dad would take us to play a couple holes late on Sunday afternoon, and then we’d stop for ice cream,” she recalled. “I think his intention was twofold: to give my mom a break and to help our golf game.”

“I remember him saying many times: ‘The best things a dad can do for his kids is teach them how to play golf and put them through college.’” Walters said.