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Women in Turf: Kayla Kipp

Sep 04, 2023

May 30, 2023 | Kayla Kipp

Kipp (center right, in blue shirt) and her colleagues at Nemacolin's Mystic Rock & Shepherd's Rock Golf Course. Photos courtesy of Kayla Kipp.

Editor's note: In honor of Women's Golf Day 2023 — which will be celebrated for an entire week, May 31-June 6 — GCM has partnered with John Deere on a series of stories that highlight five women working and thriving in golf course management. These stories, told in the women's own words, highlight career journeys, discuss challenges and lessons learned, offer advice to fellow women in turf, and suggest ways the industry can foster more-inclusive work environments. Stories will be posted daily through Monday, June 5.

As the world's first female certified turf equipment manager, Kayla Kipp is no stranger to breaking new ground. Kipp is also an outspoken advocate for women in turf, and a member of GCSAA's Equipment Manager and Women's task groups. The Nemacolin CTEM shares her story of how she entered the industry, highlights of her time at Nemacolin'sMystic Rock & Shepherd's Rock Golf Course in Farmington, Pa. and thoughts on how to encourage progress.

My original draw to maintenance came from my father. He was my main caregiver from 3 to 12 years of age, and he is a true jack-of-all-trades. I followed dad around everywhere. I loved to watch him tear things apart in the garage, lay them out, clean them and then reassemble them. I learned a lot of basics from him.

When I graduated high school as a Certified Nursing Assistant, I knew I didn't want to go into nursing, but I couldn't afford college. I joined the US Air Force as a Material Handling Equipment Technician, where I received in-depth training on maintenance practices, safety, and specialized training. I worked on flightline equipment mostly to include forklifts, aircraft loaders, aircraft tugs, snow removal brooms and plows, all-terrain tool carriers, container movers, fire trucks, de-icing equipment and even lavatory service trucks.

When I separated, I just needed a job. I was hired to work the grounds at a golf course and fell in love with the detail and outdoor work. I knew very little about the game before I started working the course in 2012. I had played a few times and an Air Force buddy of mine gave me a set of his old clubs. I had to learn a lot! I was constantly asking questions! Thank goodness for superintendents who were willing to take time to explain things. I’m still learning every day as technology changes rapidly and golfers expect the best surfaces every day.

My favorite things are the attention to detail, the immediate feedback on quality of cut and, and the family I have gained while being in turfgrass management. I’m also "reel" nerdy as I like to say. There is nothing quite like putting a fresh grind on, setting bed knives within a few thousandths of each other and then going out with that piece of equipment and seeing the results immediately.

Kipp and her colleagues take measurements on the green. "Golfers expect the best surfaces every day," Kipp says of her dedication to continued learning and quality work.

As I’ve grown and learned, I see fewer issues and purer results. The best thing that happened to me was my first Superintendent, Jayme Bradley, pushing me to become an Equipment Manager Member of GCSAA. It's all been a great ride of education and improvement ever since.

My experience in this industry has been (I feel) different than most due to my military service. I was already accustomed to being surrounded by men daily and having to stand my ground. Proving yourself applies to everyone, but I feel as though when you’re a woman, you have to really push yourself to have those around you see your worth. This can lead to burnout and discouragement; I know that on a personal level.

I also know the feeling of being heard but not taken seriously. I told my last employer a year before I departed that we needed to work reel purchases into our budget because they were nearly worn out, but then they cut that from the plan. A year later I was at a new facility that listened to what I had to say. My old employer begged me to come over for a day a diagnose their issues. It all came down to worn out reels and a new tech who had started at the same salary I had when I left, but had zero experience. He didn't know how important all those thousandths of an inch were. I feel those situations are changing.

People don't grow up knowing maintenance or their way around a toolbox nearly as much as they used to, both women and men. For the industry to be more welcoming to (not only) females in turf equipment management, employers have to accept that there's a learning curve for turf techs, push their techs to learn more and more every day, and push them to be involved in tournaments, education and volunteer opportunities. I see no better way than to be the one "Leading-out" as Rhett Evans would say.

A thing that I look at when looking into a facility as well are their amenities I.E. do they have women's locker rooms/restrooms, is the facility kept in a clean and organized manner, is the company open to ideas, is communication open and honest.

Kipp at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Montana Pritchard.

Working with the Women in Turfgrass team has been a huge boost for me personally and professionally. I have made life-long friends, learned career progressing information, observed awesome tips success, and watched my peers grow and succeed. I fall more in love with this industry every time I go to a Women in Turf event. To be surrounded by women for a day or a week and we can all relate and discuss things that affect us is so amazing! It's refreshing and reassuring to know that we aren't alone. Networking is important, because it's all about who you know!

My advice is to always be open and honest with how you’re feeling. Holding back doesn't help situations at all. If you can be open and honest with your management team about where you are physically, mentally and emotionally, they can usually help. The environment you put yourself in isn't always going to be great unless you seek it out and strive to make it that way.

Don't settle for a place that makes you unhappy. There are great opportunities out there, but sometimes they are a little harder to find. My dad taught me at a young age to never give up. Keep at it, if you enjoy it but need improvement, don't give up on it, keep pushing.

Photos courtesy of Kayla Kipp. Photo by Montana Pritchard.