Q&A: Fore the Ladies Founder Abby Liebenthal
Abby Liebenthal is a force. Her career is a mosaic of communications and marketing roles across some of the biggest organizations in golf: the American Junior Golf Association, the Tiger Woods Foundation, Titleist, and most recently Imperial Headwear. As of early 2020, Abby joined the ranks at the USGA, as Senior Manager of Fan Engagement for the US Open—a task decidedly more difficult in the wake of COVID.
As if the day job wasn’t enough, Abby recently founded Fore the Ladies, an organization dedicated to getting more women involved in golf. Since 2019, Fore the Ladies has hosted events around the country that bring women together, offer golf instruction, and feature women’s golf apparel pop-ups. Abby’s podcast has been a churning outreach engine for the organization as well, featuring guests like Amanda Balionis, Ashley Mayo from Golf.com, and CitySwing’s Founder and CEO, Tari Cash.
If you offer a six-hole or nine-hole rate in the evenings, I'd play every weekend.
I asked Abby some questions about her organization, and got her take on the current landscape of intersectional diversity in golf. Abby is refreshingly candid about these issues, and shares some creative solutions for getting more people into the game.
The Bag Bandit: What are some of the biggest barriers keeping women from getting involved in golf currently?
Abby Liebenthal: I think some of the biggest barriers that keep women from getting into golf are the same that you find with other demographics: Cost, accessibility, lack of variety, etc., but I think there are different reasons for those barriers with women. Let's take cost, for example. While women may be able to afford it, it's a lot to look at the cost between equipment, access to a course/club, apparel and shoes, and commit to the game without even trying it out. I wouldn't sign up for cycle classes that cost a pretty penny without taking a drop-in class first for $25.
The same goes for lack of variety in the game. I've played quite a few public courses this summer that would only allow me to pay for 18 holes, even though I only intend to play nine. There's a lack of flexibility and variety at public courses that I think holds people (in this case, women) back. If you offer a six-hole or nine-hole rate in the evenings, I'd play every weekend.
Of course, there's an intimidation factor. When you're brand new to something, you want a friend or a confidant to experience it with you. To anyone who asks how he or she can be more welcoming, I always answer: Invite someone. We've all heard the tales of, "this guy at the range was overcompensating in complimenting my swing and it was awkward." But we don't often hear stories of "my friend who plays every weekend with a group invited me to join and although I wasn't the best, I kept up and had such a good time." I want to hear more of those anecdotes.
BB: Can we rely at all on the large institutions in golf (PGA, USGA, R&A, etc.) to uphold the same mission you've created with Fore the Ladies? Or are we purely dependent on smaller, grassroots organizations to change the culture of inclusivity in golf?
AL: I wish I had a good answer for this. The large institutions each have different value propositions and goals that they would like to achieve, and I hope inclusivity is added to their missions. I think that the more grassroots organizations that exist, the better off we'll be, as they can push the larger institutions for change. However, we can rely on these leaders to support grassroots organizations more often with what they have: Resources. Connect the grassroots organizations to corporations who would fund them, allied golf associations who would connect them to courses, professional golf associations who can recommend instructors. Don't just pat us on the back, support us.
BB: At the intersection of gender and race, how does Fore the Ladies ensure that all women are included in golf, rather than just white women?
AL: If you look at photos from our previous events, it's mostly white women—and that's a hard reality. However, there are ways to change that and it truly is what I call my hustle. People often ask how we are able to get so many women at our events, and it's because we hustle. We reach out to every women's organization in the area, use social media ads, get on every local calendar and reach out to local vendors. I need to work on reaching even more organizations: Is there an HBCU in the area? What about a black women's organization or hispanic women's organization in the area? I always preach "inviting her," so that's what I hope to do more of in 2021 when we host events again.
Something I'm quite proud of is the diversity of women we feature in the Fore the Ladies podcast and our Ladies of Golf series. We have women of all races and ethnicities as well as gender identity. Hally Leadbetter once said on the podcast, "If you can't see it, you can't be it," and I hope the podcast is showing more of the female voices in golf but also diverse voices.
BB: Let's say five years from now you're looking back on what you started with Fore the Ladies. What will have made those ten years a success? Is there a tangible North Star you're in pursuit of?
AL: While 2020 was tough in that we couldn't host events, we found ourselves in other ways via the podcast, newsletter and social media. We gave ourselves more of a voice than I think we ever would have.
In five years I see success as a tangible community of women in golf. There are Fore the Ladies chapters in regions of the country who join us at events but also play on the weekends together. Our introduction to golf events will celebrate its 50th clinic, we will have reached 2,500 women at events and we have funding to grow for years to come. A little pie in the sky goal: Host an event internationally.
Additionally, we will have recorded 100 podcasts and brought new series to the table that shine light on women's professional golf. There are great podcasts that cover the PGA TOUR week after week, but they don't always dive into women's golf. If we can even advocate for existing golf podcasts to cover women's golf more frequently, that's a success to me.
Finally, we have a more diverse community. I would love to see the gap decrease between women of color and white women who play golf. If Fore the Ladies can contribute to that, I would say it's been a success.
BB: Where are you planning to take Fore the Ladies from here?
AL: While the pandemic has brought upon many disappointments for plans this year, it forced us to get creative and invigorated us to make 2021 awesome. Our first new service was in thanks to Five Iron Golf, which has provided league teams at each of their locations. In Chicago we have three Team FTL groups and Philly we have two, along with teams in Baltimore and NYC! I hope for those to continue for years to come. This year we will also launch a Golf 101 series, but it's not instructional, it's more about the culture and unwritten rules of golf. Lastly, we will be launching more FTL Trips if the world allows for it. Let's get more women on golf getaways.